Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh on Friday shocked many with a disclosure that the West African nation wants to implement a policy change that would shift the country’s language from English to a local language.
“We no longer subscribe to the belief that for you to be a government you should speak English language. We should speak our language,” President Yahya Jammeh said during the swearing-in ceremony of Gambia’s new Chief Justice that aired on state-run Gambia Television Services on Friday.
The announcement comes months after the West African country announced it is withdrawing from the Commonwealth, a collection of 54 nations made up largely of former British colonies, saying it would “never be a member of any neo-colonial institution.”
The United Kingdom recently warned its citizens of rising anti-British rhetoric from the president, who last year accused the former colonial power and the United States of organizing coup attempts in the West African nation. The allegations were denied.
Though a popular destination for British tourists, Gambia has also been criticized by the U.K. for human rights abuses, including when it executed nine death-row inmates by firing squad in August 2012. Rights groups such as Amnesty International have also criticized Jammeh’s government for cracking down on dissent and targeting political opponents and sexual minorities for arrest and detention, among other alleged abuses.
Gambia is at loggerheads with the European Union as the bloc threatens to suspend its aid if the country’s human rights situation is not improved.
Jammeh, who came to power in a military coup in 1994, said the U.K. has no “moral platform” to talk about human rights.
“What brought the British to the Gambia in the first place-which was bigger than it is now -was trade in ivory because the Gambia had a lot of elephants,” he said. “They wiped out all the elephants and ended up selling Africans.”
Gambia is one of Africa’s smallest and poorest countries with a population of about 1.8 million people.