A month ago President Yahya Jammeh declared Gambia an Islamic Republic – ostensibly in a bid to break away from its colonial past – but the implications of that announcement are only coming into play. The president maintained that other faiths retained their freedoms regardless but all female civil servants are now required to cover their hair.
No reasons were given for the introduction of the new rule, which was announced in a memo that was leaked to local opposition newspapers.
The memo, published by Freedom stated ‘all female staff’ within government departments were no longer allowed to expose their hair during working hours, effective from December 31.
It went on to urge female staff ‘to use a head tie and neatly wrap their hair’.
‘All heads of departments and agencies are urgently advised to implement this directive and bring it to the attention of their female staff,’ the memo concluded.
Although it doesn’t appear that the president’s announcement changes Gambia’s laws or its constitutional status as a secular state, it could yet form the justification for rules such as that now affecting its female employees.
‘Gambia cannot afford to continue the colonial legacy,’ Jammeh said of his country, which gained independence from Britain in 1965.
Jammeh said the rights of Gambia’s Christian community will be respected and there would be no mandates on dress.
‘We will be an Islamic state that would respect the rights of all citizens and non-citizens.’
However, the head of the country’s Islamic body wouldn’t say if he endorsed the declaration.
‘We haven’t met yet to discuss over the presidential announcement,’ said Gambia’s Supreme Islamic Council Chairman Imam Momodou Lamin Touray.
Hamat Bah of the opposition National Reconciliation Party criticized the decision.
‘There is a constitutional clause that says that Gambia is a secular state. You cannot make such a declaration without going through a referendum.’
Jammeh has ruled Gambia since seizing power in 1994.