• Wed
  • Sep 17, 2014
  • Updated: 2:50am
NewsWorld
GAMBIA

Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh orders end of English as official language

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 March, 2014, 9:55pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 March, 2014, 9:55pm

English will be dropped as the official language of Gambia, according to the latest diatribe against the former colonial power by President Yahya Jammeh.

"We're going to speak our own language," he said, without specifying which of the poor West African country's indigenous tongues would replace English.

The Gambian strongman is often pilloried for rights abuses and the muzzling of the press, and citizens who have fled have set up critical news outlets against the regime.

A video of his latest broadside against Britain, delivered in English during the swearing-in of a new chief justice on Thursday, was uploaded on YouTube.

The country has several languages to choose from as a replacement for English.

About 40 per cent of Gambians speak Mandinka, while Fula or Wolof are used by another 34 per cent. Jammeh himself is from the minority Jula tribe, which speaks a Manding language most closely related to Bambara, spoken in nearby Mali.

Gambia, a country of about 1.8 million, is a finger of territory flanking the Gambia River, with Senegal on either side and a narrow Atlantic coastline.

In 2008, Jammeh gave an ultimatum to gays and lesbians to leave his country, saying he would "cut off the head" of any homosexual found in the nation.

Two years later the European Union cancelled €22 million (HK$236 million) of aid because of concerns over human rights and governance issues.

Gambia stunned the Commonwealth, which mainly groups former British colonies, by withdrawing from the 54-nation bloc in October, branding it "an extension of colonialism".

Jammeh said Britain had "no moral platform" to talk about human rights.

"What brought the British in the first place to Gambia ... was trade in ivory because Gambia had a lot of elephants," he said.

"They ended up wiping out the elephants and then turned around and started selling Africans. The British instituted slavery. The only thing they left us with is unfortunately the English language."

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