How does Gambia get back into the Commonwealth club?

Footage of British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson meeting Gambian President Adama Barrow in Banjul on 14 February 2017.
Footage of British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson meeting Gambian President Adama Barrow in Banjul on 14 February 2017. Photo: Stringer/The Block TV Gambia/AFP

UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson visited Gambia on Wednesday and said that the country’s bid to re-join the Commonwealth group of mostly ex-British colonies would happen in the “coming months”. However, applying for membership of the club of 52 countries involves various steps and the Gambian government has not yet kicked off the process, according to a spokesperson for the Commonwealth Secretariat.


“It's difficult to put an exact timeframe on the process,” Neil Ford, Director of Communications, told RFI by telephone from London. “The Commonwealth family wants to work hard to bring Gambia back,” he added.

Q&A: Neil Ford

Gambia quit the Commonwealth in 2013 when the government of former president Yahya Jammeh described it as a “neo-colonial institution”. Jammeh had frequently clashed with the country’s former colonial master and accused the UK of backing Gambia’s political opposition.

President Adama Barrow has since then signalled his intention to re-join the Commonwealth following the departure of Jammeh. But there are a number of steps that the new government will have to go through.

“First of all, The Gambia has to write a letter requesting to be re-admitted, and so far that hasn't happened,” said Commonwealth spokesperson Ford, pointing out that the government had informally said it would like to re-join.

Next, an informal assessment is undertaken by the Commonwealth’s secretary general to look at the country’s commitment to the bloc’s ideals of democracy and good governance as well as determining the nature of the country’s relationship with the group, according to Ford.

The Commonwealth chief would then consult with all member states to make sure they agreed with Gambia’s membership. Finally, the bloc would extend an invitation to Gambia and the country would be “formally taken on board”, said Ford.

It is unlikely that other member states would raise objections to Gambia’s re-admittance to the organisation, according to the spokesperson. “The nature of her [the secretary general] conversations will be, ‘is there a consensus that this country should be admitted in,’” he said.

Gambia will be able to take advantage of a number of benefits once it is re-admitted to the Commonwealth, said Ford, including "clear and practical advice" on climate finance, building trade capacity, working on debt management and natural resources development.

"We have a particular track record in helping small states," said the Commonwealth spokesperson, referring to programmes on election monitoring, strengthening judiciaries and working with human rights institutions.

“It’s a little bit different with The Gambia because The Gambia is re-joining, not joining for the first time,” said Ford. “We all want to have it happen as quickly as possible.”

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