Gambia on Tuesday ordered female government employees to wear headscarves at work in a sign that the West African country is embracing a Muslim identity one month after President Yahya Jammeh declared it an Islamic republic.
From the start of the year female workers are no longer allowed to expose their hair, said a memo circulated to all ministries and departments and seen by Reuters. The memo gave no reason for the decision.
“Female staff are urged to use head ties and neatly wrap their hair,” the memo said.
Some 95 percent of Gambia’s population of 1.8 million people are Muslim and the country is now the second Islamic republic in Africa after Mauritania. Other such countries include Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The move was designed to distance Gambia from its past as a British colony and citizens of other faiths would still be able to practice, Jammeh said last month. The tiny country borders only Senegal, a country that is majority Muslim and secular.
Despite strong commercial ties with Britain and other European countries whose citizens are regular visitors to Gambia’s white-sand beaches, relations with the West have deteriorated in recent years.
The European Union temporarily withheld aid money to Gambia in 2014 over its poor human rights record. Gambia, whose main industries are agriculture and tourism, ranks 165th out of 187 countries on the U.N. development index.