PEOPLE AND HISTORY
Compiled from the December 2007 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.
Republic of The Gambia
Area: 11,300 sq. km. (4,361 sq. mi.); less than half the size of Maryland.
Cities: Capital—Banjul (pop. 34,828 excluding suburbs; 2003 census provisional).
Terrain: Flood plain of the Gambia River flanked by low hills.
Climate: Tropical; hot rainy season (June to November); cooler, dry season (November to May).
Nationality: Noun and adjective—Gambian(s).
Population: (2006) 1.5 million.
Annual growth rate: (2003 census)2.8%.
Ethnic groups: (2003 census) Mandinka 42%, Fula 18%, Wolof 16%, Jola 10%, Sarahule 9%, Serere 7.8%, Krio/Aku Marabout 1.8%, Man-jago 0.8%, Bambara 0.7%, other Gambians 1.2%, no declaration 0.3%. Non-Gambians 12.9% of the population.
Religions: Muslim 90%, Christian 9%, other 1%.
Languages: English (official), Mandinka, Wolof, Fula, Jola, Sarahule, other indigenous languages.
Education: Years compulsory—up to age eight. Attendance—69% primary, 35% secondary. Adult literacy-37.8%.
Work force: (400,000) Agriculture—70%; industry, commerce, services—24%; government—6%.
Independence: February 18, 1965.
Constitution: January 16, 1997.
Government branches: Executive, legislative, and judicial.
Political subdivisions: Capital and six divisions.
Political parties: Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction: (APRC), United Democratic Party (UDP), National Reconciliation Party (NRP), National Convention Party (NCP), Peoples Democratic Organization for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS), National Democratic Action Movement (NDAM), and the Gambia Party for Democracy and Progress (GPDP).
GDP: (2006) $511.4 million.
Annual growth rate: (2006) 6.5%.
Per capita income: (2006) $356.
Natural resources: Seismic studies indicate the possible presence of oil and gas offshore.
Services: 56% of GDP, 2006.
Agriculture: (29.8% of GDP, 2006) Products—peanuts, rice, millet, sorghum, fish, palm kernels, vegetables, livestock, forestry.
Industry: (10.9% of GDP, 2006) Types—peanut products, construction, telecommunications, brewing, soft drinks, agricultural machinery assembly, woodworking, metal working, clothing.
Trade: (2004 est.) Principal exports—$123.3 million: 13% groundnut products, 4.2% fish and fish preparations, and 82.1% re-exports. Major markets—India 37.6%, U.K. 19.4%, France 5.8%, and Thailand 3.9%. Principal imports—$207.2 million including food and beverages, manufactures, machinery and transport equipment, and minerals and fuel. Major suppliers—China, Senegal, Brazil, U.K., and Netherlands.
Official Development Assistance: (ODA) received from all sources (2001) $50.9 million.
U.S. economic aid received: (FY2007) $88,000 in grassroots projects and assistance to democracy and human rights programs.
A wide variety of ethnic groups live in The Gambia with a minimum of intertribal friction, each preserving its own language and traditions. The Mandinka tribe is the largest, followed by the Fula, Wolof, Jola, and Sarahule. Approximately 3,500 non-Africans live in The Gambia, including Europeans and families of Lebanese origin.
Muslims constitute more than 90% of the population. Christians of different denominations account for most of the remainder. Gambians officially observe the holidays of both religions and practice religious tolerance.
More than 63% of Gambians live in rural villages (1993 census), although more and more young people come to the capital in search of work and education. Provisional figures from the 2003 census show that the gap between the urban and rural populations is narrowing as more areas are declared urban. While urban migration, development projects, and modernization are bringing more Gambians into contact with Western habits and values, the traditional emphasis on the extended family, as well as indigenous forms of dress and celebration, remain integral parts of everyday life.
The Gambia was once part of the Ghana Empire and the Songhai Empire. The first written accounts of the region come from records of Arab traders in the 9th and 10th centuries A.D. Arab traders established the trans-Saharan trade route for slaves, gold, and ivory. In the 15th century, the Portuguese took over this trade using maritime routes. At that time, The Gambia was part of the Kingdom of Mali.
In 1588, the claimant to the Portuguese throne, Antonio, Prior of Crato, sold exclusive trade rights on The Gambia River to English merchants; this grant was confirmed by letters patent from Queen Elizabeth I. In 1618, King James I granted a charter to a British company for trade with The Gambia and the Gold Coast (now Ghana).
During the late 17th century and throughout the 18th, England and France struggled continuously for political and commercial supremacy in the regions of the Senegal and Gambia Rivers. The 1783 Treaty of Versailles gave Great Britain possession of The Gambia, but the French retained a tiny enclave at Albreda on the north bank of the river, which was ceded to the United Kingdom in 1857.
As many as 3 million slaves may have been taken from the region during the three centuries that the transatlantic slave trade operated. It is not known how many slaves were taken by Arab traders prior to and simultaneous with the transatlantic slave trade. Most of those taken were sold to Europeans by other Africans; some were prisoners of intertribal wars; some were sold because of unpaid debts, while others were kidnapped. Slaves were initially sent 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, slave trading was abolished throughout the British Empire, and the British tried unsuccessfully to end the slave traffic in The Gambia. They established the military post of Bathurst (now Banjul) in 1816. In the ensuing years, Banjul was at times under the jurisdiction of the British governor general in Sierra Leone. In 1888, The Gambia became a separate colonial entity.
An 1889 agreement with France established the present boundaries, and The Gambia became a British Crown Colony, divided for administrative purposes into the colony (city of Banjul and the surrounding area) and the protectorate (remainder of the territory). The Gambia received its own executive and legislative councils in 1901 and gradually progressed toward self-government. A 1906 ordinance abolished slavery.
During World War II, Gambian troops fought with the Allies in Burma. Banjul served as an air stop for the U.S. Army Air Corps and a port of call for Allied naval convoys. U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt stopped overnight in Banjul en route to and from the Casablanca Conference in 1943, marking the first visit to the African Continent by an American president while in office.
After World War II, the pace of constitutional reform quickened. Following general elections in 1962, full internal self-government was granted in 1963. The Gambia achieved independence on February 18, 1965, as a constitutional monarchy within the British Commonwealth. Shortly thereafter, the government proposed conversion from a monarchy to a republic with an elected president replacing the British monarch as chief of state. The proposal failed to receive the two-thirds majority required to amend the constitution, but the results won widespread attention abroad as testimony to The Gambia's observance of secret balloting, honest elections, and civil rights and liberties. On April 24, 1970, The Gambia became a republic following a referendum.
Until a military coup in July 1994, The Gambia was led by President Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara, who was reelected five times. The relative stability of the Jawara era was first broken by a violent, unsuccessful coup attempt in 1981. The 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, President Jawara, in London when the attack began, appealed to Senegal for help. Senegalese troops defeated the rebel force.
In the aftermath of the attempted coup, Senegal and The Gambia signed the 1982 Treaty of Confederation. The result, the Senegambia Confederation, aimed eventually to combine the armed forces of the two nations and to unify economies and currencies. The Gambia withdrew from the confederation in 1989.
In July 1994, the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) seized power in a military coup d’etat, deposing the government of Sir
Dawda Jawara. Lieutenant Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh, chairman of the AFPRC, became head of state.
The AFPRC announced a transition plan for return to democratic civilian government. The Provisional Independent Electoral Commission (PIEC) was established in 1996 to conduct national elections. The transition process included the compilation of a new electoral register, adoption of a new constitution by referendum in August 1996, and presidential and legislative elections in September 1996 and January 1997, respectively. Foreign observers did not deem these elections free and fair. Retired Col. Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh was sworn into office as President of the Republic of The Gambia in November 1996. The PIEC was transformed to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) in 1997 and became responsible for registration of voters and conduct of elections and referenda.
In late 2001 and early 2002, The Gambia completed a full cycle of presidential, legislative, and local elections, which foreign observers deemed free, fair, and transparent, albeit with some shortcomings. President Yahya Jammeh, who was reelected, took the oath of office again on December 21, 2001. The APRC maintained its strong majority in the National Assembly, particularly after the main opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) boycotted the legislative elections. President Jammeh was re-elected for a third five-year term on September 22, 2006 with 67% of the vote. The UDP received 27% of the vote, and instead of boycotting future elections, vowed to take part in the 2007 National Assembly elections. In the January 2007 parliamentary elections the ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) won 42 of the available 48 elected seats.
The 1970 constitution, which divided the government into independent executive, legislative, and judicial branches, was suspended after the 1994 military coup. As part of the transition process, the AFPRC established the Constitution Review Commission (CRC) through decree in March 1995. In accordance with the timetable for the transition to a democratically elected government, the commission drafted a new constitution for The Gambia, which approved by referendum in August 1996. The constitution provides for a strong presidential government, a unicameral legislature, an independent judiciary, and the protection of human rights.
Local government in The Gambia varies. The capital city, Banjul and the much larger Kanifing Municipality have elected town and municipal councils. Five rural divisions exist, each with a council containing a majority of elected members. Each council has its own treasury and is responsible for local government services. Tribal chiefs retain traditional powers authorized by customary law in some instances.
Principal Government Officials
Last Updated: 2/1/2008
Head of State: Yahya JAMMEH
Vice President: Isatou NJIE-SAIDY
Sec. of State for Agriculture: Kanja SANNEH
Sec. of State for Communications,Information, & Technology: Neneh MACDOUALL-GAYE
Sec. of State for Basic & Secondary Education: Fatou Lamin FAYE
Sec. of State for Finance & Economic Affairs: Mousa BALA-GAYE
Sec. of State for Fisheries & Natural Resources: Yankuba TOURAY
Sec. of State for Foreign Affairs: Bala Garba JAHUMPA
Sec. of State for Forestry & Environment: Edward SINGHATEY
Sec. of State for Health & Social Welfare: Tamsir MBOWE
Sec. of State for Higher Education & Research: Crispin GREY-JOHNSON
Sec. of State for Interior: Ousman SONKO
Sec. of State for Justice & National Assembly Affairs: Kebba SANYANG
Sec. of State for Local Govt. & Lands: Ismaila SAMBOU
Sec. of State for Tourism & Culture: Angela COLLEY
Sec. of State for Trade, Industry, & Employment: Abdou KOLLEY
Sec. of State for Youth, Sports, & Religious Affairs: Sheikh Omar FAYE
Attorney General: Kebba SANYANG
Chief of Defense Staff: Assan SARR, Lt.Col.
Ambassador to the US: Dodou Bammy JAGNE
Permanent Representative to the UN, New York: Tamsir JALLOW
The Gambia maintains an embassy at 1156 15th Street, NW, Suite 905, Washington, DC 20005. Tel. (202) 785-1399. Its UN mission is located at 820 2nd Avenue, Suite 900-C, New York, NY 10017. Tel. (212) 949-6640.
The Gambian national army numbers about 1,900. The army consists of infantry battalions, the national guard, and the navy, all under the authority of the Department of State for Defense (a ministerial portfolio held by President Jammeh). Prior to the 1994 coup, the Gambian army received technical assistance and training from the United States, United Kingdom, People's Republic of China, Nigeria, and Turkey. With the withdrawal of most of this aid, the army has received renewed assistance from Turkey and new assistance from Libya and others. The Gambia allowed its military training arrangement with Libya to expire in 2002.
Members of the Gambian military participated in ECOMOG, the West African force deployed during the Liberian civil war beginning in 1990. Gambian forces have subsequently participated in several other peacekeeping operations, including, inter alia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, Eritrea, and East Timor. The Gambia contributed 150 troops to Liberia in 2003 as part of the ECOMIL contingent. In 2004, The Gambia contributed a 196-man contingent to the UN Peacekeeping Mission in Darfur, Sudan. Responsibilities for internal security and law enforcement rest with the Gambian police under the Inspector General of Police and the Secretary of State for the Interior.
Before the coup d'état in July 1994, The Gambia was one of the oldest existing multi-party democracies in Africa. It had conducted freely contested elections every 5 years since independence. After the military coup, politicians from deposed President Jawara's People's Progressive Party (PPP) and other senior government officials were banned from participating in politics until July 2001.
The People's Progressive Party (PPP), headed by former president Jawara, had dominated Gambian politics for nearly 30 years. After spearheading the movement toward complete independence from Britain, the PPP was voted into power and was never seriously challenged by any opposition party. The last elections under the PPP regime were held in April 1992.
Following the coup in July 1994, a presidential election took place in September 1996, in which retired Col. Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh won 56% of the vote. The legislative elections held in January 1997 were dominated by the APRC, which captured 33 out of 45 seats. In July 2001, the ban on Jawara-era political parties and politicians was lifted. Four registered opposition parties participated in the October 18, 2001, presidential election, which the incumbent, President Yahya Jammeh, won with almost 53% of the votes. The APRC maintained its strong majority in the National Assembly in legislative elections held in January 2002, particularly after the main opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) boycotted the legislative elections.
President Jammeh won the September 2006 elections with 67% of the vote while the opposition alliance won a total of 27%. In the January 2007 parliamentary elections, Jammeh's APRC won 42 of the available 48 seats. While both the September and January elections were declared credible, several sources have reported increased oversight of journalists in the preceding months. A failed coup in March 2006 had a major effect on The Gambia's political climate. Since then President Jam-meh has taken far-reaching steps to maintain power.
The Gambia has a liberal, market-based economy characterized by traditional subsistence agriculture, a historic reliance on groundnuts (peanuts) for export earnings, a re-export trade built up around its ocean port, low import duties, minimal administrative procedures, a fluctuating exchange rate with no exchange controls, and a significant tourism industry.
Agriculture accounts for roughly 30% of gross domestic product (GDP) and employs about 80% of the labor force. Within agriculture, peanut production accounts for 6.9% of GDP, other crops 8.3%, livestock 5.3%, fishing 1.8%, and forestry 0.5%. Industry accounts for approximately 14% of GDP and services approximately 54%. The limited amount of manufacturing is primarily agriculturally based (e.g., peanut processing, bakeries, a brewery, and a tannery). Other manufacturing activities include soap, soft drinks, and clothing. Previously, the U.K. and other EU countries constituted The Gambia's major domestic export markets. However, in recent years India, Thailand, and China have gained increasing proportions of Gambian exports. The African sub-region, including Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, and Ghana are also important trade partners. China and Brazil have become important source countries for Gambian imports. The U.K., other EU countries, and Senegal also command a large share of Gambian imports.
The Gambia followed a formal policy of nonalignment throughout most of former President Jawara's tenure. It maintained close relations with the United Kingdom, Senegal, and other African countries. The July 1994 coup strained The Gambia's relationship with Western powers, particularly the United States, which until 2002 suspended most non-humanitarian assistance in accordance with Section 508 of the Foreign Assistance Act. Since 1995, President Jammeh has established diplomatic relations with several additional countries, including Libya, Taiwan and Cuba. The Gambia plays an active role in international affairs, especially West African and Islamic affairs, although its representation abroad is limited. As a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), The Gambia has played an active role in that organization's efforts to resolve the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone and contributed troops to the community's ceasefire monitoring group (ECOMOG) in 1990 and (ECOMIL) in 2003. It also has sought to mediate disputes in nearby Guinea-Bissau and the neighboring Casamance region of Senegal. The Government of The Gambia believes Senegal was complicit in the March 2006 failed coup attempt. This has put increasing strains on relations between The Gambia and its neighbor. The subsequent worsening of the human rights situation has placed increasing strains of U.S.-Gambia relations.
U.S. policy seeks to build improved relations with The Gambia on the basis of historical ties, mutual respect, democratic rule, human rights, and adherence to UN resolutions on counter-terrorism, conflict diamonds, and other forms of trafficking. Following The Gambia's successful presidential and legislative elections in October 2001 and January 2002, respectively, the U.S. Government determined that a democratically elected government had assumed office and thus lifted the sanctions it had imposed against The Gambia in accordance with Section 508 of the Foreign Assistance Act as a result of the 1994 coup. U.S. assistance supports democracy, human rights, girls’ education, and the fight against HIV/AIDS. In addition, the Peace Corps maintains a large program with about 100 volunteers engaged in the environment, public health, and education sectors, mainly at the village level.
Relations with the U.S. have not been improved significantly due to the human rights and freedom of press shortcomings, which resulted in the suspension of The Gambia's compact with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) in June 2006. The Gambia became eligible for preferential trade benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) on January 1, 2003.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Last Updated: 2/19/2008
BANJUL (E) Kairaba Avenue, Fajara PMB 19, APO/FPO 2070 Banjul Pl, Dulles VA 20189-2070,  439-2856, Fax  439-2475, Work-week: Monday-Thursday 0800-1730, Friday 0800-1200, Website: http://www.usembassybanjul.gm.
|DCM/CHG:||Brian D. Bachman|
|POL ECO:||Menaka M. Nayyar|
|ICASS:||Chair Brian D. Bachman|
|IPO:||Ross L. Klinger|
|State ICASS:||Brian D. Bachman|
Consular Information Sheet
September 12, 2007
Country Description: The Gambia is a developing country in western Africa, and the capital is Banjul. The official language is English. Facilities for tourism in the Banjul area are good; however, outside the capital region, tourist facilities are limited in availability and quality.
Entry Requirements: A passport, visa, and evidence of yellow fever vaccination are required. The current fee for a two-year visa for Americans is $100.00 (U.S. Dollars).
Travelers who do not obtain the necessary visa before arrival in The Gambia will have their passports stamped at the port of entry with a 24-, 48- or 72-hour pass and are required to report to the Gambian Immigration Department in Banjul to regularize their stay. The Banjul Immigration Department issues a standard visa for one month duration for approximately $16.00 (U.S. Dollars). Extensions require additional visits to the Gambian Immigration Department and additional fees. The U.S. Embassy strongly recommends obtaining a Gambian visa in advance of arrival. A $10.00 (U.S. Dollars) tourist levy is charged upon arrival at the airport only for charter flights (like Condor, Monarch, & ASTRAUS). Payment is accepted only in U.S. Dollars, British Pounds, or Euros. Passengers on SN Brussels, Air Senegal and SLOK do not have to pay the tourist levy.
Travelers are urged to obtain the latest information on customs and entry requirements from the Embassy of The Gambia, 1156 15th Street, NW, Suite 905, Washington, DC 20005, telephone (202) 785-1399, fax (202) 785-1430; or from the Permanent Mission of The Gambia to the U.S. at 820 Second Avenue, Suite 900 -C, New York, NY 10071, telephone (212) 949-6640. Overseas, inquiries should be made at the nearest Gambian embassy or consulate.Visit the Embassy of The Gambia web site at http://www.gambiaembassy.us for the most current visa information.
Safety and Security: Travelers driving a vehicle in The Gambia are obligated to stop at all roadblocks or road checkpoints in the country. Drivers should not reverse direction to avoid a road checkpoint or make any movements that security personnel may view as suspicious or provocative. For travel to the nearby Casamance region of Senegal, please see the Country Specific Information for Senegal.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution Travel Alert, Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts can be found. Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.
Crime: Petty street crime is a problem in The Gambia. Travelers should be careful of pickpockets in crowded market areas and on ferries. Package or luggage should never be left unattended, especially in taxis. U.S. citizens in The Gambia should be careful not to leave valuables or identify documents unsecured in hotel rooms or cars. Travelers should also be cautious of individuals who persistently offer unsolicited help. Visitors and resident U.S. citizens should drive with their windows up and doors locked while driving due to several reported residential and automobile burglaries, including theft from occupied cars stopped in traffic with the windows open or doors unlocked. Long-term residents should consider hiring a security guard for their home to prevent burglary and theft.
The U.S. Embassy has received several reports of violent crimes against women. Women should avoid walking alone especially after dark including beach and tourist areas. Female visitors to The Gambia should be particularly cautious of men locally known as “bumsters” who approach them wishing “just to get to know you” or offering to be a tour guide. Bumsters often use romance in hopes of gaining money and/or assistance of various types, or in hopes of departing The Gambia through marriage to a Westerner. Travelers are advised to be polite but decisive in turning down unwanted help or attempts at conversation.
Business fraud, long associated with other parts of West Africa, has also been reported in The Gambia. The U.S. Embassy has received reports of several scams recently in which U.S. businesses send but do not receive payment for shipments. U.S. citizens should be very suspicious of any unsolicited offers to participate in lucrative business opportunities, especially if they require financial disclosures, money transfers, large up-front investments, or promises of confidentiality. The best way to avoid becoming a victim of fraud is common sense—if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. You should be suspect of any unsolicited business proposal originating in The Gambia before you commit any funds, provide any goods or services, or undertake any travel. For additional information, please see the Department of State's information on international financial scams.
Information for Victims of Crime: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed. Please contact the U.S. Embassy in Banjul for a list of lawyers practicing in The Gambia.
Medical Facilities and Health Information: Medical facilities in The Gambia are very limited, some treatments are unavailable, and emergency services can be unpredictable and unreliable. Travelers should carry their own supplies of prescription as well as over-the-counter medicines or treatments.
Malaria is a serious risk to travelers in The Gambia. Travelers who become ill with a fever or flu-like ill-ness while traveling in a malaria-risk area and up to one year after returning home should seek prompt medical attention and tell the physician their travel history and what anti-malarial medications they have been taking. For additional information on malaria, protection from insect bites, and anti-malarial drugs, visit the CDC travelers’ health web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC's web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization's (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.
Medical Insurance: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning The Gambiais provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Travel in The Gambia is difficult because of poor road conditions, particularly during the rainy season, which generally lasts from June through October. Although there are paved main roads in the greater Banjul area, many are poorly maintained and poorly lit. With the installation of street lights on some roads in the Banjul area, some drivers no longer use their vehicle lights at night. Most roads outside the Banjul area are still unlit and unpaved. Livestock and pedestrians pose road hazards throughout the country, including in the greater Banjul area. Drivers and pedestrians should exercise extreme caution to prevent accidents. Numerous accidents are caused by intoxicated drivers. Tests are rarely done to determine levels of intoxication. If you are suspected of causing an accident while intoxicated, and the case is taken to trial, you may be subject to a substantial fine or imprisonment.
The consistent application of traffic laws and regulations is not strictly administered by traffic police who sometimes compel drivers to pay fines on the spot for violations, real or contrived. Written citations/tickets are rarely given. Police periodically set up impromptu traffic stops on major streets to check for driver's licenses and proper insurance. Caution should be exercised when using taxis, particularly at night. Most taxis lack safety belts and some are not road-worthy.
There are no trauma centers in The Gambia and severe accidents often require evacuation to Dakar, Senegal or Europe. Water transportation in the region can be unpredictable and risky. Ferries rarely keep to their posted schedules. The ferries, which are often overcrowded, usually lack sufficient numbers of life preservers for all passengers. In particular, the wooden dugout “pirogues” that cross the Gambia River often leave shore overloaded and occasionally sink in the middle of the river. U.S. citizens who must cross the Gambia River are advised to use the Gambia Port Authority's Banjul-Barra or Yelitenda-Farafenni ferries, which are slower but safer than the privately operated pirogues.
The local 24-hour emergency number for the Gambia police is +220-422-4914. Visit the website of the country's national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at www.visitthegambia.gm/Contact.htm.
Aviation Safety Oversight: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of The Gambia's Civil Aviation Authority as not being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of The Gambia's air carrier operations. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA's Internet web site at http://www.faa.gov.
Gambian airlines do not offer service to the United States. Services provided by the West African regional air carriers that serve Banjul are sometimes unreliable. The airlines are known to alter scheduled stops, cancel or postpone flights on short notice, and regularly overbook flights. Travelers may experience unexpected delays even after checking in, and should be prepared to handle alternate ticketing and/or increased food and lodging expenses.
Special Circumstances: In addition to being subject to all of The Gambia's laws affecting foreign citizens, Americans who are also legal Gambian citizens may be subject, while in The Gambia to certain additional provisions of Gambian law. Dual nationals should inquire at a Gambian embassy or consulate regarding their status.
The Gambia has strict laws on the import and export of skin-bleaching creams and some medications. Visitors who arrive with substances containing hydroquinone, hydrocortisone, betamethasone, flucinonide, clobestatol, or clobestatone are subject to fines up to $2,000 and/or three years imprisonment. Airport police and customs officials routinely inspect incoming and outgoing luggage. Travelers in possession of prescription drugs should carry proof of their prescriptions, such as labeled containers. Police have, on occasion, arrested foreigners carrying unlabeled pills. For a list of prohibited items, travelers should contact the nearest Gambian embassy or consulate.
It is against the law for tourists to photograph or film government buildings, including airports, military installations or embassies due to security concerns.
Gambian currency, the dalasi, is freely convertible but is not widely available outside the country. The Gambia has a cash economy and travelers should carry sufficient currency to cover the expenses of a planned visit. Visitors can exchange currency at banks or exchange bureaus. Changing money unofficially is prohibited and individuals who do so may face prosecution.
Credit cards are accepted only at major hotels, some grocery stores, and a few restaurants. Personal checks from U.S. citizens are accepted only at exchange bureaus and only from Americans who are resident in The Gambia. There are a few ATMs in the Banjul area, but they often malfunction or fail to issue receipts. ATMs only accept VISA cards for international transactions and only dispense a maximum of about $80.00 in local currency per transaction with three transactions allowed per day. Moneytransfers are widely available at Western Union branch offices in The Gambia.
Criminal Penalties: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating The Gambia's laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in The Gambia are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Children's Issues: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children's Issues website at http://travel.state.gov/family.
Registration and Embassy Locations: Americans living or traveling in The Gambia are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within The Gambia. Americans with-out Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located at 92 Kair-aba Avenue in Fajara, a suburb of the capital city of Banjul. The mailing address is P.M.B.19, Banjul, The Gambia. Twenty-four hour telephone numbers are (220) 439-2856, 439-2858 and 439-1971; the fax is (220) 439-2475; and the web site is http://www.usembassybanjul.gm. Normal business hours are 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays and till noon on Fridays.
The information in this section has been edited from a report of the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Overseas Citizens Services. For more information, please read the International Adoption section of this book and review current reports online at http://travel.state.gov/family.
Disclaimer: The information in this flyer relating to the legal requirements of specific foreign countries is based on public sources and current understanding. Questions involving foreign and U.S. immigration laws and legal interpretation should be addressed respectively to qualified foreign or U.S. legal counsel.
Please Note: The Government of Gambia passed into law a Children's Act in 2005 that includes laws governing adoptions in the country. Under this Act, the Children's Court has jurisdiction over matters of adoption; therefore, this court must approve all adoption applications. As of March 31, 2006, the Children's Court has only heard one case, and it was not related to adoptions.
Foreigners are allowed to adopt Gambian children only in exceptional circumstances. Prospective adoptive parents must be resident in The Gambia at least six month prior applying to adopt.
The U.S. Embassy in Dakar, Senegal issues immigrant visas for Gambian citizens, including adopted orphans. Please review carefully the information found later in this flyer regarding the immigrant visa procedures at the U.S. Embassy in Dakar. Failure to comply with the Embassy's requirements could result in a denial of the child's visa case.
U.S. Embassy Dakar's website is at: http://usembassy.state.gov/dakar.
Patterns of Immigration: Recent U.S. immigrant visa statistics indicate only one immigrant visa has been issued to a Gambian orphan in the last five fiscal years.
Adoption Authority: The Children's Court, which has jurisdiction over adoption, coordinates with the Social Welfare Department in Gambia to process adoption applications.
Eligibility Requirements for Adoptive Parents: Adoptions by non-Gambian prospective adoptive parents are allowed only in exceptional circumstances. Adoptive parent(s) can be single or a married couple. The adoptive parent(s) must be at least 21 years old and at least 15 years older than the child, but not over age 60. The spouse of an applicant must also consent to the adoption. Single men may not adopt a female child, nor may single women adopt a male child. The adoptive parent(s) must have fostered the child for a period of at least thirty-six months under the supervision of a Social Welfare Officer. Non-Gambian nationals must have residency in Gambia for at least six months, have no criminal record, and prove economic resources to support the child.
Residency Requirements: Non-Gambians are required to be resident for at least six months in Gambia. Prospective adoptive parents must foster the child for a minimum of thirty-six months under the supervision of a Social Welfare Officer. According to the Department of Social Welfare, the 36 months does not have to take place in Gambia, but must occur under the supervision of a qualified social welfare agency in the place of residence.
Time Frame: Currently no information is available on the timeframe for the adoption process in Gambia. Once the adoption process of the Children's Court is established, this information will be updated.
Adoption Agencies and Attorneys: The Children's Court handles all adoption cases. There are neither specific adoption lawyers nor adoption agencies in Gambia. At this time no private attorneys have brought adoption cases before the Children's Court.
Adoption Fees: The cost of an adoption decree has not yet been determined. According to the Department of Social Welfare in Gambia, no fees are charged for processing an adoption.
The S.O.S. Village, the only orphanage in Gambia, also reported that it does not charge adoption fees. They refer all inquiries to the Department of Social Welfare. The fee for a Gambian passport is 500 dalasi (USD 18).
Adoption Procedures: The process begins with an application submitted to the Children's Court. The Children's Act of 2005 does not give further details of this process and the Court has not yet heard an adoption case to set precedent or issue procedures. The U.S. Embassy in Banjul and the Department of State's Office of Children's Issues are tracking closely the development of this area of law and any precedents the Children's Court may set, and this flyer will be updated as such information becomes available.
Required Documents: The Children's Act does not list specific documents that are required for adoption, and the Children's Court has not yet announced specific requirements.
Embassy of Gambia
1156 15th Street, N.W., Suite 905
Washington, D.C. 20005
TEL: (202) 785-1399, fax (202) 785-1430
U.S. Immigration Requirements: Prospective adopting parents are strongly encouraged to consult USCIS publication M-249, The Immigration of Adopted and Prospective Adoptive Children, as well as the Department of State publication, International Adoptions. Please see the International Adoption section of this book for more details and review current reports online at http://travel.state.gov/family.
92 Kairaba Avenue
(P.M.B. 19, Banjul)
TEL: +(220) 439-2856
FAX: +(220) 439-2475
EMAIL: [email protected] Website: http://usembassybanjul.gm
Additional Information: Specific questions about intercountry adoption in The Gambia may be addressed to the U.S. Embassy in Banjul. Questions about the U.S. immigrant visa process for Gambian children should be directed to the U.S. Embassy in Dakar, Senegal. General questions regarding intercountry adoption may be addressed to the Office of Children's Issues, U.S. Department of State, CA/OCS/CI, SA-29, 4th Floor, 2201 C Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20520-4818, toll-free Tel: 1-888-407-4747.