Gambia's president orders female officials to cover their hair

Gambia’s regime has ordered female civil servants to cover their hair during working hours, following President Yahya Jammeh’s decision to turn his country into an “Islamic Republic”.

Traditionally, most of Gambia’s two million people have followed a moderate interpretation of Islam and women have not routinely worn the veil.

But Mr Jammeh, who seized power in a bloodless military coup 21 years ago, declared Gambia an “Islamic Republic” last month. He has now circulated an order stating that “all female staff within the government ministries, departments and agencies are no longer allowed to expose their hair during official working hours”.

About 90 per cent of Gambian are Muslims, but dress codes of this kind were previously unknown.

Mr Jammeh’s rule over Gambia has become increasingly erratic and authoritarian. A United Nations official based in West Africa has privately questioned his sanity.

Mr Jammeh became president as a 29-year-old lieutenant in 1994. He owed his position to the fact that he was the first army officer to reach the presidential palace in the capital, Banjul, when the coup was taking place.

In 2013, he withdrew Gambia from the Commonwealth. In 2007, Mr Jammeh announced that he had discovered a cure for Aids made from local herbs. Some HIV-positive Gambians were persuaded to adopt the president's concoction instead of the anti-retroviral drugs supplied by Western donors. Their fate is unclear.

In 2009, Mr Jammeh declared that an evil spell had caused the death of his aunt. He then announced a national campaign against "witchcraft", during which about 1,000 alleged "witches" were rounded up across Gambia.

Once in prison, many suffered beatings and some were forced to drink hallucinogenic potions.

Mr Jammeh has told his critics to "go to hell", adding: "Those who accuse me of human rights abuses, I leave them to Allah."