21 May 2008

The Gambia Run By Anti-Gay Quack

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. While there are lots of people in the world who want to kill all gays, and there are lots of people in the world who offer fake remedies for HIV/AIDS, rarely do both of these traits cohabit in the person of a national head of state. But, The Gambia has such a person in charge. His name is Yahya Jammeh.

The Gambia is a small West African country (it has about 1.7 million people and is geographically tiny as well, about twice the size of Delaware), which was formerly a British colony. It is predominantly Muslim (about 90%, with a minority of about 9% that is Christian), and is multi-ethnic and multi-lingual with English as the official language of government affairs. It is surrounded on all sides by land by the former French colony of Senegal, but has an Atlantic Ocean port at the mouth of the Gambia river, whose banks and delta comprise the territory of the country.

The CIA World Factbook offers the following recent history of the country:

The Gambia gained its independence from the UK in 1965. Geographically surrounded by Senegal, it formed a short-lived federation of Senegambia between 1982 and 1989. In 1991 the two nations signed a friendship and cooperation treaty, but tensions have flared up intermittently since then. Yahya A. J. J. JAMMEH led a military coup in 1994 that overthrew the president and banned political activity. A new constitution and presidential elections in 1996, followed by parliamentary balloting in 1997, completed a nominal return to civilian rule. JAMMEH has been elected president in all subsequent elections, including most recently in late 2006.

Half the population is under the age of eighteen, the average woman have five children in a lifetime, and three-quarters of the population get by as subsistance farmers in the tropical country. AIDS does not have a high incidence in The Gambia by African standards (about 1% of the population is HIV positive). Probably something on the order of 60,000 households, mostly in urban areas near the coast, live something resembling a modern Western lifestyle, although almost 30% of the population has access to cell phones. Of those age 15 years or older, only 48% of men, and 33% of women can read and write.

The Gambia is, alas, not terribly exceptional as African countries go. While some are far better off, the human prospect in many is equally dismal. Where does one even begin in a place like this?

No comments: