The latest Afrobarometer survey release has found that Gambians nurture a high level of tolerance with regards to ethnicities and religions. But people in The Gambia have no tolerance for the practice for homosexuality, with 96 percent of sampled being against it.
Among the key findings of the survey, most Gambians have tolerant attitudes towards people of different ethnic (94%), religious (79%), and national (88%) backgrounds. But they are overwhelmingly intolerant (96%) towards homosexuals.
Only about 1 in 10 Gambians (9%) say they identify themselves more strongly with their ethnic group than with their nation. About half (53%) identify themselves more or only as Gambian, while 36% value both identities equally.
About one in six Gambians (16%) say they experienced discrimination or harassment based on their ethnicity during the previous year, while smaller proportions say they were discriminated against or harassed based on a disability (11%), their gender (8%), or their religion (4%).
Among major ethnic groups, Jola respondents are most likely to say that they experienced discrimination or harassment (25%) and that their ethnic group is treated unfairly (46%).
A strong majority (70%) of Gambians support government by secular law rather than religious law. Support for religious law is stronger among poor citizens (40%) and respondents who say they are “not at all satisfied” with the way democracy is working in the Gambia (40%).
According to the survey, although The Gambia does not have a history of ethnic and religious tensions, starting under former President Yahya Jammeh and continuing since the change of government in 2017, political rivalries are increasingly taking an ethnic form.
“The government’s 2018 Conflict and Development Analysis noted a marked erosion of ethnic, regional, and religious relations in the country during Jammeh’s two-decades-long autocratic rule, which was marred by egregious human rights violations (Government of the Gambia, 2018). For instance, in 2015 Jammeh declared the Gambia an Islamic state (Al Jazeera, 2015), and at a political rally in 2016, following protests by opposition United Democratic Party members, he threatened to eliminate the Mandinka, the dominant ethnic group in the Gambia (UN News, 2016). In an address to Parliament, current Vice President Isatou Touray accused Jammeh of having favored his home region, Foni (Africa Press, 2019).
Secularism has been long debated in The Gambia. administration. The former president Jammeh declared the country as an Islamic State. After the new government came in, the decision was reversed. The Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) is among the transitional justice programs initiated by the Barrow government to address the past legal flaws and right abuses. In the first draft released by the CRC, a fierce controversy arose when the term “Secularism” was not found in. While the Christian Council preferred the word to be added as a safeguard against having the country declared an Islamic state, the Supreme Islamic Council and other Muslims argued that adding the word would encourage acceptance of homosexual acts and other practices they oppose.
Tolerance towards ethnicities
Given the increasing polarization in the post-Jammeh Gambia, how tolerant are Gambians, and how salient are ethnicity and religion? Afrobarometer survey data from 2018 suggest that most Gambians are tolerant of different ethnicities, religions, and nationalities, though not of different sexual orientations.
“While majorities did not personally experience discrimination based on ethnicity or religion, substantial proportions say the government treats their ethnic group unfairly. A majority of Gambians also voice support for government under secular rather than religious law.”