- Gambia, The
officially Republic of the GambiaCountry, western Africa.Constituting an enclave in Senegal, it lies along the Gambia River, stretching inland 295 mi (475 km) from the Atlantic Ocean. Area: 4,127 sq mi (10,689 sq km). Population (2002 est.): 1,418,000. Capital: Banjul. About two-fifths of the population is Malinke, followed by Fulani (about one-fifth), Wolof (about one-seventh), and other groups. Language: English (official). Religion: Islam. Currency: dalasi. The Gambia has a subtropical climate and is generally hilly, with savanna in the uplands and swamps in low-lying areas. It has a developing market economy based largely on the production and export of peanuts, though only about one-sixth of the land is arable. The river serves as a major transportation artery. Tourism is an important source of revenue. The Gambia is a republic with one legislative body; its head of state and government is the president. Beginning around the 13th century AD, the Wolof, Malinke, and Fulani peoples settled in different parts of what is now The Gambia and established villages and then kingdoms in the region. European exploration began when the Portuguese sighted the Gambia River in 1455. In the 17th century, when Britain and France both settled in the area, the British Fort James, on an island about 20 mi (32 km) from the river's mouth, was an important collection point for the slave trade. In 1783 the Treaty of Versailles reserved the Gambia River for Britain. After the British abolished slavery in 1807, they built a fort at the mouth of the river to block the continuing slave trade. In 1889 The Gambia's boundaries were agreed upon by Britain and France; the British declared a protectorate over the area in 1894. Independence was proclaimed in 1965, and The Gambia became a republic within the Commonwealth in 1970. It formed a limited confederation with Senegal in 1982, which was dissolved in 1989. During the 1990s the country faced political problems, but at the beginning of the 21st century its biggest concern was its poor economy.
* * *▪ 2009Area:11,300 sq km (4,363 sq mi)Population(2008 est.): 1,754,000Capital:BanjulHead of state and government:President Col. Yahya JammehIn early 2008 the economy of The Gambia grew by more than 6%, and the IMF and the World Bank in March said that the country had met the requirements for full debt relief. When rising world food and oil prices began to have a serious impact on the economy, however, Pres. Yahya Jammeh called on Gambians to work for food self-sufficiency. This declaration was well received, unlike his statement in May, when Jammeh said that homosexuals should leave the country within 24 hours. He reportedly threatened to have them beheaded if they did not depart, though he later denied this.Human rights monitors also continued to express concern about numerous infringements of press freedom. A number of journalists were detained, and one was severely beaten. In June the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States declared illegal the arrest and detention of a journalist and ordered Gambian authorities to release him. In September, Abdul Hamid Adiamoh (the publisher and editor of Today, a privately owned Banjul-based newspaper) was arrested for the fourth time, put on trial for publishing “with seditious intent,” and charged with tax evasion. The Gambia had also come into the news in August when the head of the navy of Guinea-Bissau, who was alleged to have been involved in a failed coup attempt there, was arrested as he arrived by sea.Christopher Saunders▪ 2008Area:10,689 sq km (4,127 sq mi)Population(2007 est.): 1,709,000Capital:BanjulHead of state and government:President Col. Yahya JammehPres. Yahya Jammeh, who had easily won the presidential election in The Gambia in 2006, made more international news in January 2007 when he announced that on particular days of the week, he could cure HIV, using herbs and bananas and spiritual methods. Footage of Jammeh applying his treatment was broadcast on state-run television. Though Jammeh could do nothing about the criticisms that came from outside the country by AIDS activists who warned that his claim could influence people with HIV not to take antiretroviral medication, he did expel a senior UN official after she questioned his cure. Jammeh also claimed to be able to treat asthma, diabetes, and hypertension, and in June the Organization of West African Traditional Practitioners made him its honorary president.Meanwhile, journalists who spoke out continued to be arrested for violating “state security,” and Banjul continued to be affected by the fighting in Senegal's Casamance province; a leading rebel leader fled into The Gambia to escape capture. Jammeh resisted pressure from China to drop his country's support for Taiwan, which had provided assistance in his campaign to reduce the country's dependence on imported foods. While the government prided itself on the rollout of electricity, new roads, health clinics, and clean water, the tourists from Europe who flocked to the beaches could not entirely ignore the evidence of dire poverty.Christopher Saunders▪ 2007Area:10,689 sq km (4,127 sq mi)Population(2006 est.): 1,556,000Capital:BanjulHead of state and government:President Col. Yahya JammehWith the Gambian opposition split, Pres. Yahya Jammeh of the ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction won the presidential election held in late September 2006. He was able to control the way the poll was organized, and pressures from the National Intelligence Agency were widely applied. The president gained 67% of the ballots, but only 59% of the registered voters turned out. Ousainu Darboe, leader of the opposition United Democratic Party, pulled out of the opposition alliance when he was not chosen as its presidential candidate. He alleged various electoral irregularities, including the registration as voters of people from the Casamance region of Senegal and from Guinea-Bissau and the use of state resources for Jammeh's campaign. After he won only 27% of the vote, Darboe rejected the election results as fraudulent, and the Commonwealth observer mission was critical of the campaign methods used by Jammeh's party.The lack of media freedom in The Gambia was highlighted when the African Union held its seventh annual summit in Banjul in June–July, but human rights abuses continued to occur. Nine army officers and eight civilians remained on trial for treason, accused of having taken part in an attempted coup in March. When the editor of an English-language newspaper published details of the coup attempt, the paper was closed and he was jailed.In November 2005 The Gambia had been deemed eligible for funds under the U.S. government's Millennium Challenge Corporation, but in June 2006 the U.S. withdrew this offer because of The Gambia's civil rights record and failure to tackle corruption.Christopher Saunders▪ 2006Area:10,689 sq km (4,127 sq mi)Population(2005 est.): 1,517,000Capital:BanjulHead of state and government:President Col. Yahya JammehIn January 2005 five opposition parties in The Gambia, under the leadership of Halifa Sallah, minority leader in the parliament, launched a coalition—the National Alliance for Democracy and Development—to challenge Pres. Yahya Jammeh and his ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction in the 2006 elections. The same month Jammeh, who had ruled since 1994, was defeated in a contest for chair of the UN Economic Community of West African States by the president of Niger, who was supported by Nigeria. It was thought that Jammeh's links with Charles Taylor, the former strongman of Liberia, had counted against him. In March Jammeh dismissed his ministers of economy, health, and agriculture and reduced the size of his cabinet.In December 2004 the parliament had approved media legislation that imposed mandatory prison terms for press offenses and made operating licenses for private newspapers and radio stations prohibitively expensive. Shortly thereafter Deydra Hydara, a leading critic of the new laws and editor of the Banjul newspaper The Point, was shot dead. Opposition groups claimed the murder was politically motivated. The country's police chief was sacked in February 2005, but by then no one had been charged with the crime.Christopher Saunders▪ 2005Area:10,689 sq km (4,127 sq mi)Population(2004 est.): 1,405,000Capital:BanjulHead of state and government:President Col. Yahya JammehIn July 2004 Gambian Pres. Yahya Jammeh celebrated 10 years in office. Ceremonies were held that involved the vice president of Ghana and representatives from Swaziland, Guinea-Bissau, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Mali, and Cape Verde. Lamin Juwara, the leader of the opposition National Democratic Action Movement, however, accused the Jammeh government of forcing many young people to flee the country because of a lack of employment opportunities and an oppressive political climate. He cited arbitrary arrests, detentions, beatings with impunity, and general lawlessness. In October 2003 a fire was started in the main offices of the privately owned newspaper The Independent, which had been strongly critical of the government. Then in April, after the paper had continued with its criticisms, armed men entered a building in a suburb of Banjul and destroyed the newspaper's printing press. It was widely believed that the perpetrators were members of the State Guard, a unit providing security to the president, but appeals by the World Association of Newspapers and the World Editors Forum and others for a thorough investigation were ignored. Meanwhile, in March the president's former right-hand man, Baba Diop, was sentenced to nine years' imprisonment for economic crimes. The number of tourists increased to more than 100,000, thanks in part to a new charter service that took Spaniards to the Gambian beaches and also in part to a new focus on ecotourism.Christopher Saunders▪ 2004Area:10,689 sq km (4,127 sq mi)Population(2003 est.): 1,426,000Capital:BanjulHead of state and government:President Col. Yahya JammehIn 2003 the regime of Pres. Yahya Jammeh continued to be eccentric and semiautocratic, and the country, which lived off tourism, groundnuts, and aid remained extremely poor. Jammeh kept close ties with Liberia's notorious Pres. Charles Taylor before Taylor was forced into exile in Nigeria.A tough media law that took effect in August 2002 gave a national media commission, appointed by the president, the powers of a court of law to examine complaints against media outlets and their employees, including the ability to bring them to trial. International media groups were especially critical of the powers given the commission to suspend or retract authorization for journalists to work. In September 2003 the editor in chief of the country's twice-weekly the Independent newspaper was arrested in Banjul by the National Intelligence Agency after the paper published an article critical of the president. He was released a few days later after an international outcry.International human rights bodies were also critical of the female genital mutilation that continued to be practiced widely in the country, but President Jammeh publicly opposed banning it on the grounds that it was part of the country's culture. Meanwhile, a group of Gambians living in the U.S. formed a Save the Gambia Fund to promote democratic change in their country of origin and prepare for the 2006 presidential election.Christopher Saunders▪ 2003Area:10,689 sq km (4,127 sq mi)Population(2002 est.): 1,418,000Capital:BanjulHead of state and government:President Col. Yahya JammehIn February 2002 Senegalese Pres. Abdoulaye Wade visited The Gambia for celebrations to mark the anniversary of independence from Britain, and in April Pres. Yahya Jammeh was guest of honour in Dakar at the celebrations to mark Senegal's independence from France. Jammeh's efforts to mediate in the ongoing conflict in the southern Senegalese region of Casamance achieved little, and refugees from the conflict continued to enter The Gambia. In June relations with Guinea-Bissau suddenly deteriorated after Pres. Kumba Ialá of that country threatened to “crush The Gambia in two minutes” if it did not deal with alleged coup plotters based there. After Jammeh denounced this threat, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan sent a special peace envoy to defuse the tension.Internal controversy in 2002 focused on increased threats to freedom of expression, seen especially in the arrest of a number of journalists and in the passage through the National Assembly of the harsh Media Commission bill. It proposed a body that would register all reporters, enforce the disclosure of sources, be able to impose fines for the publication of “unauthorized stories,” and close down papers for noncompliance with its orders. Following some negotiations between the president and the National Assembly, the bill was signed into law. The Gambia Press Union threatened to take the measure to the high court, however, claiming that it violated the 1997 constitution.Christopher Saunders▪ 2002Area:10,689 sq km (4,127 sq mi)Population(2001 est.): 1,411,000Capital:BanjulHead of state and government:President Col. Yahya JammehThe Gambian government spent much of the first half of 2001 dealing with calls for the scrapping of Decree 89, which banned the former main parties—including Sir Dawda Jawara's People's Progressive Party, which Pres. Col. Yahya Jammeh had ousted from power in 1994—from participating in elections. Opposition parties also called for the repeal of the decrees muzzling the press and civil society. On July 22 President Jammeh finally lifted the restrictive Decree 89.Former president Jawara, who was living in exile in London, was ineligible to stand for election because he was older than 65. Some of the opposition parties formed a coalition in August and chose a popular lawyer, Ousainou Darboe of the United Democratic Party, as their presidential candidate. Earlier in the year Darboe had been charged with murder in an attempt to disqualify him from running. In the election held on October 18, Jammeh captured 53% of the vote, compared with Darboe's 32%. Though the opposition claimed that a number of irregularities had occurred, including the registration of foreign nationals from Casamance, it accepted the election results, which was a significant victory for Jammeh, whose win in the 1996 election had been tainted by allegations of fraud. Legislative elections were planned for January 2002.Jammeh had earlier rejected the findings of a commission of inquiry, led by a senior judge, into the fatal shooting in April 2000 of 14 demonstrators. Brushing aside the commission's criticisms of the interior minister and the police intelligence unit, the government pushed legislation through the National Assembly to indemnify those involved in the shooting.Christopher Saunders▪ 2001Area:10,689 sq km (4,127 sq mi)Population(2000 est.): 1,367,000Capital:BanjulHead of state and government:President Col. Yahya JammehThe peaceful change of government by electoral means in neighbouring Senegal in March 2000 encouraged the political opposition in The Gambia. In January and again in June, the police announced that they had foiled coup attempts against Pres. Yahya Jammeh. In April a demonstration in Banjul called by the Gambia Students' Union to protest the torture and murder of a secondary-school pupil by members of the fire brigade turned violent. The paramilitaries opened fire, and at least 12 people were killed. In July, Ousainou Darboe, the leader of the main opposition United Democratic Party, was campaigning in the east of the country for upcoming November local elections when a supporter of the ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction was killed. Darboe and 23 other members of his party were charged with murder and put on trial.Relations with Senegal, which nearly surrounds The Gambia, deteriorated after the new government came to power there. A border dispute led to a closing of the border for a time. When Abdoulaye Wade, the new Senegalese president, criticized The Gambia for receiving arms from Libya, The Gambia stopped its mediation efforts in Senegal's Casamance dispute, though later in the year it temporarily resumed its role as mediator. A wing of the separatist Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance was based in The Gambia, and Senegalese nationals made up an estimated 350,000 of The Gambia's population.On November 21 Gambian security chiefs apprehended and detained Valentine Strasser, the former head (1992–96) of a Sierra Leonean military junta, who had failed to inform authorities of his arrival as was the custom with former visiting heads of state. Strasser, who was viewed as a potential threat to The Gambia's security, had first entered the country on October 27 but was turned away by immigration authorities and sent back to Britain, where he had been studying since his ouster. British immigration officials, in turn, denied him entry back into that country and returned him to The Gambia, where officials considered Strasser's deportation to Sierra Leone.Christopher Saunders▪ 2000Area:10,689 sq km (4,127 sq mi)Population(1999 est.): 1,336,000Capital:BanjulHead of state and government:President Col. Yahya JammehIn 1999 Ousainou Darboe, the leader of the main opposition United Democratic Party, stepped up criticism of the government of Pres. Yahya Jammeh and his ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction, charging that the government was both dictatorial and inefficient. The president rejected the accusation that he had supported the Casamance rebellion in Senegal and reminded Gambians of the corruption under their former president, Sir Dawda Jawara. In March Jammeh dismissed a leading figure in the army after he refused to accompany the small Gambian contingent being sent to Guinea-Bissau as part of a West African peacekeeping force.The market for peanuts, once the country's main export earner, continued to be depressed. Tourism continued to recover very slowly, with fewer than 100,000 tourists arriving in 1999. An International Monetary Fund mission that visited the country in February expressed unhappiness with the slowness of both the government's privatization program and its reform of fiscal administration. There were also widespread allegations of financial irregularities in the way the peanut industry was managed.Christopher Saunders▪ 1999Area: 10,689 sq km (4,127 sq mi)Population (1998 est.): 1,292,000Capital: BanjulHead of state and government: President Capt. Yahya JammehPres. Yahya Jammeh, who had come to power in a military coup in 1994 and been confirmed in power in a presidential election in September 1996, governed The Gambia in 1998 through his Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction, which enjoyed a large majority in the National Assembly. Several actions during the year demonstrated that he ruled the nation in a highly authoritarian manner. In June four leading opposition politicians were arrested when they protested against corruption and a financial scandal. The main opposition party, the United Democratic Party, sued for damages when its former leader, Dadawa Jawara, was held under arrest. Opposition and human rights groups, along with the Commonwealth, accused Jammeh of violating human rights and abusing freedom of expression. He closed a radio station and a newspaper; the mysterious death of the former finance minister was not explained; and there was much corruption, despite promises that it would be rooted out. In March Jammeh visited Libya and rallied Libyan leader Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi to his support.The Gambia's economy remained highly dependent on external funding. In 1998 the tourist industry had not yet fully recovered from its collapse following the military takeover. In June The Gambia sent 300 troops to Sierra Leone to help the West African peacekeeping force restore order there.CHRISTOPHER SAUNDERS▪ 1998Area: 10,689 sq km (4,127 sq mi)Population (1997 est.): 1,248,000Capital: BanjulHead of state and government: President Capt. Yahya JammehOn Nov. 8, 1996, a group of unknown assailants attacked a military barracks at Farafenni near the Senegal border, leaving a number of soldiers dead and wounded. The government then announced a postponement of the legislative elections, which were to be held on December 11; they were rescheduled for Jan. 2, 1997. The government also banned all political rallies indefinitely; it had been angered by weekly rallies called by the opposition leader, Ousainou Darboe, the principal presidential rival to Pres. Yahya Jammeh in the elections of the previous September.The postponed elections were held in January 1997 and resulted in victory for Jammeh's Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction, which won 33 of 45 seats and so obtained the more than two-thirds majority required for it to be allowed to alter the constitution. Darboe's United Democratic Party won seven seats, the National Reconciliation Party two, the People's Democratic Organization for Independence and Socialism one, and independents two. Of the eligible voters, 73% went to the polls.The first session of the National Assembly was held on January 16. Mustapha Wadda, the former secretary-general of government and head of the civil service, was elected speaker, and the new constitution went into effect. On April 17 President Jammeh completed the return to civilian rule that he had promised, replacing four of the regional military governors with civilians.Early in July Dominic Mendy, secretary of state for finance and economic affairs, presented a budget for July-Dec. 31, 1997. Revenues were set at 338.7 million dalasis and expenditures at 558.1 million dalasis.GUY ARNOLDThis article updates Gambia, history of The (Gambia, The).▪ 1997A republic and member of the Commonwealth, The Gambia extends from the Atlantic Ocean along the lower Gambia River in West Africa; it is surrounded by Senegal. Area: 10,689 sq km (4,127 sq mi). Pop. (1996 est.): 1,148,000. Cap.: Banjul. Monetary unit: dalasi, with (Oct. 11, 1996) a free rate of 9.85 dalasis to U.S. $1 (15.51 dalasis = £1 sterling). Chairman of the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council in 1996 and, from September 26, president, Capt. Yahya Jammeh.Capt. Yahya Jammeh, head of the government in The Gambia, announced early in 1996 that presidential and legislative elections would be held in June. This electoral process would return The Gambia to constitutional rule. Delays then occurred, and no June elections took place.A referendum was set for August 7 on a new constitution, and Jammeh described it as a first step toward the restoration of normal political life. Over 80% of the eligible voters went to the polls, and more than 70% of them voted in favour of the new constitution. Presidential and legislative elections were then promised; September 26 was set for the presidential elections, and the ban on political activity was lifted. The three political parties active during the regime of Pres. Sir Dawda Jawara and anyone who had held ministerial posts during the previous 30 years were, however, barred from taking part in the campaign and from subsequently holding office. Jammeh accepted an invitation by "leaders of thought and opinion" to run as a civilian for president. In the election he defeated three rivals by a 2-1 margin to become The Gambia's second elected president. (GUY ARNOLD)This article updates Gambia, history of The (Gambia, The).▪ 1996A republic and member of the Commonwealth, The Gambia extends from the Atlantic Ocean along the lower Gambia River in West Africa; it is surrounded by Senegal. Area: 10,689 sq km (4,127 sq mi). Pop. (1995 est.): 1,115,000. Cap.: Banjul. Monetary unit: dalasi, with (Oct. 6, 1995) a free rate of 9.65 dalasis to U.S. $1 (15.26 dalasis = £1 sterling). Chairman of the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council in 1995, Capt. Yahya Jammeh.Two members of the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council who had opposed plans to hand power back to civilian rule earlier than originally intended led an attempt to overthrow the government in January 1995. The two, Capt. Sana Sabally (vice-chairman of the Council) and Capt. Sadibu Hydara, minister of the interior, failed in their attempt, and they were arrested by the head of the government, Capt. Yahya Jammeh.Donor countries exerted pressure throughout the year to persuade The Gambia to return to civilian rule, and on March 20 Jammeh announced a Cabinet reshuffle in an exercise to convince outsiders that he would soon restore such a government. But the following day Fafa Idrissa M'baye, who had just been dismissed as minister of justice and attorney general, was arrested for advocating an early return to civilian rule.In November the junta reportedly extended the power of the security forces to detain suspected opponents without charge for up to three months. As many as 40 people had been detained for a week in October. (GUY ARNOLD)▪ 1995A republic and member of the Commonwealth, The Gambia extends from the Atlantic Ocean along the lower Gambia River in West Africa; it is surrounded by Senegal. Area: 10,689 sq km (4,127 sq mi). Pop. (1994 est.): 1,060,000. Cap.: Banjul. Monetary unit: dalasi, with (Oct. 7, 1994) a free rate of 9.53 dalasis to U.S. $1 (15.16 dalasis = £1 sterling). President in 1994, Sir Dawda Jawara until July 22; chairman of the Armed Forces Provisional Council from July 26, Lieut. Yahya Jammeh.On July 22, 1994, an army coup toppled Pres. Dawda Jawara from power; he and his family were taken to asylum in Senegal by a U.S. warship that was on a courtesy visit to the country. The coup, led by Lieut. Yahya Jammeh, had begun as a rampage through the streets of Banjul by disgruntled soldiers claiming back pay for peacekeeping service in Liberia. There were no casualties. U.S. complicity in the coup was suggested, largely, it would seem, because of the coincidental presence of the U.S. warship at Banjul. Sir Dawda was the last head of state in Africa who had been in office since independence.The new regime established an executive committee to run the daily affairs of the country and announced plans to merge the 800-strong army and 600-strong police force. On July 28 a new Cabinet was sworn in with Jammeh as chairman of the Armed Forces Provisional Council. One of the first decrees of the new regime empowered the vice-chairman, Lieut. S.B. Sabally, to arrest and detain members of the armed forces "in the interest of the security of Gambia," and another suspended all political activity. A reported coup attempt in November was put down.(GUY ARNOLD)▪ 1994A republic and member of the Commonwealth, The Gambia extends from the Atlantic Ocean along the lower Gambia River in West Africa; it is surrounded by Senegal. Area: 10,689 sq km (4,127 sq mi). Pop. (1993 est.): 1,033,000. Cap.: Banjul. Monetary unit: dalasi, with (Oct. 4, 1993) a free rate of 9.33 dalasis to U.S. $1 (14.14 dalasis = £1 sterling). President in 1993, Sir Dawda Jawara.The Gambia abolished the death sentence on April 7, 1993. Vice Pres. Saihou S. Sabally said the move was in keeping with The Gambia's commitment to human rights and pointed out that of 87 death sentences passed since independence, only one had been carried out. Another influx of refugees from the troubled Casamance province in neighbouring Senegal took place in March. In April, Ousman Manjang and Hamidou Drammeh, leaders of the Movement for Justice in Africa party, banned for 12 years after the abortive coup of 1981 and legalized again only in November 1992, returned to The Gambia, where they were expected to reactivate the party.Achievements in agriculture, the basis of the economy, continued to fall short of potential. A $17.2 million project was launched to improve agricultural services for 550,000 rural Gambians over five years. The International Development Association was providing a credit of $12.3 million, the International Fund for Agricultural Development $3.6 million, and The Gambia itself $1.3 million. In June, Gambia Airways announced a new weekly service between Banjul and London in addition to its West African services. In August a £1 million agreement with the British Overseas Development Administration was concluded for teacher training in The Gambia, with particular emphasis on English and mathematics. (GUY ARNOLD)
* * *IntroductionGambia, flag of The country in western Africa situated on the Atlantic coast and surrounded by the neighbouring country of Senegal. It occupies a long narrow strip of land that surrounds the Gambia River. The land is flat and is dominated by the river, which is navigable throughout the length of the country.The peculiar shape and size of the country are the result of territorial compromises made during the 19th century by Great Britain, which controlled the lower Gambia River, and France, which ruled the neighbouring colony of Senegal. Periodic talks in the 20th century to unite The Gambia and Senegal led to the short-lived Senegambia confederation (1982–89).The Gambia is Africa's smallest non-island country; it is also one of Africa's most densely populated countries. A few towns are located upriver, but most Gambians live in rural villages. The major ethnic groups are similar to those in Senegal and consist of the majority Malinke and also include Wolof, Fulani (Fulbe), Diola (Jola), and Soninke peoples. The Gambian economy is heavily dependent on peanut (groundnut) production and export.The country is known for the beaches along its small Atlantic coastline and for being home to Jufureh (Juffure), the reputed ancestral village of Kunta Kinte, the main character in Alex Haley (Haley, Alex)'s well-known novel Roots. The capital, Banjul (called Bathurst until 1973), is situated where the Gambia River flows into the Atlantic Ocean.Land (Gambia, The)The Gambia is a strip of land 15 to 30 miles (25 to 50 km) wide on either side of the Gambia River and extends almost 300 miles (480 km) into the interior; except for a short coastline along the Atlantic Ocean, it is entirely surrounded by Senegal.Relief and drainageThe Gambia River is the country's dominant feature. It flows across a plateau of Miocene-Pliocene sandstone consisting of compacted sediment composed predominantly of quartz grains formed from about 23.7 to 1.6 million years ago. In the east, narrow valleys are separated by broad interfluves or flattish hills. In the west, lower and smaller sand hills alternate with depressions filled in with sand to form a flat plain.Soils and climateThe Gambia has a wet-and-dry tropical climate characterized by an intense rainy season occurring generally between June and October and by a longer dry season. Near the coast the rainy season lasts longer, and the rainfall is heavier, diminishing eastward. At Yundum the average annual rainfall is about 50 inches (1,300 mm), and the mean monthly temperature tends to be in the upper 70s F (mid-20s C), while at Basse Santa Su, about 270 miles (435 km) inland, the comparable figures are about 40 inches (1,000 mm) and the low 80s F (upper 20s C). The relative humidity is high but drops from December to April, when the dry northeastern wind known as the harmattan is dominant.Plant and animal lifeThe vegetation cover of The Gambia is savanna on the uplands, various kinds of inland swamp in the low-lying areas, and mangrove swamp along the brackish lower Gambia River. Few wild animals are native to the region, and those that survive are under pressure from the human and domestic animal populations. In the middle and upper river areas there are warthogs, monkeys, baboons, antelope, pygmy hippopotamuses, and crocodiles. In addition, more than 500 species of birds live throughout the country. Birds and wildlife can be found in Bijilo Forest Park, along the Atlantic coast, the Abuko Nature Reserve, just upriver from Banjul, Kiang West National Park, farther inland, and River Gambia National Park (also known as Baboon Island National Park), near Kuntaur.People (Gambia, The)Ethnic groupsThe river basin was a focal point for migrating groups of people escaping the turmoil of western Sudanic wars dating from the 12th century. The Diola (Jola) are the people longest resident in the country; they are now located mostly in western Gambia. The largest group is the Malinke, comprising about two-fifths of the population. The Wolof, who are the dominant group in Senegal, also predominate in Banjul. The Fulani settled the extreme upriver areas, and their kingdom, Fuladu, became a major power in the late 19th century. The Soninke, an admixture of Malinke and Fulani, are also concentrated in the upriver areas.LanguagesEnglish (English language) is the official language, but the most frequently spoken languages are generally of the Atlantic (Atlantic languages) branch of the Niger-Congo (Niger-Congo languages) family. Mandinka and Wolof (Wolof language) 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.ReligionThe population is overwhelmingly Muslim. There are a small number of Christians—predominantly Roman Catholic—and some adherents of traditional beliefs.Settlement patternsHuman settlement in The Gambia extends across both banks of the river and is found in three regions: the swamps adjacent to the river, the riverine flats, known as banto faros (from a Mande word meaning “beyond the swamp”), and the sandstone uplands. Most rural settlement is concentrated on the uplands, which have the best-drained soils. A number of settlements are located in the banto faros on the middle course of the river, where there is less danger of flooding than in the swamps. Many villages are built on the boundary between the uplands and the riverine flats.More than one-fourth of the population lives in urban areas. The major urban concentration is around Banjul, the capital, and several large urban centres have developed in the vicinity. Urban dwellers retain close ties to their rural relatives, and there is considerable interaction between rural and urban populations. Migration to urban areas has remained steady since the 1970s.Demographic trendsThe population growth rate and infant mortality rate in The Gambia are among the highest in western Africa. Life expectancy is comparable to the regional average but lower than that of the world. Over the years, conflict in other western African countries has led to an influx of refugees into The Gambia, most notably those fleeing from fighting in Senegal's Casamance region, as well as those who fled from civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone.EconomyAgriculture, forestry, and fishingGambian agriculture can be described as a classic monoculture; peanuts (peanut) (groundnuts) are the most valuable agricultural commodity. Land is cleared by the slash-and-burn technique, but farmers practice conservation. Most land is held in common by the villagers. There is a sharp division of labour, with men involved in planting, cultivating, and harvesting cash crops while women cultivate subsistence crops such as cassava (manioc), yams, eggplant, tomatoes, rice, and lentils. There are citrus orchards in the western area near Banjul.The production of peanuts has increased with the wider use of fertilizers and ox-drawn equipment and the introduction of better seeds. In order to diversify the economy, the government has encouraged the production of rice. A pilot scheme was begun in the mid-1960s to introduce plantation oil palm production, but this has had little impact on the national economy. Stock farming, always a factor in the Fulani culture, has also received government support, but factors such as insufficient animal husbandry techniques and the scarcity of suitable pasture and water have limited the size of herds. The drought years of the 1970s and '80s seriously damaged agricultural production, particularly upriver. The country was not as hard hit as other countries in the region, however, and recovery has been steady.Although the country's small ocean coastline limits marine fishing, there is some potential for commercial fishing offshore and in the river. Most Gambians are not fishermen, but those who are have been handicapped by inadequate equipment. The government has offered small loans for the purchase of motorized fishing boats and the construction of smoke huts for the processing of bonga (shad, or West African herring), which is exported to other western African states.Resources and powerThe Gambia has very few exploited mineral deposits. Some amounts of clay, sand, and gravel are excavated for local use. Foreign investors have been granted licenses to explore offshore blocks for potential petroleum and natural gas reserves, but these actions have not yet yielded any production. The Gambia River holds hydroelectric potential, but there are no dams on the river within the country's borders. Oil is imported to meet the country's energy needs. Electricity is limited to parts of Banjul and a few interior towns but is sporadic at best; most Gambians do not have access to modern infrastructure.ManufacturingThe most significant industry in the country is peanut processing. The crop is sold to agents of The Gambia Groundnut Corporation (until 1993 known as the Gambia Produce Marketing Board), which fixes the season's price in advance, pays the producers in cash, and sells the crop overseas. The agents arrange for transportation of the peanuts to Banjul or Kuntaur, where the nuts are shelled before being shipped. After shelling, a large part of the crop is pressed into oil at pressing mills. The residue is used as cattle cake. The construction industry has grown in correlation with the growth of the tourism sector. Smaller industries include the manufacture of food products, beverages, textiles, footwear, and wood products. Handicraft and other small-scale local craft production exists in villages throughout the country.Finance and tradeThe Central Bank of The Gambia issues the national currency, the dalasi. There are several private banks in the country as well.The Gambia previously had a relatively large volume of trade for such a small country. In the early 1980s, however, the country had a yearly adverse balance of trade reflecting the losses caused by drought. The trade deficit continued into the 1990s and 2000s. More and more people, especially young men, have migrated to the urban area around Banjul, and this has led to a decrease in peanut production.Besides peanuts, The Gambia's exports include cotton, rice, and cattle. In addition, the reexportation of goods constitutes a considerable portion of the country's export trade. All manufactured items must be imported; other imports include petroleum products, lumber, and cement. Trading partners include China, the countries of the European Union, and Japan. Senegal is also a significant partner, although much of the trade is unofficial, and the smuggling of peanuts and other goods into Senegal is a problem. The Gambia is highly dependent on foreign aid.ServicesTourism has grown in importance and is a major source of foreign exchange. Tourists originally came from Europe, attracted by the country's beaches, diverse birdlife, and pleasant climate between October and April. Tourism declined after the 1994 coup, but efforts to revive it had met with some success by the end of the 1990s. The International Roots Festival, an annual heritage celebration created in 1996, attracts members of the African diaspora from around the world. Several luxury hotels have been built near Banjul. Jufureh, a village upriver from Banjul made famous by the American writer Alex Haley (Haley, Alex) in Roots (1976), is a popular tourist attraction.TransportationThe Gambia River has historically been the chief route between the interior and the coast, but a modern all-weather road now reaches the eastern border and parallels the river on both sides; there are secondary roads throughout the country as well. The majority of The Gambia's roads are not paved. Ferries cross the river at Banjul and at various points where there are no bridges, and small watercraft are common means of transport. There are no railways and no domestic air services, although The Gambia International Airlines flies out of the international airport located at Yundum, southwest of Banjul. The main port is at Banjul.Government and societyConstitutional frameworkUnder the constitution that was ratified 1996 and went into effect in 1997, the president, who is the head of the state and the government, is elected by universal suffrage to a five-year term. The president appoints the vice president and cabinet members. Legislative power is held by the National Assembly, comprising 53 members who serve five-year terms. The majority of members are elected, while five are appointed by the president.Local governmentThe Gambia is organized into Local Government Areas (LGA), each of which either is coterminous with a long-standing administrative unit known as a division or corresponds with roughly half of a division. The city of Banjul and the Kanifing Municipality each form a separate LGA. Most decision making is done at the village level by traditional leaders and councils of elders. Only serious or contentious matters are referred to district or government bodies.JusticeAn independent judiciary is guaranteed under the constitution. The highest judicial body is the Supreme Court. Other venues include the Court of Appeal, the High Court, and the Special Criminal Court, and there are Magistrate Courts and tribunals at lower levels. The Gambia's judicial system also provides for the implementation of Sharīʿah (Islamic law) in the venue known as the Cadi Court; this court can be used by the Muslim community to resolve such issues as marriage, divorce, and matters affecting dependents.Political processThe People's Progressive Party (PPP), which had been the dominant political party since independence, fell from power after the 1994 coup. Since 1996 the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction has been the dominant party. In addition to the PPP, which remains active, other opposition parties include the Gambia People's Party, the National Democratic Action Movement, the Peoples' Democratic Organization for Independence and Socialism, and the United Democratic Party.The constitution provides for universal suffrage for citizens 18 years and older. Although women have held legislative seats and cabinet positions, their numbers have been few.SecurityThe Gambian National Army is relatively small. The army has a limited marine unit and an air wing. Service is voluntary, although the constitution provides for the option of conscription. The Gambia's military forces have participated in various international peacekeeping missions, including serving as United Nations Peacekeeping Forces in several countries.Health and welfareAlthough improvement has been made since independence, the overall health conditions in The Gambia are poor. Inadequate sanitation is a problem for more than half of the population, and about one-third of the people do not have access to safe drinking water. Malaria poses the most significant health threat; other parasitic diseases and tuberculosis are also common health problems. The Gambia has a lower prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS than many other African countries, although it appeared to be increasing among younger women during the 2000s.Many health-care facilities—general hospitals, health centres, dispensaries, and maternity and child-care clinics—tend to be centred around Banjul, but there are other hospitals and numerous clinics throughout the country. The Medical Research Council at Fajara investigates tropical diseases. Traditional healers are commonly consulted, especially in rural areas. A long-standing shortage of health-care workers in The Gambia adversely affects the staffing of medical facilities, particularly in rural areas. To address this problem, in 1999 the government established a medical school in the country to train its own doctors.HousingExamples of colonial residential architecture can be found in Banjul, but most dwellings are single-story and are made of wood. Family compounds tend to be spread out over a large area with an inner courtyard. Outside the city centre sprawling shantytowns have been growing rapidly as more people migrate to the capital from the interior. In upcountry towns, concrete buildings of one or two stories with tin roofs predominate. Villages consist mostly of round mud huts with thatched roofs, with a few single-story concrete buildings with tin roofs.Housing supply has not been able to keep pace with The Gambia's population growth. As a result, overcrowding and congestion occur in both rural and urban areas, particularly in the latter, and these conditions contributed to the growth of slums at the end of the 20th century.EducationEducation at the primary level is free but not compulsory. There are secondary and postsecondary schools, including a teacher-training college at Brikama. The government established the country's first university, the University of The Gambia, in 1999. Prior to that, Gambian students seeking higher education had to leave the country, many of them traveling to Sierra Leone, Ghana, Britain, or the United States.Cultural lifeDaily life and social customsThe Gambia has long been home to several different ethnic groups who have maintained their individual cultural traditions; as such, the country has a rich heritage. In the past, blacksmiths, goldsmiths, leatherworkers, weavers, textile dyers, and other artisans were found in all of the region's societies. Weavers and textile dyers still make distinctive cloth throughout the country; The Gambia is noted for its indigo-dyed cloth in particular. Some drum and kora (a complex stringed instrument) makers are still active, and recordings have been made of their traditional music.Gambian cuisine is nearly identical to Senegalese cooking. Staples include millet, rice, yams, plantains, and cassava (manioc). Fish, both dried and fresh, as well as sauces made from fish and peanuts dominate the diet throughout the country. Millet and rice porridges are often served as breakfast.Gambians—especially those in Banjul and upcountry towns—wear both traditional West African clothing as well as European-style dress. Gambian women often sport elaborate head wraps and flowing caftans on the streets of the capital and in rural villages. Men typically wear traditional shirts and Western pants, but on Fridays and Muslim holidays they wear traditional Arab dress and skullcaps, especially when going to mosque.Muslim holidays, including Tobaski (also known as Īd al-Aḍḥāʿ, marking the culmination of the hajj rites near Mecca) and Koriteh (also known as Īd al-Fiṭrʿ, marking the end of Ramadan (Ramaḍān)), and Christian holidays, including Christmas and Easter, are observed in The Gambia. In addition, other holidays celebrated in the country include Independence Day, on February 18, and the Anniversary of the Second Republic, on July 22.The artsDance and music, traditionally tied to village activities, are still important today. Regular shows are held, especially at harvest time and during the dry season when there is less agricultural work to be done. The musical performances of traditional West African troubadour-historians known as griots (Wolof gewels) not only provide entertainment but also serve to preserve cultural traditions, oral genealogies, and historical narratives. Praise songs (praise song) are also part of the griot's repertoire. The griots of The Gambia, many of whom play the kora, were made famous by Alex Haley (Haley, Alex)'s Roots (1976).Cultural institutionsThe Gambia National Library is located in Banjul. The Gambia National Museum, also in Banjul, houses various ethnographic collections that include artifacts, historical documents, and photographs. Other museums in the country include a natural history and culture museum in Tanji and a small regional slave trade museum at Jufureh, which is part of the James Island and Related Sites UNESCO World Heritage site (designated in 2003). There is a museum in Wassu devoted to the stone circles of Senegambia (collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2006). The circles, made of laterite pillars, are positioned near burial mounds. Two of the four stone circle sites are located in the country along the Gambia River near Wassu and Kerabatch and have been dated to the 10th and 11th centuries; the other two sites are in neighbouring Senegal.Sports and recreationGambians, like other West Africans, are enthusiastic football (soccer) fans, and the country has a national football team. In virtually every town and village, there is a field or open space for playing football. The Gambia also has a national cricket team. Other popular sports include basketball and track and field (athletics). There are some local softball teams, mostly near Banjul. Traditional wrestling is especially popular throughout the country. Matches involve music, dance, costumes, and much spectacle and draw large crowds.The Gambia participates in several international sporting competitions. It made its Olympic debut at the 1976 Games in Montreal, and some individual track and field athletes compete in the African Games and the Commonwealth Games.Banjul and its environs have numerous film theatres, and American action films and Indian movies are especially popular. Bars and nightclubs exist in the major towns.Media and publishingThe Gambia Daily is published by the government. There are also privately owned publications, such as The Daily Express, Foroyaa (“Freedom”), The Point, and The Daily Observer. Radio Gambia, run by the government, broadcasts in English, French, Swedish, and various Gambian languages; there are also private radio stations operating in the country, providing news and music programming. Access to television in The Gambia is limited. A government station (established in 1996) broadcasts several hours a day, and other programming often comes from neighbouring Senegal and satellite networks.Although The Gambia's constitution provides for freedom of the press, media freedom in the country is severely inhibited. Laws passed since the mid-1990s have introduced harsh restrictions on the media, including expensive licensing fees, jail terms for journalists found guilty of libel or sedition, and hefty fines for individuals and organizations not in compliance with media-related rules and regulations. Many journalists have been harassed or arrested. Nonetheless, some independent media outlets continue to publish materials critical of the government.HistoryPrecolonial historyThis discussion focuses on The Gambia since the late 15th century. For a treatment of earlier periods and of the country in its regional context, see western Africa (western Africa, history of), history of.Gambian history before the arrival of Europeans has been preserved to some degree in oral traditions. Its history is closely tied to that of neighbouring Senegal, since it was only in the late 19th century that a distinction was made between Senegal and The Gambia; until that time the region is often referred to as Senegambia.The Malinke and Wolof kingdoms, fully established by the 19th century, were still in the formative stages when the Venetian explorer Alvise Ca' da Mosto (Ca' da Mosto, Alvise) (Cadamosto)—in the service of Portugal's Prince Henry the Navigator (Henry the Navigator)—arrived in 1455. The Malinke were the westernmost peoples of the old Mali empire. The Wolof probably migrated from the Songhai regions, and the Fulani pastoralists were part of a migration from the Futa Toro. Although locally powerful, none of the small Gambian kingdoms were ever strong enough to dominate Senegambia. Continuing internecine warfare made it easy for the French and British (British Empire) to dominate the territory.European colonizationThe first Europeans in the Gambia River regions, the Portuguese, established trading stations in the late 1400s but abandoned them within a century. Trade possibilities in the next two centuries drew English, French, Dutch, Swedish, and Courlander trading companies to western Africa.A struggle ensued throughout the 18th century for prestige in Senegambia between France and England, although trade was minimal, and no chartered company made a profit. This changed in 1816 when Capt. Alexander Grant was sent to the region to reestablish a base from which the British navy could control the slave trade. He purchased Banjul Island (St. Mary's) from the king of Kombo, built barracks, laid out a town, and set up an artillery battery to control access to the river. The town, Bathurst (now Banjul), grew rapidly with the arrival of traders and workers from Gorée (Gorée Island) and upriver. The Gambia was administered as a part of British West Africa from 1821 to 1843. It was a separate colony with its own governor until 1866, when control was returned to the governor-general at Freetown, Sierra Leone, as it would remain until 1889.British domination of the riverine areas seemed assured after 1857, but the increasing importance of peanut cultivation in Senegal prompted a new imperialism. 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.British protectorateAs a result of a conference in Paris in 1889, France ceded control of the Gambia River to Britain, and the present-day boundaries of the Gambia were drawn. In 1900 Britain imposed 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.Except for some trouble with slave-raiding chiefs, the Gambia enjoyed peace after its separation from Sierra Leone. Slavery was abolished throughout the protectorate in 1906. During World War II the Gambia contributed soldiers for the Burmese campaign and was used as an air-staging post.IndependencePolitical parties were late in developing, but by 1960 there were several demanding independence. Britain, believing that eventually the Gambia would merge with Senegal, gave the territory revised constitutions in 1954, 1960, and 1962 and finally granted it independence within the Commonwealth in February 1965. The Gambia became a republic on April 24, 1970. The first president, Sir Dawda Jawara (Jawara, Sir Dawda Kairaba), head of the People's Progressive Party (PPP), was returned in all elections after 1972. In 1981 an attempt to overthrow the government was put down with the aid of Senegalese troops after heavy fighting in Banjul. In the aftermath, leaders of both countries created the confederation of Senegambia. This plan called for each state to retain independence of action in most areas, but military and economic resources were to be integrated. A Senegambian executive and legislature were also established, but the confederation was dissolved in 1989.Harry A. GaileyThe Gambia faced serious economic problems during the early 1980s. Foreign donors began to refuse aid requests, and food and fuel shortages, common in the rural areas, started affecting Banjul. In 1985 the government initiated a series of austerity measures and reforms that moved the government toward a more disciplined fiscal and monetary policy. The reform program improved The Gambia's overall economic outlook, and foreign assistance once again returned. For the vast majority of peasant farmers, however, there was virtually no change in their harsh economic plight, with bad harvests and falling peanut prices continuing throughout the 1980s. Yet Jawara (Jawara, Sir Dawda Kairaba) and the PPP easily won reelection in 1987 and 1992, although opposition parties gained some support in each election.Political changeIn July 1994 a group of young army officers, led by Capt. (later Col.) Yahya Jammeh, staged a bloodless coup, justifying it by citing the corruption and mismanagement of Jawara and the PPP. The Senegalese government did not intervene as it had done in 1981, and Jawara went into exile. The military leaders promised a return to civilian rule once corruption had been eliminated but meanwhile ruled by proclamation. Dissent was brutally repressed, and political activity was banned until August 1996. Presidential elections were held late that year, with elections for the National Assembly following in early 1997. Jammeh, now retired from the military, was elected president, and his political party, the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction, dominated the National Assembly. A new constitution, approved by voters in 1996, came into effect after the legislative elections.The return to civilian rule improved The Gambia's international reputation; aid organizations that had left after the coup began assisting the country once again. The Gambia sent peacekeeping forces into war-ravaged Liberia and worked on improving relations with Senegal, though areas along the border on the upper river remain in dispute. Eventually, though, signs of domestic discord appeared. Jammeh's rule became increasingly authoritative, and by 1998 the corruption he had pledged to eliminate was evident in his own administration. Media freedom was restricted, and an increasing number of human rights abuses were cited by international observers. Jammeh's administration was the subject of coup attempts in 2000 and 2006, which, although unsuccessful, seemed to underline growing discontent in the country. Still, Jammeh was reelected in 2001 and 2006 in elections generally deemed free and fair.Andrew ClarkAdditional ReadingGeographyOyeyemi Haffner, A New Geography of Senegambia (1981); and Hubert Deschamps, Le Sénégal et la Gambie, 3rd ed. updated (1975), are useful introductions. Arnold Hughes (ed.), The Gambia: Studies in Society and Politics (1991), provides a useful analysis of politics in The Gambia prior to the 1994 coup. Malcolm F. McPherson and Steven C. Radelet (eds.), Economic Recovery in The Gambia: Insights for Adjustment in Sub-Saharan Africa (1995), provides a useful economic analysis. An excellent work on a region of The Gambia is Donald R. Wright, The World and a Very Small Place in Africa (1997). A source of bibliographic information is David P. Gamble (compiler), The Gambia (1988).HistoryHistorical information may be found in Arnold Hughes and David Perfect, A Political History of The Gambia, 1816–1994 (2006); J.M. Gray, A History of the Gambia (1940, reissued 1966); Harry A. Gailey, A History of The Gambia (1965); Arnold Hughes and Harry A. Gailey, Historical Dictionary of The Gambia, 3rd ed. (1999); Charlotte A. Quinn, Mandingo Kingdoms of the Senegambia (1972); and S.A. Bakarr, The Gambia Yesterday, 1447–1979 (1980), a historical chronology.Harry A. Gailey Andrew Clark
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