Why Gambia’s president should listen to his anthem

Jammeh inspecting his police

Gambia’s in crisis, if you’ve missed the news, with its president, Yahya Jammeh, refusing to end his 22-year rule despite having lost an election and even admitted doing so. He’s got the army’s backing. Things don’t look like they’re going to end prettily.

But on the plus side, this does give me a chance to look at the country’s national anthem!

The bad point? It’s awful! It was written by the country’s former British administrator, Sir Jeremy Howe, with lyrics by his wife. Which is why it doesn’t sound very Gambian. In fact, it sounds more suited to the Yorkshire Dales than tropical Africa.

But there is one good point in light of the current crisis: the lyrics.

For the Gambia, our homeland
We strive and work and pray
That all may live in unity
Freedom and peace each day
Let justice guide our action
Towards the common good
And join our diverse peoples
To prove man’s brotherhood
We pledge our firm allegiance
Our promise we renew
Keep us, great God of nations
To The Gambia ever true

Jammeh seems to be ignoring every word of that. Here’s hoping he listens soon.

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.