At first glance, Eritrea and Gambia may not have much in common but both were in the news yesterday. Separated by 3,000 miles, both are small countries that rarely get any attention.
Yesterday, Gambia announced its departure from the Commonwealth, whose leaders will be meeting next month in Sri Lanka for their bi-annual Heads of Government Meeting. Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, will be representing his mother, who is the Head of the Commonwealth.
Commonwealth members are required to be democracies and to uphold certain standards of liberty and the rule of law. Many members throughout the decades have flouted these requirements, but eventually the organization tries to do something. A decade ago Zimbabwe left, anticipating censure. Now it’s the turn of Gambia.
Like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Gambia’s president is in power for life. Opponents usually end up dead, one way or another. Yahya Abdul-Azziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh seized power in a military coup in 1996, simply by being the first soldier to enter the presidential palace when the country’s first president was overthrown after over 30 years in power. He heads the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction.
His human rights record is the reason he has left the organization, though he won’t admit that. He is claiming that the Commonwealth is “neo-colonialist;” the reality is that he is a ruthless dictator who goes against everything the organization stands for.
Eritrea is not a member of the Commonwealth, having been colonized by the Italians. After World War II, the UN gave the country to Ethiopia. In time, this inspired a rebellion to seek independence. Isaias Afewerki has been president of the country since it won its independence from Ethiopia in 1993. Eritrea has never held an election.
Both Gambia and Eritrea are dictatorships, not unusual in post-independence Africa. Dictators, by their very nature, like to control everything. They also take 99% of the national wealth to support their lavish lifestyle. The people generally struggle to eke out a meager existence on less than a dollar a day.
So it’s no wonder that a boatload of mainly Eritreans was heading for Italy a couple of days ago, 500 people seeking refugee status. Unfortunately, the boat sank less than a mile from shore and about 300 of these pathetic refugees drowned. This included a few children, all proudly wearing new shoes in anticipation of a better life in a new country.
Sadly, Gambia and Eritrea are typical of most of Africa, whose leaders bring to mind the words of Jesus Christ in Matthew 20. “You know that the rulers of the gentiles lord it over them, and those that are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you, but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.” (verses 25 & 26)
The president of Eritrea is named after the prophet Isaiah. Ironically, it’s Isaiah who wrote of a time to come when leaders like President Afewerki will no longer be allowed to rule. Jesus Christ is returning to establish His Kingdom. He will “order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever.” (Isaiah 9:7)
There will be no more despots lording it over their people, taking all the wealth for themselves, driving their own people to flee to faraway lands.
“But everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree, And no one shall make them afraid.” (Micah 4:4).
Let us all pray “Thy Kingdom Come.” (Matt 6:10)