The Gambia

Location:
Western Africa

Capital City:
Banjul

Area:
total: 11,300 sq km
land: 10,120 sq km
water: 1,180 sq km

border countries (1):
Senegal 749 km

Coastline:
80 km

Climate:
tropical;
hot, rainy season (June to November);
cooler, dry season (November to May)

Terrain:
floodplain of the Gambia River flanked by some low hills

Elevation:
mean elevation: 34 m
elevation extremes: lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m
highest point: unnamed elevation 53 m

Natural resources:
fish, clay, silica sand, titanium (rutile and ilmenite), tin, zircon

Land use:
agricultural land: 56.1%
arable land 41%; permanent crops 0.5%; permanent pasture 14.6%
forest: 43.9%
other: 0% (2011 est.)

Irrigated land:
50 sq km (2012)

Population – distribution:
settlements are found scattered along the Gambia River; the largest communities, including the capital of Banjul, and the country’s largest city, Serekunda, are found at the mouth of the Gambia River along the Atlantic coast

Natural hazards:
droughts

People and Society

The Gambia’s youthful age structure – almost 60% of the population is under the age of 25 – is likely to persist because the country’s total fertility rate remains strong at nearly 4 children per woman. The overall literacy rate is around 55% and is significantly lower for women than for men. At least 70% of the populace are farmers who are reliant on rain-fed agriculture and cannot afford improved seeds and fertilizers. Crop failures caused by droughts between 2011 and 2013 have increased poverty, food shortages, and malnutrition.

The Gambia is a source country for migrants and a transit and destination country for migrants and refugees. Since the 1980s, economic deterioration, drought, and high unemployment, especially among youths, have driven both domestic migration (largely urban) and migration abroad (legal and illegal). Emigrants are largely skilled workers, including doctors and nurses, and provide a significant amount of remittances. The top receiving countries for Gambian emigrants are Spain, the US, Nigeria, Senegal, and the UK. While the Gambia and Spain do not share historic, cultural, or trade ties, rural Gambians have migrated to Spain in large numbers because of its proximity and the availability of jobs in its underground economy (this flow slowed following the onset of Spain’s late 2007 economic crisis).

The Gambia’s role as a host country to refugees is a result of wars in several of its neighboring West African countries. Since 2006, refugees from the Casamance conflict in Senegal have replaced their pattern of flight and return with permanent settlement in The Gambia, often moving in with relatives along the Senegal-Gambia border. The strain of providing for about 7,400 Casamance refugees has increased poverty among Gambian villagers.

Population:
2,051,363 (July 2017 est.)

Nationality:
Gambian(s)

Ethnic groups:
Mandinka/Jahanka 34%, Fulani/Tukulur/Lorobo 22.4%, Wolof 12.6%, Jola/Karoninka 10.7%, Serahuleh 6.6%, Serer 3.2%, Manjago 2.1%, Bambara 1%, Creole/Aku Marabout 0.7%, other 0.9%, non-Gambian 5.2%, no answer 0.6% (2013 est.)

Languages:
English (official), Mandinka, Wolof, Fula, other indigenous vernaculars

Religions:
Muslim 95.7%, Christian 4.2%, none 0.1%, no response 0.1% (2013 est.)

Ethnicity, Language, and Religion

There are 8 main ethnic groups in the Gambia living side by side with a minimum of intertribal friction, each preserving its own language, music, cultural traditions and even caste systems though there is an increasing amount of cultural interaction and fusion. Indeed, the average Gambian will tell you he feels he has more in common with his countrymen than he has with a Senegalese from the same tribe! This by no means suggests that there is a lack of individual identity. While there is growth in multi-ethnic expressions, the search by groups to reaffirm their identities remains. The Mandinka ethnicity is the largest, followed by the Fula, Wolof, Jola/Karoninka, Serahule / Jahanka, Serers, Manjago, Bambara, Aku Marabou and others. The Krio people, locally known as Akus, constitute one of the smallest ethnic minorities in the Gambia. They are descendants of the Sierra Leone Creole people and have been traditionally concentrated in the capital.

English is the official language, but the most frequently spoken languages are generally of the Atlantic branch of the Niger-Congo family. Mandinka and Wolof constitute the lingua francas of the country, and other languages spoken include Pulaar (Fulbe), Serer, Diola, and Soninke. Some Muslim clerics are literate in Arabic.

Islam, which was introduced in the 12th century, is followed by about 90%. The main Muslim branches are Tijaniyah, Qadiriyah, Muridiyah, and Ahmadiyah. About 9% of the population are Christians, mostly Roman Catholics; they live primarily in the Banjul area. Protestant denominations include Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists, Seventh-Day Adventists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, along with other small evangelical groups. About 1% of Gambians practice traditional indigenous religions. In some areas, practices of animism are blended with Christianity or Islam. There is a small group of Baha’is.

Education

The constitution mandates free and compulsory primary education in the Gambia. Lack of resources and educational infrastructure has made implementation of this difficult. In 1995, the gross primary enrolment rate was 77.1% and the net primary enrolment rate was 64.7% School fees long prevented many children from attending school, but in February 1998, President Jammeh ordered the termination of fees for the first six years of schooling. Girls make up about 52% of primary school pupils. The figure may be lower for girls in rural areas, where cultural factors and poverty prevent parents from sending girls to school. Approximately 20% of school-age children attend Quranic schools.

The structure of the education system in The Gambia provides for the expanded vision of basic education (ECD, Basic Education 1 – 9 and Adult and Non-formal Education) and Secondary Education. The formal system is characterized by nine years of uninterrupted basic education followed by three years of senior secondary education and four years of post-secondary or tertiary and higher education. The first nine years of schooling constitute the basic education cycle and are financed principally by Government while secondary school education, which is three years, is primarily provided by the private sector with grant-aided schools assisted by Government and managed by school boards.

The Gambia’s national education policy (2004 – 2015) provides for a unified basic education system, covering years 1-9, through an automatic transition with no transition examination at the end of the lower basic cycle. Thus there is rapid expansion taking place at the upper basic level and a policy of integrating basic education facilities where possible. Also in practice, it is difficult to draw a line between the lower and the upper basic cycles. This analysis, however, looks at the different levels of basic education principally for ease of reference and to see the performance of each level during the period. It should therefore not be seen as an attempt to separate basic education as a concept.

At the end of Upper Basic school, a standardized exam will dictate whether a student is qualified to continue their education with Senior Secondary School. Unfortunately, many students are forced to terminate their education at the end of the Upper Basic cycle, due either to monetary difficulties, failure to pass the exam or disillusions about the value of education—engendered by the lack of jobs even for Gambians who have passed grade twelve. If parents of Upper Basic graduates have the money, they are just as likely to send their offspring to a trade school or skills center as to send them on to the next grade school level.

The Gambia College provides non-degree training in agriculture, science, nursing and midwifery, education, catering, and management. The University of the Gambia was established in 1999 and offers undergraduate programs in humanities & social studies, economics & management science, and nursing and public health. It also offers 6-year courses in medicine and surgery too.

Economy

The Gambia has a small economy that relies primarily on tourism, rain-dependent agriculture, and remittances, and is vulnerable to external shocks. Real gross domestic product (GDP) growth is expected to be above 3.5% in 2017, propelled by lower interest rates and a rebound in the service sector. The fiscal situation, which deteriorated during the political crisis, has improved due to strengthening fiscal discipline and external support. Expenditure ceilings have helped control expenditures, and domestic revenues have recovered in 2017.

The government has invested in the agriculture sector because three-quarters of the population depend on the sector for its livelihood and agriculture provides for about one-third of GDP, making The Gambia largely reliant on sufficient rainfall. The agricultural sector has untapped potential – less than half of arable land is cultivated and agricultural productivity is low. Small-scale manufacturing activity features the processing of cashews, groundnuts, fish, and hides. The Gambia’s re-export trade accounts for almost 80% of goods exports and China has been its largest trade partner for both exports and imports for several years.

The Gambia has sparse natural resource deposits. It relies heavily on remittances from workers overseas and tourist receipts. Remittance inflows to The Gambia amount to about one-fifth of the country’s GDP. The Gambia’s location on the ocean and proximity to Europe has made it one of the most frequented tourist destinations in West Africa, boosted by private sector investments in eco-tourism and facilities. Tourism normally brings in about 20% of GDP, but it suffered in 2014 from tourists’ fears of the Ebola virus in neighboring West African countries. Unemployment and underemployment remain high.

The macroeconomic framework continues to be characterized by high debt levels, estimated at 123.6% of GDP in 2017, creating significant risks of debt distress. About 40% of the domestic debt is held by domestic banks, which poses risks for the stability of the banking sector. The key long-term development challenges facing The Gambia are related to its undiversified economy, small internal market, limited access to resources, lack of skills necessary to build effective institutions, high population growth, lack of private sector job creation, and high rate of outmigration. The country faces a limited availability of foreign exchange, weak agricultural output, a border closure with Senegal, a slowdown in tourism, high inflation, a large fiscal deficit, and a high domestic debt burden that has crowded out private sector investment and driven interest rates to new highs. The government has committed to taking steps to reduce the deficit, including through expenditure caps, debt consolidation, and reform of state-owned enterprises.

GDP (purchasing power parity):
$3.602 billion (2017 est.)
$3.524 billion (2016 est.)
$3.379 billion (2015 est.)
note: data are in 2017 dollars

GDP (official exchange rate):
$1.009 billion (2017 est.)

GDP – real growth rate:
3.5% (2017 est.)
2.2% (2016 est.)
4.3% (2015 est.)

GDP – per capita (PPP):
$1,700 (2017 est.)
$1,700 (2016 est.)
$1,700 (2015 est.)

Gross national saving:
13.4% of GDP (2017 est.)
9.9% of GDP (2016 est.)
4.7% of GDP (2015 est.)

GDP – composition, by sector of origin:
agriculture: 20.4%
industry: 14.2%
services: 65.4% (2017 est.)

Agriculture – products:
rice, millet, sorghum, peanuts, corn, sesame, cassava (manioc, tapioca), palm kernels; cattle, sheep, goats

Industries:
peanuts, fish, hides, tourism, beverages, agricultural machinery assembly, woodworking, metalworking, clothing

Population below poverty line:
48.4% (2010 est.)

Budget:
revenues: $187 million
expenditures: $369.9 million (2017 est

Agriculture

Agriculture is the most important sector in The Gambian economy and one of the priority areas of development, particularly in the new global climate of price escalation of staple food items and oil. The Gambia has 558,000 hectares of very good quality arable land, of which only 200,000 hectares are currently under rain-fed agricultural production. The Gambia has great potential for irrigated agriculture, with fresh water from the River Gambia, rainwater is harvested, and fossil water that can be drilled. It also has a weather pattern that is suitable for almost all production. The Department of State for Agriculture, within its mandate to develop and modernize agriculture, will readily give all necessary support and incentives to any serious investor, who wants to invest and operate in the sector and support Government’s efforts to develop the sector.

The relevant technical departments, the technical expertise, and trained personnel are all readily available in the country: the agricultural sector has the highest number of graduates, degree and Ph.D. holders in the country. The sector also offers great potential for value adding processing and transformation of all agricultural products, for both the local and international markets. All agricultural goods entering the national territory enter free of charge i.e. no customs duty is charged. The Gambia is at the implementation stage of the Vision 2020 blueprint and wants to become an “export-oriented agricultural nation”, and transform and process all such products, for the local and international market, through a reputable and high quality made in The Gambia brand.

There are five key areas that can be exploited in the Gambia, which includes Horticulture Fruits: mangoes, citrus, bananas, avocados, guava, cashews, oil palm, coconuts, etc. Large range vegetables: onions, potatoes, lettuce, cabbage, garlic, tomatoes, mushrooms, peas, cowpeas, beans, etc; Lowers; chrysanthemums, orchids, roses etc. Landscape gardening:-parks, private homes, hotels; Field crops: suitable in all ecologies of the country; Cereal grains: rice, maize, sorghum, wheat, etc; Grain legumes: groundnuts, cowpeas, soya beans, sesame, etc; Root crops: cassava, sweet potatoes, potatoes, carrots; Oil trees: cashew, oil palm, coconuts.

Electricity access:
population without electricity: 1,200,000
electrification – total population: 36%
electrification – urban areas: 60%
electrification – rural areas: 2% (2013)
Electricity – production:
240 million kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – consumption:
223.2 million kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – exports:
0 million kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – imports:
0 billion kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – installed generating capacity:
114,000 kW (2015 est.)
Electricity – from fossil fuels:
100% of total installed capacity (2015 est.)
Electricity – from nuclear fuels:
0% of total installed capacity (2015 est.)

Telephones – fixed lines:
total subscriptions: 37,969
subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 2 (July 2016 est.)

Telephones – mobile cellular:
total: 2,838,127
subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 138 (July 2016 est.)

Internet country code:
.gm
total: 371,785
percent of population: 18.5% (July 2016 est.)

Industry and Mining

The West African country’s manufacturing sector continues to be under-exploited with a limited concentration of interconnected manufacturing companies. The sector consists mainly of medium-sized enterprises located primarily in the urban areas. The sector’s share of gross domestic product (GDP) continues to be low thus forming the basis of increased government efforts to expand industrial production and development. The Government’s strategy is to build on the small domestic base to encourage companies to supply the Gambian and regional markets, and subsequently develop products which can be exported to the EU and the US. The sector consists mainly of medium-sized enterprises located primarily in the urban areas. The sector’s share of gross domestic product (GDP) continues to be low thus forming the basis of increased government efforts to expand industrial production and development.

Although the Gambian market is small, there are substantial imports of manufactured goods and processed foods for the tourist and national populations. There is also a substantial regional market with established distribution channels developed through the existing re-export business. Horticulture Opportunities exist in the processing of fruits and vegetables for export as well as the domestic market. Large quantities of fresh produce are wasted during peak seasons, mainly due to inadequate storage facilities and limited value-adding activities. However, with the setting-up of the Free Export Processing Zone, and The Gambia’s strategic location as a short haul to major markets in the sub-region, the horticulture sector offers good export opportunities.

There are little major investments in this area; however, given the size of yearly imports of goods such as fruit juice, chicken feed, roasted confectionery nuts and dairy products, the sub-sector offers significant investment opportunities. There is a need for establishing a fruit juice processing industry to cater to the surplus on exports of fresh tomatoes, mangoes, lemons, oranges and other fruits. The production of tomato paste, hot pepper sauce, and processing of flour from wheat will significantly reduce the Gambia’s annual import requirements. In the same vein, creating a feed mill should complement the livestock sector. These food commodities have a greater export potential to the West African sub-region as well as satisfying local demand caused by the growth of the country’s tourism sector.

Fisheries The processing of The Gambia’s abundant fisheries resources – jumbo shrimps, lobsters, oysters, and smoked/dry fish – offers good investment potential. These can be purchased from Gambian fishing companies with adequate storage facilities and reliable supply sources. Potential investors can also invest in the whole value chain from commercial fish catching to processing, packaging and final marketing. Light manufacturing for the export market using the Free Export Processing Zone There exist investment opportunities in light pharmaceutical products, cosmetics, packing materials, ceramic tiles and sanitary wares, garments, mineral water and leather shoes. Investment opportunities also exist in bulk importation and reprocessing and repackaging.

Banking Sector

The Gambia Financial System has evolved rapidly over the last several years and is markedly liberalized now. Most interest rates are freely determined, direct controls have been eliminated, exchange controls abolished and the country has moved to the indirect system of monetary controls using open market operations. These measures increased competition in the domestic financial system. As a result of developments and policy practices changes in the legislation have also taken place. The Financial Institutions Act (FIA), the Central Bank Act (CBG Act) have been revised. The FIA Act 2003 has been enacted while the CBG Act 1992 is almost in its final stage of revision. The Insurance Act 2003 and the Money Laundering Act 2003 have also been enacted.

The Gambia has 12 commercial banks, one of which is an Islamic bank. The banking system is supervised by the Central Bank of The Gambia. The sector is dominated by subsidiaries of Nigerian banks. It should be noted that these subsidiaries are fairly independent of their parent institutions and are usually majority-owned by Gambian entities. The banking system is highly liquid and most banks are profitable. Most banks meet the regularity requirements of the central banks in terms of capital adequacy and liquidity. While the sector is profitable, the banks disproportionately depend on government assets (treasury bills). Lending to individuals and businesses is not high as interest rates are very high. There are no restrictions on foreign businesses opening accounts in The Gambia. Investors can repatriate funds through the banking system. There are no known features or rules/laws of The Gambia banking system that might impact U.S. businesses.

There are eleven insurance companies in The Gambia and most of them are involve in non-life underwriting. There is only one company that is entirely a life underwriter and another that is a composite insurer. The micro-finance sector consists of 66 institutions but classified under several categories: Fiduciary Financial Institutions, Rural Finance Bureaus, Community Finance Bureaus, Micro Savings and Credit Bureaus and the Savings and Credit Associations. The microfinance sector has been identified by the Gambia Government as one of the many instruments crucial in its drive to reduce poverty. The financial sector in The Gambia, though competitive, has room for new institutions and more so new products. With the global trend moving towards universal banking and offshore banking, investments in these areas can enhance The Gambia’s competitiveness internationally.

Tourism

Whilst The Gambia might only be a tiny sliver of a country, there are still a decent number of tourist attractions that are worth visiting. Some of these are historic sites which date back to the slave trade and the country’s colonial heritage. Other attractions are markets and craft centers showcasing The Gambia’s cultural traditions. Visitors can watch demonstrations of woodcarving or browse the colorful batik fabrics that grace market stalls throughout the country. However, for most tourists and holidaymakers, it is the glorious sandy beaches that beckon first.

The beaches and related attractions in The Gambia are one of the main reasons that so many people come to this part of Africa, looking for some sunshine when the weather at home is cold and less reliable. Do bear in mind that if you are planning to wear revealing swimwear, you should try to choose a discreet place if possible, so that you avoid offending local residents.

Place of Attraction

The tiny port city of Banjul, is the capital of The Gambia, in West Africa. It’s located in the southern part of the Gambia River estuary on Saint Mary’s Island, cut off from the mainland by a series of creeks lined with mangroves. This 36-meter tall arch towers over Independence Drive, the road into Banjul. It was built in 1996 to celebrate the military coup on 22 July 1994.

Holidays to The Gambia will provide some great wildlife-spotting opportunities for those who have packed their binoculars. Numerous intriguing nature habitats are dotted around the country, including the Abuko Nature Reserve and Kachikally Crocodile Pool. Green Vervet monkeys are a common sight in hotel grounds, proving you’ll never be too far away from some Gambian wildlife.

There are few places in the world to match the quality of birdwatching in The Gambia; just ask Chris Packham! You can embark on exclusive tours led by the TV presenter or his guide in The Gambia, Malick Suso, ticking off some of the 540 species of bird found in the country.

Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Project; This project forms the beating heart of River Gambia National Park. Comprised of so-called Baboon Island and several smaller islands, this is one of the most important wildlife sites in The Gambia. Despite the main island’s moniker, this place is really the kingdom of chimps – over 100 of the primates live across it and three other islands in four separate communities.

Bijilo Forest Park; This small 51-hectare reserve makes for a lovely escape. A series of well-maintained walking trails (ranging from 900m to 1400m) takes you through lush vegetation, gallery forest, low bush, and grass, towards the dunes. You’ll likely see green vervet, red colobus, and patas monkeys – avoid feeding them, as this only encourages them further.

History

Early history

There are signs that among the first people to settle in The Gambia were the Jola. The banks of The River Gambia have been inhabited continuously for many thousands of years. There are indeed pottery fragments that have been found and have been dated to about 5,500 years old. There is some historical evidence that some of the ancient peoples of Europe were in continuous contact with the West Africa region. The first known written record about The Gambia is a notation in the writings of Hanno, the Carthaginian, of his voyage down the west coast of Africa in about BC 470. These links came to an end with the decline of the Roman Empire and the rise and the subsequent expansion of Islam from North Africa.

As far back as AD 500, towns and villages based on agriculture and the knowledge of iron were scattered across West Africa. As we move into the first millennium, trade and commercial activities increased substantially between the areas north and south of the Sahara. It is assumed that between the 5th and 8th centuries most of the Senegambian area was populated by the tribe of the Serahule, and their descendants represent about 9% of today’s Gambian population.

The first written records of the region come from Arab traders in the 9th and 10th centuries. Arab traders provided the first written accounts of the Gambia area in the ninth and tenth centuries. During the tenth century, Muslim merchants and scholars established communities in several West African commercial centers. Both groups established trans-Saharan trade routes, leading to a large export trade of local people as slaves, also gold and ivory, as well as imports of manufactured goods. By the 11th or 12th century, the rulers of kingdoms such as Takrur, a monarchy centered on the Senegal River just to the north, ancient Ghana and Gao had converted to Islam and had appointed to their courts Muslims who were literate in the Arabic language. At the beginning of the 14th century, most of what is today called The Gambia was part of the Mali Empire. The Portuguese reached this area by sea in the mid-15th century and began to dominate overseas trade.

In medieval times, the region was dominated by the Trans-Saharan trade and was ruled by the Mali Empire. In the 16th century, the region came to be ruled by the Songhai Empire. The first Europeans to visit the Gambia River were the Portuguese in the 15th century, who attempted to settle on the river banks, but no settlement of significant size was established. Descendants of the Portuguese settlers remained until the 18th century. In the late 16th century, English merchants attempted to begin a trade with the Gambia, reporting that it was “a river of secret trade and riches concealed by the Portuguese.”

European Contacts

The first Europeans to reach the river were the Portuguese in 1455. Captains Luiz de Cadamosto and Antoniotti Usodimare traveled a few kilometers upstream before being repulsed by the angry local inhabitants. In 1456 the same group returned and this time managed to travel 20 miles up-river and came across what was later re-named James Island. It is said they had named the island St. Andrews Island after a sailor who had passed away and was buried there. The name was later changed by European colonialists. Trade possibilities in the next two centuries drew English, French, Dutch, Swedish, and Courlander trading companies to western Africa. In 1588, the claimant to the Portuguese throne, António, Prior of Crato, sold exclusive trade rights on the Gambia River to English merchants. Letters patent from Queen Elizabeth I confirmed the grant.

By the 1600s the large agricultural and commercial estates owned by Portuguese, in Brazil, needed more labor, which the Portuguese began to transport from West Africa. Although slavery had existed in Africa for many centuries, the Portuguese developed the trade on a large scale and had a virtual monopoly on it until the mid-16th century, when Britain joined the trade. The success of Portuguese exploration encouraged other Europeans to enter The Gambia River and trade with the local inhabitants. James Island which was to become the main settlement of the Europeans frequently changed ownership. Thus from the Portuguese, its ownership switched to the Duke of Courland, the Dutch and finally the British. By the 1650s, Portugal had been largely ousted by the French and British. In 1618, King James I of England granted a charter to an English company for trade with the Gambia and the Gold Coast (now Ghana). Between 1651 and 1661, some parts of the Gambia were under the rule of the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia and were bought by Prince Jacob Kettler.

The Courlanders remained dominant until 1659 when their possessions were handed over to the Dutch West India Company. In 1660, the Courlanders resumed possession, but the next year was expelled by the newly formed Royal Adventurers in Africa Company. In 1667, the rights of the Royal Adventurers to the Gambia were sublet to the Gambia Adventurers but later reverted to the new Royal African Company. 1677 saw the beginning of a century-and-a-half-long struggle between the English and French for supremacy over the Gambia and Senegal. The English possessions were captured several times by the French, but in the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, the British rights to the region were recognized by the French. In the mid-18th century, the Royal African Company began having serious financial problems and in 1750, Parliament divested the company of its rights in the region. In 1766, the Crown gained possession of the territory, and it formed part of the Senegambia colony. In 1783, Senegambia ceased existing as a British colony.

The Trans-Atlantic Slave trade

During the late 17th century and throughout the 18th century, the British Empire and the French Empire struggled continually for political and commercial supremacy in the regions of the Senegal River and the Gambia River. The British Empire occupied the Gambia when an expedition led by Augustus Keppel landed there following the Capture of Senegal in 1758. The 1783 First Treaty of Versailles gave Great Britain possession of the Gambia River, but the French retained a tiny enclave at Albreda on the river’s north bank. With the British abolition of the Slave Trade in their settlements in 1807, they tried to look for a suitable location in The Gambia from where they would be able to monitor the river and stop ships from entering and leaving with slaves.

Alexander Grant, sent out from Goree for this purpose, found the fort at James Island to be too far inland and in ruins. He, therefore, entered into a treaty with the Chief of Kombo in April 1816 for the cessation of the detached sandbank known as St. Mary’s Island. Originally called Banjul by the Portuguese, Grant named the new settlement, Bathurst after the Colonial Secretary of the time Lord Bathurst. This was finally ceded to the United Kingdom in 1856. As many as three million people may have been taken as slaves from this general region during the three centuries that the transatlantic slave trade operated. It is not known how many people were taken as slaves by intertribal wars or Muslim traders before the transatlantic slave trade began.

Traders initially sent people to Europe to work as servants until the market for labor expanded in the West Indies and North America in the 18th century. In 1807, the United Kingdom abolished the slave trade throughout its empire. It also tried, unsuccessfully, to end the slave trade in the Gambia. Slave ships intercepted by the Royal Navy’s West Africa Squadron in the Atlantic were also returned to the Gambia, with people who had been slaves released on MacCarthy Island far up the Gambia River where they were expected to establish new lives. The British established the military post of Bathurst (now Banjul) in 1816.

The only Europeans were traders who existed in a few settlements on the river banks, such as Pisania. Following the end of the Napoleonic Wars, Alexander Grant was sent to re-establish a presence in the Gambia. He established Bathurst and the British possessions continued to grow in size through a series of treaties. It was administered from Sierra Leone until 1843 when it was given its own Governor, but in 1866 merged again with Sierra Leone. British domination of the riverine areas seemed assured after 1857, but the increasing importance of peanut cultivation in Senegal prompted a new imperialism.

Colonial British

By 1880 France controlled Senegal; in the 1870s the British attempted twice to trade the Gambia to France, but opposition at home and in the Gambia foiled these plans. Complicating matters was the series of religious conflicts, called the Soninke-Marabout Wars, lasting a half century. Only one Muslim leader, Maba, emerged who could have unified the various kingdoms, but he was killed in 1864. By 1880 the religious aspect had all but disappeared, and the conflicts were carried on by war chiefs such as Musa Mollah, Fodi Silla, and Fodi Kabba.

In 1886, Gambia became a crown colony, and the following year France and Britain drew the boundaries between Senegal (by then a French colony) and the Gambia. The session of the Gambia to France was proposed in the late 19th century but was met with considerable protest in both the Gambia and in England. In 1888, the colony regained its own government structure, and in 1894 the Gambia Colony and Protectorate were properly established along the lines it would continue to hold until independence. With the slave trade at an end, the British were forced to come up with a new source of wealth to support the fledgling protectorate, which led to the planting of groundnuts. The harvested nuts are crushed to make oil, which is exported to Europe for use in food manufacture.

In 1900 Britain imposed the indirect rule on the interior, or protectorate (established in 1894), dividing it into 35 chiefdoms, each with its own chief. The real power was concentrated in the British governor and his staff at Bathurst. The Gambia received its own executive and legislative councils in 1901, and it gradually progressed toward self-government. Slavery was abolished in 1906, and following a brief conflict between the British colonial forces and indigenous Gambians, British colonial authority was firmly established. Gambian soldiers fought in World War I, and in the 1920s Edward Francis Small led the push for emancipation, founding the Bathurst Trade Union and the Rate Payers’ Association. During World War II, the Gambia Company was raised to a regiment, and notably fought in the Burma Campaign in the latter years of the war. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s visit to the Gambia in 1943 was the first visit by a sitting US President to the African continent.

The Independent Gambia

Following the war, the pace of reform increased, with an economic focus on the production of the groundnut and a failed programme called the Gambia Poultry Scheme by the Colonial Development Corporation. The push towards self-government increased its pace, and the House of Representatives was established in 1960. Pierre Sarr N’Jie served as Chief Minister from 1961 to 1962, though following the 1962 election Dawda Jawara became Prime Minister, beginning the People’s Progressive Party’s dominance of Gambian politics for the next thirty years. Full internal self-government was achieved in 1963.

The desire of the people of The Gambia to rule themselves gradually developed after the World War II. Political parties were formed in the colony and some later extended to the Protectorate. On the 18th of February 1965, The Gambia gained political independence from Britain. Although Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II remained as titular head of state. It was strongly felt that The Gambia would not be able to stand on her own and there were talks of forming a federation with Senegal. But this did not materialize at the time. Around the same time, two events occurred that enabled the tiny nation to survive and even prosper. For a decade after independence, the world price for groundnuts increased significantly, raising the country’s GNP almost threefold. The second event had an even more resounding effect – the Gambia became a significant tourist destination.

On April 24, 1970, The Gambia became a republic following a majority-approved referendum. Until a military coup in July 1994, The Gambia was led by President Dawda Kairaba Jawara, who was re-elected five times. The relative stability of the Jawara era was broken first in a violent coup attempt in 1981. The failed coup was led by Kukoi Samba Sanyang, who, on two occasions, had unsuccessfully sought election to parliament. After a week of violence, which left several hundred dead, Jawara, in London when the attack began, appealed to Senegal for help. Senegalese troops defeated the rebel force. In 1982, in the aftermath of the 1981 attempted coup, Senegal and The Gambia signed a treaty of confederation. The Senegambia Confederation aimed to combine the armed forces of the two states and to unify their economies and currencies. After just seven years, The Gambia permanently withdrew from the confederation in 1989.

Struggle For Democracy

In July 1994, Yahya Jammeh led a coup d’état that deposed the Jawara government. Between 1994 and 1996, Jammeh ruled as head of the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) and banned opposition political activity. The AFPRC announced a transition plan for a return to democratic civilian rule, establishing the Provisional Independent Electoral Commission (PIEC) in 1996 to conduct national elections. After a constitutional referendum in August, presidential and parliamentary elections were held. Jammeh was sworn into office as president on 6 November 1996. On 17 April 1997, the PIEC transformed into the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).

Jammeh won both the 2001 and 2006 elections. He was re-elected as president in 2011. The People’s Republic of China cut ties with the Gambia in 1995 after the latter established diplomatic links with the Republic of China (Taiwan). the Gambia was elected to a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council from 1998 to 1999. On 2 October 2013, the Gambian interior minister announced that the Gambia would leave the Commonwealth of Nations with immediate effect, stating that they would “never again be part of a neo-colonial organization”. In December 2014, an attempted coup was launched to overthrow President Jammeh. The presidential election of 2016 saw the surprising victory of the opposition candidate Adama Barrow, who defeated Jammeh with 43,3% of votes.

However, Jammeh refused to recognize the result of the election and refused to leave office, instead proclaiming a state of emergency. Barrow abandoned the country and fled to Senegal, where he was sworn in as the new president at the Gambian embassy in Dakar on 19 January 2017. On the same day, ECOWAS launched a military intervention in the Gambia in order to forcefully remove Jammeh from power (Operation Restore Democracy); the move was authorized by United Nations Security Council with UNSC Resolution 2337. On 21 January 2017 Jammeh announced stepped down as president and abandoned the country and went to exile in Equatorial Guinea. On 27 January 2017 Barrow returned to the Gambia and officially took office. On 6 April 2017 parliamentary elections were held, which saw the victory of Barrow’s United Democratic Party, scoring 37,47% and winning 31 of the 53 seats of the National Assembly.

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