Gambia’s ruler: messing with human rights, but not his country’s anthem

President Jammeh of Gambia showing his inked finger after voting

Once you’ve ruled a country for 20 years, you probably decide you can do whatever you like with it.

President Jammeh of the Gambia certainly appears to have reached that point (that’s him above, showing off an inked finger after voting in the last election). Over the past year, he’s apparently overseen a sharp fall in human rights in the country, executing prisoners accused of plotting against him and imprisoning journalists.

He’s also started making bizarre decisions like announcing a four-day week so people can devote more time to prayer.

But even Jammeh knows his limits. A couple of weeks ago, an opposition newspaper reported he was getting rid of the country’s national anthem, ‘For the Gambia, Our Homeland’, because it was written by a British couple.

The country deserves an African tune, he apparently said, before suggesting the ‘22 July Anthem’ – a song written to celebrate the date he took power in a coup.

Now, I could argue that scrapping the anthem would be a sensible decision. It seems odd for any country to have an anthem written by past rulers even if it’s been happily sung for 47 years. The anthem’s based on a traditional Gambian melody, but you’d be hard pressed to hear it.

Unfortunately, unlike many stories about Jammeh, this one doesn’t appear to be true. I’ve spent the best part of a fortnight trying to verify it, but everyone I’ve spoken to in and outside the Gambian government insists a change isn’t on the cards.

Of course that doesn’t mean the decision won’t be announced tomorrow! It certainly seems the sort of move someone would make if they needed to stir nationalist feeling. Watch this space.

As a random bonus, here’s some Gambian pop music. I’ve no idea who either of the tunes are by – they’re from random CDs picked up by a friend in the country’s capital Banjul (check out the high-quality artwork!). But they should give a nice uplifting feel to your day and maybe even bring the sun out.

2 thoughts on “Gambia’s ruler: messing with human rights, but not his country’s anthem

  1. I see you keep insisting on a national melody for the most nationalist of songs. Though this does make sense, I don’t think this must be an absolute prerequisite for a national anthem, as national music and nationalist music still are two different things. And when it comes to nationalist music, pop music of any kind seldom has the favour of most people, I guess, however unfortunate that may be.

    By the way… have you ever read Philip Bohlman’s The Music of European Nationalism? If not, you might like to take a look at it for your research.

    • Thanks for the comment and recommendation, Jean-Philippe.
      I only really call for national melodies as I want a more difference in anthems. I should maybe give some thought to what it’d actually mean politically if everyone did change their anthems like that!

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