Gambia’s Foreign Minister Ousainou Darboe
Gambia’s new Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ousainou Darboe, has admitted that the former regime used anti-gay hysteria as an excuse to oppress his compatriots.
The country’s dictatorial and deeply homophobic ruler of 23 years, Yahya Jammeh, only gave up power and went into exile in January after losing the presidential election to President Adama Barrow in December.
Darboe, who has been in office as foreign minister since February, told SMBC News that he supports repealing Jammeh’s law that punishes “aggravated homosexuality” with life in prison.
“The aggravated homosexuality was a distraction and it should be taken out of the laws… You pass laws to deal with situations, not an imaginary problem,” said Darboe.
He continued: “Homosexuality was perhaps something Jammeh imagined in order to bamboozle the clerics that were surrounding him… He used gay as a propaganda tool in order for him to continue to repress people.”
The comments follow President Barrow’s statement earlier this year to EU Commissioner Neven Memica that “gay is not an issue in Gambia”.
It’s not clear if this means he intends to repeal the criminalisation of homosexuality, but it offers some hope to LGBT Gambians who lived under the violent and oppressive anti-LGBT rule of his predecessor.
In May 2015, Jammeh said he would “slit the throats” of gay Gambians and attacked LGBT people as “vermin”. In 2008, he infamously gave gays and lesbians 24 hours to leave the country or face having their heads cut off.
In October 2014, Jammeh signed the law that created the crime of “aggravated homosexuality”. Homosexuality was already illegal in Gambia under British colonial era laws and those found guilty of “unnatural offences” face up to 14 years in prison.