For the first time in the history of the West African nation of The Gambia, a woman, Dr. Isatou Touray is vying for the presidency of the former British colony of 1.9 million people.
A University of Sussex graduate, Touray is the co-founder and head of The Gambia’s leading women’s right group, GAMCOTRAP, which advocates for the eradication of harmful traditional practices against women including female genital mutilation.
Touray’s candidacy is expected to change the outlook of The Gambia’s political landscape. She is popular with women and youth leaders, regarded a unifier and has great respect across the country.
The Gambia is a majority Muslim nation and President Yahya Jammeh has constantly used Islam to play politics. Supported by a council of top Islamic clerics, Jammeh declared The Gambia an Islamic Republic. One such cleric is Imam Abdoulie Fatty.
Fatty who was the Imam of the mosque in the president’s official residence said a woman should not lead a country, especially a Muslim country. Such he said causes the country to regress.
The cleric faced a backlash from young people who identified his comments as sexist.
Touray was in 2012 charged by The Gambia’s government for fraud but was acquitted and discharged by the courts. The Women’s Rights activist was said to be targeted after lobbying started for her to run for office in the country’s December 2016 polls. She will be officially announcing her candidacy on Friday.
President Jammeh is facing an increasing opposition to his rule. At least two opposition officials have died in prison and more than 50 others including UDP leader Ousainou Darboe are being held for protesting electoral reform and demanding the release of their fellow activists.
Unemployment under Jammeh’s 22-year rule has increased with many youths dying in a perilous journey via Mediterranean to reach Europe. Transparency and rights groups have accused Mr. Jammeh’s government corruption, extra-judicial executions, arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture and subverting the rule of law.
Jammeh came to power through a military coup in 1994 as a young Lieutenant and has since survived at least a dozen coups himself.