At a meeting in his home village, Kaninlai, last Monday, the Gambian leader, President Yahya Jammeh, declared FGM banned in the country with immediate effect, citing health implications associated with the practice.
Moments following Jammeh sudden pronouncement, Jaha Dukureh, a Gambian anti-FGM activist based in US claimed she had lobbied the President while on a more cynical note, Jeffrey Smith of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Centre, cautions people to “hold off on popping the champagne until this “ban” amounts to more than just rhetoric”.
However, Mayor Yankuba Colley, the national mobiliser for the ruling APRC party, has said that President Jammeh’s “informed decision” to ban Female Genital Mutilation in the country has caught even his internal party ranks unawares.
“I have never expected that the President would declare a ban on Female Genital Mutilation. It is a surprise to everyone. There is nobody who can say “I influence his decision”. I don’t know how it came about,” he said.
“He only told us during the tour that he has a surprise and he will announce it in Kanilai and he did. This is a national success- we are part of few African countries that ban FGM.”
In December 2016, Gambians will head to polls to elect their president and FGM is a very popular traditional practice in the country often associated with Islam but Colley said the President’s decision to ban it will not affect the his political popularity.
He said the people knew that the President’s decisions are guided by their common interest.
“This ban will have no effect on the popularity of the APRC. In fact, in Kanilai, it was a total jubilation. That means that he has all the support in the part ranks and even among the supporters,” he said.
“We are not regulating the culture of the people. The APRC will go for anything positive. The only interest the President has is not money, it is the interest of the Gambian people and this is not any different. So I am expecting a very positive reaction from the people.”
The campaign to end FGM in The Gambia has existed for over three decades but Colley said though he believes it is a harmful traditional practice, he disagreed with the approaches of the people who were fighting against it.
Colley praised the Guardian UK-backed Jaha for choosing the right targets, youths, in her efforts to galvanize efforts against FGM in the country.
“My view is that the way it (FGM) was approached and introduced by those who have been fighting it for so many years to the people was wrong. If you are going to eradicate it (FGM) I think there should be a better approach than the way it was done,” he said.
“… I will praise Jaha Dukureh because of the way she did her campaign before the pronouncement of the President. A common Gambian man has so much respect for people’s sexuality and according to Jaha, the approach should start with educating the people first, especially the young ones…I think she has started educating the youths about the practice and these are the future leaders…”