Exchange visit to The Gambia by Sierra Leone Parliamentary caucus members on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB)

A six-member team of the Sierra Leone Parliamentary caucus on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) undertook an exchange visit to The Gambia (February 13th -14th , 2023) to learn from key stakeholders in the Gambia involved in the promotion and protect of FoRB in The Gambia. They hoped to exchange ideas, learn best practices on the implementation of FoRB, and above all, forge collaboration with key stakeholders, especially with The Gambia Parliamentary Caucus on FoRB in the promotion and protecting of FoRB in the two sister countries. The engagement meetings during the two-day visit with key stakeholders kick-started on 13th February, 2023 with a meeting with the Christian Council of The Gambia.

The Gambia Christian Council representatives highlighted the peaceful and harmonious relationship between people of different religious beliefs; and in their view, this is attributable to close family ties that have characterised The Gambia society; another factor that has contributed tremendously to peaceful co-existence among people of different faith and creed in the Gambia is inter-marriages across faith and beliefs.

Notwithstanding the peaceful co- existence and harmonious inter communal relationship, there are still challenges with the potential to undermine freedom of religion or belief in The Gambia. They cited government’s discriminatory policy of compulsory teaching of Islam in public and private schools; but rather made the teaching of bible studies optional. Additionally, all teachers of Islamic studies are paid by the government whereas Christian teachers who provide instructions on bible studies are not paid by the government. This, in the view of representatives of the Christian Council tends to sow seeds of divisiveness and bitterness, and may ultimately lead to communal disharmony.

Following a successful meeting with the members of The Gambia Christian Council, the delegation proceeded to meet with representatives of The Gambia Teachers Union (member of the working group). Again, the message of ‘’Give Peace a Chance’’ was reiterated as the clarion call for stimulating interest in the advocacy campaign in their sensitization efforts in the various regions and districts across the country. The main plank of their activities were seminars and organised competitions among identified school children across the country. A platform was created for messaging involving the youth caucus, inter-generational groups, and women involved in peace building).

The school competition project enabled the working group members to travel across the country to sensitize citizens on issues of fundamental human rights, the primacy of peaceful co-existence, religious tolerance and inclusivity. They intimated that it is only in a peaceful society that FoRB can thrive. Through activities associated with the school competition, the FoRB working group in The Gambia was able to establish school clubs to nurture human rights concepts among school children.

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