The Gambia

views updated May 29 2018



Republic of The Gambia

CAPITAL: Banjul (formerly Bathurst)

FLAG: The flag is a tricolor of red, blue, and green horizontal bands, separated by narrow white stripes.

ANTHEM: For The Gambia, Our Homeland.

MONETARY UNIT: In 1971, the dalasi (d), a paper currency of 100 butut, replaced the Gambian pound. There are coins of 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50 butut and 1 dalasi, and notes of 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50 dalasi. d1 = $0.03096 (or $1 = d32.3) as of 2004.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: Both British and metric weights and measures are in use.

HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; Confederation Day, 1 February; Independence Day, 18 February; Labor Day, 1 May; Assumption, 15 August; Christmas, 25 December. Movable religious holidays include Good Friday, Easter Monday, 'Id al-Fitr, 'Id al-'Adha', and Milad an-Nabi.



Located on the west coast of Africa, The Gambia has an area of 11,300 sq km (4,363 sq mi), extending 338 km (210 mi) ew and 47 km (29 mi) ns. Comparatively, the area occupied by The Gambia is slightly less than twice the size of the state of Delaware. Bounded on the n, e, and s by Senegal (with which it is joined in the Confederation of Senegambia) and on the w by the Atlantic Ocean, The Gambia has a total boundary length of 820 km (510 mi), of which 80 km (50 mi) is coastline. The Gambia's capital city, Banjul, is located on the Atlantic coast.


The Gambia River, the country's major waterway, rises in Guinea and follows a twisting path for about 1,600 km (1,000 mi) to the sea. In its last 470 km (292 mi), the river flows through the Republic of The Gambia, narrowing to a width of 5 km (3 mi) at Banjul; during the dry season, tidal saltwater intrudes as far as 250 km (155 mi) upstream. Brown mangrove swamps line both sides of the river for the first 145 km (90 mi) from the sea; the mangroves then give way to more open country and, in places, to red ironstone cliffs. The land on either side of the river is generally open savanna with wooded areas along the drainage channels. Elevation reaches a maximum of 73 m (240 ft).


The Gambia has a subtropical climate with distinct cool and hot seasons. From November to mid-May there is uninterrupted dry weather, with temperatures as low as 16°c (61°f) in Banjul and surrounding areas. Hot, humid weather predominates the rest of the year, with a rainy season from June to October; during this period, temperatures may rise as high as 43°c (109°f) but are usually lower near the sea. Mean temperatures range from 23°c (73°f) in January to 27°c (81°f) in June along the coast, and from 24°c (75°f) in January to 32°c (90°f) in May inland. The average annual rainfall ranges from 92 cm (36 in) in the interior to 145 cm (57 in) along the coast.


The countryside contains many flowers, including yellow cassias and scarlet combretum. The tropical shrub area contains bougainvillea, oleander, and a dozen varieties of hibiscus. Distinctive fauna includes several varieties of monkeys. As of 2002, there were at least 117 species of mammals, 154 species of birds, and over 900 species of plants throughout the country.


The Gambia's environmental concerns include deforestation, desertification, and water pollution. Deforestation is the most serious problem, with slash- and-burn agriculture the principal cause. In the 1950s, 34,000 hectares (84,000 acres) were set aside as forest parks, but by 1972, 11% of these reserves had been totally cleared. During 198185, deforestation averaged 2,000 hectares (5,000 acres) per year. Reforestation programs have been set in place, so that from 19902000, reforestation took place at a rate of about 1% per year. In 2000, 48% of the total land area was forested.

A 30% decrease in rainfall over the last 30 years has increased the rate of desertification for The Gambia's agricultural lands. Water pollution is a significant problem due to lack of adequate sanitation facilities. Impure water is responsible for life-threatening diseases that contribute to high infant mortality rates. The Gambia has 3 cu km of renewable water resources with 91% used for farming activity. Only about 53% of the people in rural areas have pure drinking water.

As of 2003, only 2.3% of the total land area was protected. Baobolon Wetland Reserve is a Ramsar wetland site. The Gambia's wildlife has been threatened by changes in habitat and poaching. According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), the number of threatened species included 3 types of mammals, 2 species of birds, 1 type of reptile, 11 species of fish, and 4 species of plants. Threatened species include the African slender-snouted crocodile and the West African manatee.


The population of The Gambia in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 1,595,000, which placed it at number 144 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 3% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 45% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 98 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 20052010 was expected to be 2.8%, a rate the government viewed as too high. A National Policy for the Advancement of Gambian Women, established in 1994, provides services aimed at lowering the fertility rate, which was about five births per woman. The projected population for the year 2025 was 2,625,000. The population density was 141 per sq km (366 per sq mi). The majority of the population lives near the Atlantic coast with the interior of the country sparsely populated.

The UN estimated that 26% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 2.66%. The capital city, Banjul (formerly Bathurst), had a population of 372,000 in that year.


Each year, some 20,00030,000 migrants from Senegal, Mali, and Guinea come to The Gambia to help harvest the groundnut crop. Gambians, in turn, move freely over national borders, which are poorly marked and difficult to police in West Africa. The Gambia also has an open-door policy for professionals, so it is used as a gateway to Europe and the Unites States.

In 2000 there were 185,000 migrants living in The Gambia. The migrants' stock made up approximately 14% of the population. By the end of 2004 there were 7,343 refugees and 602 asylum seekers, mainly from Senegal, in The Gambia. In addition, in 2004 over 500 Gambians sought asylum in Austria, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In 2005 the net migration rate was estimated as 1.27 migrants per 1,000 population, down from 13.3 per 1,000 in 1990.


Africans comprise 99% of the population in The Gambia. The Mandinka (Malinké), who make up an estimated 42% of the African population, came to The Gambia by the 13th century. The Fula account for about 18% of the population and live predominately in the eastern part of the country; other major African groups include the Wolof (16%), Jola (10%), Serahuli (9%), and others (4%). Only 1% of the population is non-African, including Syrians, Lebanese, and British.


English is the official language, but there are 21 distinct languages spoken. The principal vernaculars are Wolof, Fula, and Mandinka, the latter spoken by the Mandingo.


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

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and this right is generally respected in practice. Certain Muslim and Christian holidays are officially observed. Both Biblical and Koranic studies are offered in public and private schools; participation is voluntary.


The Gambia River not only provides important internal transport but is also an international commercial link. Oceangoing vessels can travel 240 km (150 mi) upstream. In 2004 there were 390 km (243 mi) of total waterways. Banjul, the principal port, receives about 300 ships annually. Ferries operate across the river and between Banjul and Barra.

With the construction of major all-weather roads on both sides of the Gambia River, the waterway has become less significant for passenger traffic. As of 2002, there were 2,700 km (1,678 mi) of roads, including 956 km (594 mi) of paved roads. There were 106,600 passenger cars and 142,300 commercial vehicles were in use. The Gambia has no railroads. In 2005, Gambia's merchant marine totaled four vessels of 1,000 GRT or more, with 30,976 GRT. There is an international airport (the country's only one) at Yundum, 26 km (16 mi) from Banjul. Air Gambia, 60% state owned, acts as an agent only. Foreign air carriers provide international service.


Archeological evidence in the form of stone axes and broken pottery points to the existence of early habitation in the Gambia River region around 2000 bc. In 470 bc, Carthaginian sailors visited the River Gambia. Hannon the Carthaginian referred to The Gambia in his writings, making The Gambia known to the outside world. In ad 300, West African trading networks expanded as early empires established trading networks for peoples living in the Gambia River area. Later kingdoms of the Foni, Kombo, Sine-Salom and Fulladou in The Gambia became trading partners of West Africa's great empires. Islam reached the Ghana Empire in the early 8th century, following the Arab conquest of North Africa.

Around ad 750, at Wassu, a large concentration of stone pillars was placed on the north bank of the River Gambia, the largest of which weigh about ten tons and stand about eight and a half feet above the ground. The stones likely mark the burial sites of kings and chiefs similar to burial grounds of royalty in the Ghana Empire. In the 11th century, Islamic leaders (Karamos) were buried like this, making some of the circles holy places.

Eastern Gambia was part of the great West African empires that flourished for a millennium beginning with Ghana after ad 300. The relative political stability guaranteed by the empires permitted trade and movement of peoples throughout the region. Powerful kingdoms organized as families and clans of Wolof, Mandingo, and Fulbe (Fulani) peoples formed larger social and political units. Small groups of Mandingos had settled in The Gambia by the 12th or 13th century, and a Mali-based Mandingo empire was dominant in the 13th and 14th centuries.

Portuguese sailors discovered the Gambia River in 1455; its navigability made it uniquely important for European traders seeking to penetrate the interior. In 1587, English merchants began to trade in the area. The Royal African Company acquired a charter in 1678 and established a fort on James Island, a small island in the river estuary. In 1765, the forts and settlements in The Gambia were placed under the control of the crown, and for the next 18 years The Gambia formed part of the British colony of Senegambia, with headquarters at Saint-Louis. In 1783, the greater part of Senegambia was handed back to France; The Gambia section ceased to be a British colony and was returned to the Royal African Company.

In 1816, Capt. Alexander Grant entered into a treaty with the chief of Kombo for the cession of Banjul Island. He renamed it St. Mary's Island and established on it a settlement that he called Bathurst (now Banjul). In 1821, the British settlements in The Gambia were placed under the administration of the government of Sierra Leone. This arrangement continued until 1888, except for the period 184366, when The Gambia had its own colonial administration. In 1888, The Gambia again became a separate colony. Its boundaries were defined following an agreement with France in 1889.

After 1888, The Gambia was administered by a governor assisted by an Executive Council and a Legislative Council. In 1902, St. Mary's Island was established as a crown colony, while the rest of the territory became a protectorate. In 1960, universal adult suffrage was introduced in the protectorate, and a 34-member House of Representatives replaced the Legislative Council. The office of prime minister was created in 1962, and the Executive Council was reconstituted to include the governor as chairman, the prime minister, and eight other ministers. Dr. (later Sir) Dawda Kairaba Jawara, the leader of the Progressive People's Party (PPP), became the first prime minister. The Gambia attained full internal self-government on 4 October 1963, with Jawara as prime minister. An independence constitution, which came into force in February 1965, established The Gambia as a constitutional monarchy within the Commonwealth.

On 23 April 1970, after a referendum, The Gambia became a republic with Jawara as the first president. He and the ruling PPP remained in power into the 1980s, weathering an attempted leftwing coup and paramilitary rebellion in July 1981, which was quashed by Senegalese troops under a mutual defense pact signed in 1965. An estimated 500800 people died in the uprising, and there was much property damage. In February 1982, the Confederation of Senegambia was formally constituted. Jawara was reelected to a new term as president that May, receiving 72.4% of the vote. He was reelected in March 1987, defeating two opponents with 59.2% of the vote, and again in April, 1992. He gained 59% of the vote to 22% for Sheriff Mustapha Dibba, his nearest of four rivals. His PPP was also returned to legislative power but with a reduced majority. It fell from 31 to 25 of the elected seats, in the 36-seat House of Representatives.

In March 1992 Jawara accused Libya of arming a force led by Samba Samyang, the leader of the 1981 coup attempt. Libya denied involvement. He also made similar accusations against Libya and Burkina Faso in 1988. In May 1992 Jawara announced an amnesty for most members of the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA) which had been linked to the failed 1981 coup. And in April 1993, two of MOJA's leaders returned from exile to organize as a political party.

Jawara was expected to retire in midterm, but on 22 July 1994 he was overthrown in a bloodless military coup led by Lt. Yahya Jammeh, who had studied in the United States and held an honorary post in the Alabama National Guard. President Jawara took shelter in an American warship which, at the time, had been on a courtesy call. The junta of junior officers and a few civilians suspended the constitution, banned all political activity, detained its superior officers, and placed ministers of the former government under house arrest. The European Union and the United States suspended aid and pressed for a quick return to civilian rule. In 1995, Vice President Sana Sebally attempted another coup, ostensibly to return civilian rule, but it failed. Isolated from the west, Jammeh sought diplomatic ties with other marginalized nations. In 1994, he established relations with Libya and, in 1995, he did so with Taiwan (incurring China's wrath and a break in relations). Economic accords were signed with Cuba as well as Iran.

On 26 September 1996, presidential elections were held in which Jammeh won 55.76% of the vote. Ousainou Darboe took 35.8% and Amath Bah won 5.8%. Three former contenders, the PPP, The Gambia People's Party and the National Convention Party, blamed for The Gambia's problems, were barred from competing. Two days later, Jammeh dissolved the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council, which he had formed upon taking power in 1994, and called for legislative elections in January 1997. The Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction won 32 of 45 contested seats (4 of the body's 49 are appointive). The elections were considered to have been relatively fair, although opposition candidates were harassed and there was almost no media exposure of any but the ruling party.

In 1998, tourism, the most important source of foreign currency, had risen to near precoup levels as Jammeh suppressed grumbling in the army, reestablished stability, and allowed some democratic reforms to move ahead. In February 1998, Jammeh made his first official visit to France. He signed a technical, cultural and scientific accord in Paris designed to reinforce Franco-Gambian cooperation. In 1999, Jammeh raised The Gambia's international profile by mediating between Casamance rebels and the Senegalese government. The ADB, OPEC, and the Islamic Bank approved a round of loans and credits for building and equipping schools and hospitals, and the IMF agreed to a second annual loan worth $11.8 million under the ESAF.

However, in March 2000 the government was reeling from accusations of embezzlement of some $2$3 million of Nigerian oil aid, the siphoning off of millions of dollars of a Taiwanese loan, and money laundering in connection with the privately held peanut processing and marketing company, Gambian Groundnut Corporation (GGC). The government stepped up security measures and controls over the private media, which it justified on the grounds of an alleged coup attempt on 15 January 2000. The coup may have been stage-managed as a pretext for increased security measures. In mid-April, student protests ended with the deaths of 14 people. Local elections, scheduled for November 2000 were repeatedly postponed.

The 18 October 2001 presidential elections were conducted amidst charges of fraud, and thousands of Diolamembers of Jammeh's ethnic group living across the border in Senegalreportedly helped reelect Jammeh who took 52.96% of the vote. Ousainou Darboe of the United Democratic Party (UDP), who had formed a coalition with the People's Progressive Party (PPP) and with The Gambia People's Party (GPP) of Hassan Musa Camara, came in second. Despite his allegations of voting and identity card fraud, Darboe conceded defeat. The EU, the Commonwealth, the United Kingdom, the UN, and Transparency International observers said they were relatively satisfied with the conduct of the election.

In 1999, the HIV/AIDS adult prevalence rate was estimated to be below 2%, one of the lowest rates in sub-Saharan Africa. The 2002 UN Human Development Report ranked The Gambia 160th out of 173 countries on the basis of real GDP per capita, adult literacy, and life expectancy. In February 2004, government announced the discovery of large oil deposits, raising expectations of better economic times in The Gambia.

Freedom of expression was under severe strain as shown in December 2004 when a new press law imposed jail terms for sedition and libel. A few days later, newspaper editor and outspoken critic of the law Deyda Hydara was shot and killed. In March 2005, over 30 senior officials were arrested on suspicion of corruption.


Under the republican constitution of 24 April 1970, as amended, the president, popularly elected for a five-year term, was the head of state. Presidential powers included designating a vice president, who exercised the functions of a prime minister, and appointing cabinet members. The House of Representatives had 36 members elected by universal adult suffrage (at age 18), five chiefs elected by the Chiefs in Assembly, and eight appointed nonvoting members; the attorney general was also a member ex officio.

The military junta suspended the constitution on 22 July 1994, but following presidential elections two years later, a unicameral National Assembly was instituted, consisting of 49 members, four of whom were appointed by the president with the remainder standing for election. As of 2005, the Assembly consisted of 53 members, 48 of which were popularly elected, and five of which were appointed by the president. They serve a five-year term. Presidential elections were due October 2006 and legislative elections in January 2007. In late 2005, the five main opposition parties resolved to form the National Alliance for Development and Democracy (NADD). NADD is envisage as the single platform that would help the opposition overcome its differences and capture power from the ruling APRC. Its plans include the Save The Gambia Democracy Project (STGDP), by which NADD hoped to mobilize resources from home as well as from abroad to lay new institutional foundations for democracy in The Gambia.


The first Gambian political party, the Democratic Party, was formed in 1951 by Rev. John C. Faye. The Muslim Congress Party (CP) and the United Party (UP), led by Pierre S. N'Jie, were formed in 1952. The People's Progressive Party (PPP), under the leadership of Dawda Kairaba Jawara, was formed in 1958 and has governed the country since independence. The CP and the PPP merged in 1968. Two other parties were formed to compete in the 1977 elections, the National Liberation Party and the National Convention Party (NCP). In the elections of May 1982, the PPP won 27 seats (the same as in 1977), the NCP 3, and independents 5; in March 1987, the PPP won 31 seats and the NCP 5; and in April, 1992, PPP won 25 seats and the NCP 6. Other parties included The Gambia People's Party (GPP), the People's Democratic Organization for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS), the Gambian People's Democratic Party (PDP), and the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA).

After the 1994 coup political parties were barred. The ban was lifted in August 1996, but three precoup parties, the People's Progressive Party, The Gambia People's Party, and the National Convention Party remained proscribed. An independent electoral commission lifted the ban on these parties in August 2001. Elections for the House of Assembly were held on 2 January 1997 with members installed on 16 January 1997. Jammeh's Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction took 33 of 45 contested seats, the United Democratic Party took 7 seats, the National Reconciliation Party 2 seats, the PDOIS 1 seat, and independents 2 seats.

Members of opposition parties were harassed during Jammeh's annual tour in 1999 when he lashed out at them as a "gang of alcoholics." His own party weathered rough seas in early 2000 as its secretary-general, Phodey Makalo, disappeared with most of its funds. The July 22 Movement, which served Jammeh as a militia and political vehicle to launch his campaign, was reintegrated into the APRC.

Parliamentary elections were held on 17 January 2002 giving the APRC 45 of 53 seats. The PDOIS took three seats. Citing elections bias on the part of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), the main challenger to the APRC, the United Democratic Party boycotted the elections. APRC candidates ran unopposed in 33 of 48 constituencies. Former head of state Sir Dawda Jawara returned from exile in September 2002 upon condition that he resign from his party.

Presidential elections were due in October 2006; new political alliances were in formation. In early 2006 Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo, acting in his capacity as Chairman of the Commonwealth, visited Banjul in an effort to reconcile government and opposition politicians. The result was a Memorandum of Understanding in which the ruling APRC and NADD, or National Alliance for Democracy and Development pledged to forget the past and to work to create a level playing field for the 2006 elections. If implemented faithfully, the accord could expand opportunities for opposition parties, such as the National Alliance for Democracy and Development that had suffered from government control of the print as well as electronic media.


There are five administrative divisions, each with a council, the majority of whose members are elected. The divisionsCentral River, Lower River, North Bank, Upper River, and Westernare subdivided into 35 districts administered by chiefs with the help of village mayors and councilors. Banjul has a city council.


The judicial system is based on a composite of English common law, Koranic law, and customary law. It accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction with reservations, and includes subsidiary legislative instruments enacted locally. The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and although the courts are not totally free from influence of the executive branch, they have demonstrated their independence on occasion.

The Supreme Court, presided over by a chief justice, has both civil and criminal jurisdiction. Formerly, appeals from any decision of the Supreme Court went before the Court of Appeals, whose judgments could be taken to the UK Privy Council. The January 1997 constitution provided for a reconfiguration of the courts with the Supreme Court replacing the Privy Council.

Muslim courts apply Shariah law in certain cases involving Muslim citizens, and in traditional matters, chiefs rule on customary law and local affairs. District tribunals serve as appeals courts in cases of tribal law and custom. Cases of first instance in criminal and civil matters are handled by administrative officers who function as magistrates in courts located in each of the five administrative regions and Banjul.


The Gambia's armed forces had 800 members in 2005, all of whom comprised the Gambian National Army, which was made up of two infantry battalions, one engineer squadron and a company of the Presidential Guard. The 70-member naval arm had three coastal patrol boats. The Gambia provided observers to five other African nations. The defense budget in 2005 totaled $2.3 million.


The Gambia was admitted to the United Nations on 21 September 1965 and is a member of ECA and all the nonregional specialized agencies except IAEA. It also belongs to the WTO, the African Development Bank, the ACP Group, the Commonwealth of Nations, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), ECOWAS, G-77, the Community of Sahel and Saharan States (CENSAD), the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), and the African Union. The government is participating in efforts to establish a West African Monetary Zone (WAMZ) that would include The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. The union, has been scheduled to come on-stream in January 2003, but has been rescheduled for December 2009.

An agreement of confederation with Senegal, signed on 17 December 1981 and effective 1 February 1982, called for integration of the security services and armed forces of the two countries under the name Senegambia. The presidents of Senegal and The Gambia became president and vice president of Senegambia, respectively. The confederation was dissolved in 1989. The Gambia has played an active role in ECOWAS efforts to resolve the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone. The country contributed troops to cease-fire monitoring groups in 1990 (ECOMOG) and in 2003 (ECOMIL). The Gambia has also supported UN operations and missions in Ethiopia and Eritrea (est. 2000), Burundi (2004), and Côte d'Ivoire (2004). The Gambia is a part of the Nonaligned Movement and participates in the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

In environmental cooperation, The Gambia is part of the Basel Convention, the Convention on Biological Diversity, Ramsar, CITES, the Kyoto Protocol, the Montréal Protocol, MARPOL, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea, Climate Change, and Desertification.


The Gambia's light sandy soil is well suited to the cultivation of groundnuts, which is the country's principal agricultural export. About 75% of the population is engaged in crop production and livestock raising. However, groundnut production has fallen in recent years, and in 1990, tourism overtook groundnut exports as the nation's number one export earner. Significant export revenues are earned from fishing and reexport trade.

The military's takeover of the country in 1994 resulted in a loss of $50 million in aid from the West, equal to about 10% of national income. In addition, tourism declined dramatically; and Senegal, which surrounds The Gambia on three sides, closed the borders because of smuggling. As a result of the 1994 CFA franc devaluation, The Gambia's goods were no longer competitive in the reexport trade. During the late 1990s, the tourism industry rebounded, as did trade. Tourism declined in 2000, but record crops supported healthy economic growth in 2001. Tourism in 2002 accounted for 1015% of GDP.

Average annual growth of GDP was at 2.7% for 1988 to 1998, but GDP growth was 5.7% in 2001. The GDP growth rate in 2005 was estimated at 7.1%. Corruption remains an ongoing problem, and the pace of privatization was slow in 2006. The inflation rate stood at 8.8% in 2005. Unemployment and underemployment rates remained extremely high.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 The Gambia's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $3.1 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $1,900. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 7.1%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 8.8%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 35.5% of GDP, industry 12.2%, and services 52.3%.

According to the World Bank, in 2003 remittances from citizens working abroad totaled $40 million or about $28 per capita and accounted for approximately 10.9% of GDP. Foreign aid receipts amounted to $60 million or about $42 per capita and accounted for approximately 16.2% of the gross national income (GNI).

The World Bank reports that in 2003 household consumption in Gambia, The totaled $293 million or about $206 per capita based on a GDP of $366.0 million, measured in current dollars rather than PPP. Household consumption includes expenditures of individuals, households, and nongovernmental organizations on goods and services, excluding purchases of dwellings. It was estimated that for the period 1990 to 2003 household consumption grew at an average annual rate of 3.8%. It was estimated that in 1998 about 57.6% of the population had incomes below the poverty line.


In 2002, Gambia's workforce numbered about 300,000. Approximately 75% of workers were engaged in agriculture, with industry, commerce and services accounting for 19% of the labor force. The government provided jobs to 6% of the workforce in 2002. There was no unemployment data available.

The Labor Act of 1990 allows all workers (except civil servants, police, and military personnel) to form associations and trade unions. Approximately 10% of the workforce is unionized, which is about 30,000 workers. Strikes are permitted with 14 days' notice (21 days for essential services) to the Commissioner of Labor. Collective bargaining occurs even though unions are small and fragmented. Minimum wages and hours of employment are set by six joint industrial councils (commerce, artisans, transport, the port industry, agriculture, and fisheries), but only 20% of the labor force is covered by minimum wage legislation. The minimum wage was $.66 per day in 2002. Most Gambians pool their resources within extended families in order to meet their basic needs. The statutory working age is 18, but because of limited opportunities for secondary schooling, most children begin working at age 14.


The soil is mostly poor and sandy, except in the riverine swamps. On upland soils the main food crops, besides groundnuts, are millet, manioc, corn, and beans. Most landholdings range between five and nine hectares (12 and 22 acres). Agriculture supports about 80% of the active population, and contributed about 30% of GDP in 2003. Irregular and inadequate rainfall has adversely affected crop production in recent years.

The principal cash crop is groundnuts, grown on some 111,000 hectares (275,000 acres). Production totaled 73,000 tons in 2004. That year, the paddy rice crop was estimated at 22,000 tons. Other food crops in 2004 included an estimated 25,000 tons of corn and 90,000 tons of millet. Mangos, bananas, oranges, pawpaws, and limes are grown mainly in the Western Division. Oil palms provide oil for local consumption and kernels for export; palm oil production was estimated at 2,500 tons in 2004, and kernels at 2,000 tons.


The livestock population in 2005 was estimated at 330,000 head of cattle, 270,000 goats, 148,000 sheep, and 19,000 hogs. Total production of meat in 2005 was 6,845 tons; cow's milk, 7,700 tons; and eggs, 748 tons.


In 2003, the catch was 36,864 tons, as compared with 4,100 tons in 1967. Bonga shad accounted for about 60% of the 2003 catch. Exports of fish products amounted to $1.1 million in 2002. A 1982 agreement with Senegal allows nationals of each country to operate fishing companies in the other's waters.


Portions of The Gambia are covered by mangrove forest, open woodland, or savanna with woodland or bush. Wood resources are used for fuel (84%), poles, and rural housing construction. Roundwood removals were estimated at 750,000 cu m (26 million cu ft) in 2004.


The mineral industry was a minor component of Gambia's economy. Clays for bricks, laterite, silica sand, cockleshell, and sand and gravel were exploited for domestic construction needs. Production of silica sand was estimated at 1,530,000 metric tons in 2004, down slightly from 1,534,000 metric tons in 2003. The Gambia had significant glass and quartz sand deposits, and resources of ilmenite, rutile, tin, and zircon. The government has encouraged exploration for gold. Large deposits of ilmenite were discovered along the coast in 1953, and were exploited by UK interests from 1956 to 1959. A new mineral and mining act was being developed.


In February 2004, the government announced the discovery of large oil deposits. The country must import all of the fossil fuels it consumes. In 2002, consumption and imports of refined petroleum products each came to 1,980 barrels per day. There were no known imports or consumption of natural gas products or coal. All electric power is produced at thermal stations. Installed capacity in 2002 totaled 29,000 kW, with electricity output at 135 million kWh in that year. Electric power consumption that same year came to 126 million kWh.


There is little industry in The Gambia. Industries include groundnut processing, fish processing, the processing of hides, building and repair of river craft, village handicrafts, and clothing manufacture. There are candle factories, oil mills, a soft drink factory, a distillery, a shoe factory and a soap and detergent plant. Although the government provides incentives for industrial development, progress on that front has been slow. In February 2004, the government announced the discovery of large oil deposits. The Gambia produces industrial minerals for local consumption. Privatization has been slow, except in the tourism and banking sectors. The largest industrial complex in the country, the Gambia Groundnut Company, formerly owned by the Alimenta group based in Switzerland, was taken over by the government in 1999. This led to a protracted legal battle and out-of-court settlement, after which the parties agreed to a compensation plan. The government subsequently re-privatized the company.


The United Kingdom's Medical Research Council operates a field station (of its Dunn Nutrition Unit Laboratory in Cambridge) at Keneba, West Kiang, and a research laboratory on tropical diseases at Fajara, near Banjul. Gambia College, founded in 1978, has schools of agriculture, nursing and midwifery, and public health. The Gambia Ornithological Society, founded in 1974, is devoted to bird watching.


The marketing of the groundnut crop for export is handled by the Gambia Produce Marketing Board. About 75% of the population is employed in subsistence farming. Manufacturing is primarily based on agriculture and serves a domestic market. Cooperative banking and marketing unions finance the activities of a network of cooperatives in the groundnut-growing areas. Reexportation of goods through the port of Banjul is a major contributing factor to the economy. Normal business hours are from 8 am to 4 pm, Monday through Thursday, and 8 am to 12:30 pm on Friday. Banking hours are from 8 am to 1 pm, Monday through Thursday, and from 8 to 11 am on Friday. Shopping takes place between the hours of 9:30 am and noon, and 2:30 to 6 pm, Monday through Friday, and from 9 am to noon on Saturday.


Peanut products are by far The Gambia's leading export. However, peanut exports were depressed in the early 1980s, first by drought and then by low world prices. Other exports include fish, cotton lint, and palm kernels. The leading imports are food, manufactured goods, raw materials, fuel, machinery, and transport equipment.

In 2004, The Gambia's primary export partners were: India (23.7%), the United Kingdom (15.2%), France (14.2%), Germany (9.6%), Italy (8.3%), Thailand (5.9%), and Malaysia (4.1%). The

South Africa1.41.4
United Kingdom1.114.5-13.4
United States0.37.6-7.3
() data not available or not significant.

primary import partners in 2004 were: China (23.7%), Senegal (11.6%), Brazil (5.9%), the United Kingdom (5.5%), the Netherlands (4.5%), and the United States (4.4%).


In 2005, the value of The Gambia's exports was estimated at $140.3 million, and imports were valued at $197 million. The current account balance was estimated at -$20.54 million. In 2005, The Gambia had $81.55 million in reserves of foreign exchange and gold. The external debt burden was estimated at $628.8 million in 2003.


The Central Bank of Gambia (CBG), the bank of issue, was established in 1971. The largest commercial bank is Standard Chartered Bank Gambia, which is incorporated locally, with branches in Banjul, Bakav, Serrekunda, and Basse. The government no longer has an equity interest in the bank, in which the parent company holds 75% and Gambian shareholders 25%. The Gambia Commercial and Development Bank (GCDB) was wholly owned by the government but now has been sold to private interests, and the other commercial bank, the International Bank for Commerce and Industry (BICI), is, as of 1997, also privately owned.

The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand depositsan aggregate commonly known as M1were equal to $72.5 million. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas $151.9 million.


Among the insurance companies listed as doing business in The Gambia as of 1995 were the Gambia National Insurance Co., the Great Alliance Insurance Co., and the Senegambia Insurance Co.


The fiscal year extends from 1 July to 30 June. In the 1980s, expansionary fiscal policies exacerbated a weakening economy; by 1985, the budget deficit reached 30% of GDP. An economic recovery program was initiated to reduce public expenditures, diversify the agricultural sector, and privatize the parastatal sector. This step preceded the 1988 agreement with the IMF for a structural adjustment program which helped the economy grow at an annual rate of 4% between 1990 and 1993.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2005 The Gambia's central government took in revenues of approximately $46.63 million and had expenditures of $62.6 million. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately -$16.03 million. Total external debt was $628.8 million.


Direct taxes provide only a small proportion of revenues, the greater proportion being derived from customs and excise duties and from foreign loans and grants-in-aid. Individuals are taxed on the basis of a graduated scale; companies are taxed at a flat rate on undistributed profits. The government revised the income tax system in March 1988 and enacted new sales taxes in April 1988

Current Account-23.6
     Balance on goods-87.5
     Balance on services34.7
     Balance on income-7.6
     Current transfers36.8
Capital Account5.7
Financial Account39.4
     Direct investment abroad
     Direct investment in The Gambia12.0
     Portfolio investment assets
     Portfolio investment liabilities
     Financial derivatives
     Other investment assets10.3
     Other investment liabilities17.2
Net Errors and Omissions-14.2
Reserves and Related Items-7.4
() data not available or not significant.

to broaden the tax base, improve tax collection, and rationalize the tax system.


Customs duties are assessed by CIF (cost, insurance, and freight) value, as is the 10% national sales tax, from which some imports are exempt. Some commodities may be subject to excise taxes.


Joint ventures have been encouraged in The Gambia, but with the stipulation that a portion of the profits must be reinvested. Under an ordinance passed in 1964, developing industries are exempt from profits tax for five years.

In 2002 the government embarked on a new effort to attract foreign investment, called the Gateway Project, financed by a World Bank loan. The Gambia Investment Promotion and Free Zone Agency (GIPZA) was established, with the first free zone planned for Banjui Airport. Gambia's foreign investment regime is open door and nondiscriminatory, with foreign companies treated the same as local companies. Incentives for locating in the free zones include exemptions from taxes and customs duties, a ten-year tax holiday, and a reduced 10% corporate income tax rate for investments in the tourist sector. The government's priorities for foreign investment are agriculture, fisheries, tourism, light manufacture and assembly, energy, mineral exploration and exploitation, and telecommunications.


Development goals have been focused on transport and communications improvements, increases in rice and groundnut yields, and production diversity.

The historical importance of Great Britain to The Gambia has declined, as Gambia has turned increasingly to the IDA and the European Development Fund, France, Germany, Switzerland,Japan, and Arab donors for aid. When Western aid ceased after the 1994 military takeover, The Gambia turned to Taiwan, Libya, Cuba, Nigeria, and Iran for economic support.

In 1999, the EU intended to spend $20 million on poverty alleviation, and the African Development Bank sponsored a $1 million rehabilitation program for the fishing industry. In 2000, The Gambia was slated to receive $91 million in debt relief under the International Monetary Fund (IMF)/World Bank Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative, intended to reduce poverty and stimulate economic growth. The IMF began a three-year $27 million Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) Arrangement with The Gambia in 2002. As of January 2005, the World Bank had approved a total of 31 IDA credits for The Gambia for a total of approximately $272.7 million. The government has directed spending to social sectors in recent years, including agriculture, education and health. A girls' scholarship program began in 2001 and was met with great success, enrolling girls from poor households in school.


A national pension and disability system covers employed persons in quasi-government institutions and in participating private companies. The retirement age is 55, with early retirement at 45. Worker's compensation laws have been in effect since 1940. Benefits include medical, surgical, hospital and nursing care, and medication. A special scheme exists for civil servants and the military. Agricultural workers and subsistence farmers are excluded from coverage.

Women play little part in the public life of this conservative Islamic country. Arranged marriages are common, and polygamy is practiced. Women face discrimination in education and employment. Inheritance rights, moreover, favor men. The painful and often life-threatening practice of female genital mutilation continues to be widespread and is opposed by organized women's rights groups. Domestic violence is widespread, and considered a family issue. Education for children is compulsory, in theory, but this provision is not enforced in practice. Child labor and trafficking children persists.

Human rights are improving but there are still significant problems in many areas. There were reports of arbitrary arrest, detention and torture. The court system remained inefficient and corrupt.


The Gambia has hospitals in Banjul (Royal Victoria) and Bansang and a health clinic in Konbo, St. Mary. The country provided 62% of its people with safe water and 37% with adequate sanitation in 2000. Health conditions are poor: in 2005, average life expectancy was estimated at only 53.75. Nearly half of all children die by age five, primarily because of malaria and diarrheal diseases. Malaria, tuberculosis, trypanosomiasis, and schistosomiasis are widespread.

In 2005 the infant mortality was estimated at 73.07 deaths per 1,000 live births. The Gambia has a higher than average maternal mortality rate, with an estimated 1,100 maternal deaths during childbirth or pregnancy per 100,000 live births. Contraceptives were used by 12% of married women ages 1549. As of 2004, there were fewer than 4 physicians per 100,000 people. There were as few as 12 nurses per 100,000 population. Dentists and pharmacists were also scarce, numbering fewer than 1 per 200,000 people. Total health care expenditure was estimated at 3.7% of GDP.

Female genital mutilation is performed on nearly every woman in The Gambia. The government published a policy opposing female genital mutilation, but there had been no specific laws prohibiting it. The most recent immunization rates available for children under one year old were as follows: tuberculosis, 98%; diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 90%; polio, 29%; and measles, 87%.

The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 1.20 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 6,800 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. There were an estimated 600 deaths from AIDS in 2003.


A Housing Finance Fund provides low-cost housing and related assistance. As of 2000, 80% of urban and 52% of rural dwellers had access to improved water sources. The government has been looking into the use of alternative building materials to cut housing expenses. In 2001, about 75% of building materials were imported.


Primary school is free but not compulsory and, as of 2002, lasts for nine years. Secondary schooling covers six years in two stages of three years each. The academic year runs from September to July. Primary school enrollment in 2003 was estimated at about 79% of age-eligible students. The same year, secondary school enrollment was about 33% of age-eligible students; 39% for boys and 27% for girls. It is estimated that about 68% of all students complete their primary education. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 38:1 in 2003; the ratio for secondary school was about 26:1. In 2003, about 21% of all secondary students were enrolled in private schools.

The University of The Gambia was established in 1999 with four faculties and Gambia College, which in turn has four schools (agriculture; science; education; and nursing, midwifery, and public health). The adult literacy rate for 2003 was estimated at about 40.1%, with 47.8% for men and 32.8% for women.

As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 2.8% of GDP, or 8.9% of total government expenditures.


The Gambia National Library in Banjul contains 115,000 volumes; it serves as both a national archive and a public library. School libraries are organized through the National Library. Gambia College in Brikoma has a library of 23,000 volumes. The Yundum College Library at Banjul has 4,000 volumes, and the library of the Gambia Technical Training Institute has 3,880. Gambia Library and Information Services Association was formed in 1987. The Gambia National Museum, founded in 1982, is also in Banjul and features primarily archaeological and historical exhibits. The African Heritage Centre in Bakau serves as an art museum and gallery for local artists. The exhibits change as items are sold and new ones are offered. Tanje Village Museum offers exhibits on natural history as well as glimpses of village culture.


In 2003, there were an estimated 28 mainline telephones for every 1,000 people; about 10,600 people were on a waiting list for telephone service installation. The same year, there were approximately 73 mobile phones in use for every 1,000 people.

In 2004, the government operated one radio station and one television station. There is one private satellite TV station available. There were four private radio stations broadcasting throughout the country. In 2003, there were an estimated 394 radios and 15 television sets for every 1,000 people. Also in 2003, there were 13.8 personal computers for every 1,000 people.

There is one daily newspaper, The Daily Observer, with a 2002 circulation of 2,000. Though nominally independent, there have been allegations that editorial content was swayed toward promotion of the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC). Other newspapers include The Gambia Daily, which, in spite of its name, is actually published three mornings per week, by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting; the Foroyaa, a weekly with a circulation of 1,500; The Gambia News and Report, another weekly, also with a circulation of 1,500; and The Point, published twice a week, with a 2002 circulation of 4,000.

The old and new constitutions provide for free expression, but the government is said to prohibit all dissenting political publication and broadcasting.


The Gambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry represents many of the principal Gambian, British, and French firms. A network of cooperative societies functions within the groundnut-growing region. The Association of Farmers, Educators and Traders represents about 70,000 individuals. There are some professional associations, such as the Gambia Nurses Association, the Gambia Medical and Dental Association, and the Gambia Teachers Union. The Gambia Women's Finance Association helps promote business ownership among women. Youth organizations include the Gambia Scout Association, Girl Guides, and branches of YMCA/YWCA. There are several sports organizations in the country, including active branches of the Special Olympics. There are national chapters of the Red Cross Society, Caritas, and Amnesty International.


All visitors need a valid passport and visa. Vaccinations against yellow fever are required if traveling from an infected area. Tourism significantly increased during the 1990s; however, outside of Banjul, facilities are limited and very basic. Main attractions are the 19th-century architecture in Banjul and the ecotourism along the Gambia River. Popular sports are football (soccer) and wrestling.

In 2005, the US Department of State estimated the daily expenses for staying in Banjul from November through April at $185. Outside the capital, travel costs were significantly less expensive, averaging $20 per day.


The first prime minister of the independent Gambia and the first president of the republic until 1994 was Alhaji Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara (b.1924). Col. Yahya A. J. J. Jammeh (b.1965) seized power from Jawara in a bloodless coup in 1994.


The Gambia has no territories or colonies.


Dun and Bradstreet's Export Guide to The Gambia. Parsippany, N.J.: Dun and Bradstreet, 1999.

Ebron, Paulla A. Performing Africa. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2002.

Hughes, Arnold and Harry A. Gailey. Historical Dictionary of The Gambia. Rev. ed. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1999.

Zeilig, Leo and David Seddon. A Political and Economic Dictionary of Africa. Philadelphia: Routledge/Taylor and Francis, 2005.

The Gambia

views updated May 21 2018


Republic of The Gambia

Major City:

Other City:
Juffureh, Tanji


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report dated March 1994. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


THE GAMBIA is part of the Sahel region of Africa which, in 1588, became Great Britain's first possession on that continent. It had once belonged to the Empire of Ghana and the Kingdom of the Songhais. When Portuguese navigators arrived at the mouth of the Gambia River in 1455, this little enclave on the bulge of Africa's western region was an integral part of the Kingdom of Mali, the medieval empire acclaimed as a seat of culture and learning.

During the ensuing centuries of exploration and settlement, Great Britain and France struggled for supremacy in the region until British claims were recognized in 1783.

The Gambia was twice placed under the government of Sierra Leone in the 19th century, and finally a boundary agreement was reached in 1889, when the little country became a British crown colony. The Gambia gained independence February 18, 1965, and has been a republic since 1970.



Banjul, the capital city and main trading center of The Gambia, is situated on the Island of St. Mary near the mouth of the Gambia River. The British had established a garrison here early in the 19th century in an effort to abolish the slave trade, and the small, sandy strip of land, called Banjul, was renamed Bathurst (Banjul) after a colonial administrator. The original name was restored to the city in 1973.

Banjul has an estimated population of 186,000 (2000 est.). Included are Gambians, some Americans, several hundred Europeans, Middle Easterners, and other Africans. The Lebanese and Mauritanians are often shopkeepers and up-river traders. Relations among the ethnic groups are harmonious.

A sizable number of Gambians commute daily to Banjul from the growing urban center of Serrekunda.


Most children in kindergarten through eighth grade attend the Banjul American Embassy School (BAES) founded in 1984. The school is open to English-speaking students of all nationalities. A U.S. curriculum is followed with French taught as a foreign language. Social studies include the social and cultural history of Gambia, supplemented by local field trips. Extracurricular activities such as field trips, yearbook, and sports are offered.

The Marina International School is located on the outskirts of Banjul. Its curriculum is similar to that of British primary schools. This school is rarely attended by American students. French-speaking education is available from the Ecole Francais. Both the Ecole Francais and the BAES offer pre-kindergarten programs which have been used by Americans.

American children above grade eight usually attend high school in the U.S. or in Europe. There is, however, an American School run by the Methodist missionaries in Dakar, and Ziguinchor has a boarding school for English-speaking students.


Recreation in this capital city revolves around the ocean, the beaches, the river, and the home. Attractive beaches line the entire Gambian coast. It should be noted, however, that the surf is rough and dangerous in places, and no one should swim alone. Care should also be taken on beaches to guard against theft or personal assault.

Surf fishing is popular and, in season, it is possible to make catches of many varieties. The quantity and quality of fish are excellent. Local fishermen use nets cast from the shore or set from large pirogues (dugout canoes). Fishing tackle and gear can be purchased in Banjul, but are expensive.

The water near Banjul is too cloudy for skin diving and spearfishing, but suitable places can be found down the coast. An experienced local fisherman should be hired as a guide to point out where the currents are strongest.

Privately owned dinghies and pirogues may be rented. A boat club here sponsors monthly sailboat races, and small sail-and power-boats are occasionally for sale. Two larger sailing yachts in the area offer opportunities for longer cruises up-river and in ocean tributaries.

The Gambia is a bird-watcher's paradise where more than 400 species can be sighted. The Gambia Ornithological Society is active in sponsoring walks, lectures, and slide presentations for its members, who pay a small membership fee. Those interested in gardening will find that flowers, tropical trees, and a variety of vegetables will grow with some effort and care in The Gambia.

Abuko Nature Reserve, about 15 miles from Banjul, is a small fenced-in park where the visitor may walk through dense bush and open veld country. Monkeys, small antelope, reptiles, and birds can be seen in their native habitat. A few hyenas, a lion, and some chimpanzees are kept in natural enclosures in a zoo "orphanage" at the center of the area. The best time for seeing animals is early morning or late afternoon.

Hunting is popular, and game includes wild boar, guinea fowl, duck, pigeon, and sand grouse. Hunting is not permitted everywhere, so make arrangements to hunt with someone who is familiar with legal hunting areas.

Near the U.S. ambassador's residence at Fajara, a private international club with open membership is in operation. It maintains a golf course, a swimming pool, two tennis courts, squash and badminton courts, and facilities for Ping-Pong and snookers (a form of pool). There are also a bar and restaurant. A number of Gambians, including the president, play golf frequently. Several other tennis courts are to be found in Banjul and Bakau.

Hotels in the Banjul area charge a small fee for nonresident use of their swimming pools.

The Gambia has several interesting historical sites, including two former colonial forts. Fort Bullen at Barra, across the river from Banjul, was built in 1826 to guard what was then Bathurst from possible invasion; the fort on James Island, about 20 miles up-river, dates back to 1651. After changing hands many times between the French and British, the James Island fort served for 125 years as the seat of British influence in the region. Juffureh, a hamlet near the fishing village of Albreda across from James Island, was made famous as the ancestral home of the late Alex Haley, author of Roots, a book which symbolizes the African ancestry of black Americans.

Scattered along the north bank of the river are the "stone circles," believed to be ceremonial sites dating back as far as 100 years B.C. The circles, which appear to contain sacrificial burials, consist of 10 to 24 cylinder-shaped megaliths cut from laterite of varying heights. About 20 of these sites are found between Kaur and Georgetown; the most interesting are at Wassau and Ker Batch.

Other notable historical sites include the Kataba Fort, a stronghold for local chiefs during the 19th-century Muslim holy wars, and the obelisk near Karantaba on the north bank, erected in honor of the great West African explorer, Mungo Park. It is claimed that he began his memorable journeys at this point in search of the Niger River.

Other possible excursions in The Gambia are visits to the Gunjar and Tanji fishing villages along the southern coast; Tendaba Camp halfway up-river, where there are bungalows, a swimming pool, a few caged animals, and a restaurant on the river; Georgetown and Basse, larger towns and former important river trading centers; Kartong, the southernmost town along the coast, with its crocodile pools; and Berending (several miles east of Barra on the north bank) and Katchikally in Bakau.

Excursions in Senegal

Dakar, the capital of Senegal, is roughly 190 miles from Banjula five-hour drive. It offers modern theaters (French films), good French food, museums, art galleries, a university, and other metropolitan services. Ziguinchor, the capital of the Casamance region in southern Senegal, is approximately 95 miles south of Banjul, and can be reached by car in three hours. It is a former Portuguese settlement on the Casamance River, and has a good crafts market and several good French restaurants. Pirogues may be rented for bird-watching along the river.

It is also possible to make several interesting excursions from Ziguinchor, including trips to Cap Skirring on the coast; Basse-Casamance Park; and the old Jola impluvium houses, which provided for the collection of rainwater through the roof directly into atrium receptacles. Other places to visit in Senegal are Djoudi Bird Refuge in the northern part of the country; St. Louisformer French West African capital on an island at the mouth of the Senegal River; Kafountine, Misirah, and Toubacoutta, all coastal tourist spots providing accommodations and French cuisine; Kaolack's municipal market; Touba, the religious capital of one of Senegal's leading Muslim sects, and the site of the largest mosque in sub-Saharan Africa; a tapestry museum at Thies; and Niokolo Koba Park in eastern Senegal, which has a number of lions, elephants, hippos, antelope, and other small animals.


Entertainment in The Gambia is limited. In Banjul, the Fajara Club offers sports facilities, a bar/restaurant, library services, and social activities for both adults and children. This open-membership club is mainly patronized by resident expatriates and senior government officials. The American Mission Cooperative Association organizes group activities at Easter, the Fourth of July, and Christmas, and also shows weekly films for staff members and guests at the American Embassy. Other active groups include the Caledonian Society (Scottish dancing); the Ornithological Society; the Tuesday Group, an international women's club; and the Banjul Music Society, which presents two major performances a year. The Alliance Francaise offers French classes and screens weekly French films.

Banjul has an indoor cinema which occasionally shows American films. Open-air theaters are located in the capital and in the towns of Bakau, Serrakunda, Lamin, Brikama, and other places up-river. These cinemas feature mainly Indian, Kung-Fu, and Arabic films.

Major hotels have dance floors or discos, the most popular being those at the Senegambia and Novotel. The Tropicana Night Club has a more local flavor. During the tourist season, hotels stage Gambian cultural shows including dancing. The African Experience produces an excellent show twice weekly during the season. The evening consists of a series of local dances with authentic Gambian cuisine served between dances.

Several formal dinner dances are organized by various groups during the year. Occasionally, visiting foreign performers appear in The Gambia; most performances take place at the Independence Stadium. Local artists also perform at the Stadium, and from December to April, soccer games are staged there on weekends. The Gambia's National Museum features exhibits in arts and crafts, history, and ethnography. It is located on Independence Drive in Banjul.

The American community in The Gambia consists of U.S. Government personnel and contract employees, Peace Corps volunteers, and others not directly connected to official staffs. Social life is relaxed and informal and revolves around small dinner and cocktail parties, picnics, beach parties, and occasional events sponsored by the American Mission Cooperative Association.

International organizations represented in The Gambia include the United Nations Development Program, the European Community, World Health Organization, Food and Agricultural Organization, and World Food Program. In addition, over a dozen countries are represented by honorary consuls. Most other diplomats officially accredited to The Gambia are resident in Dakar.


JUFFUREH , a small village 20 miles from Banjul, was the home of Kunta Kinte, claimed to be late author Alex Haley's great, great-grandfather. Haley's best-seller, Roots, is based on Kunta Kinte's life.

The small village of TANJI , on the Atlantic Coast, is a must see for those interested in Gambian culture. The Tanji Village Museum is a small open-air museum built as a model village of Gambian homes as they existed about a hundred years ago. Visitors can go inside a number of huts to see exhibits on village history and artifacts of village life. The museum's garden contains plants such as Wolof, Mandinka, Serer and Jola, which have medicinal use. The gardens are part of the ongoing research of the museum into the uses of plants in medicine, textile dyes and in traditional beliefs. Nature trails around the museum and the village are offered with guided or self-guided tours. The museum also often offers presentations of traditional music, dance and rituals. An artisan area displays traditional handicrafts and a small restaurant serves a sampling of traditional foods.

Visitors may want to stay at the Paradise Inn Lodge, located on the banks of the Tanji River. Mountain bikes and kayaks can be rented as well as jeeps for those looking for a safari. The inn offers workshops and presentations on drum and dance, African cooking and batik making, and boasts of a beautiful tropical garden.

About 2 miles north of the village is the Tanji Bird Reserve. Truly a bird watchers paradise, the area contains dunes, lagoons, dry woodland, coastal scrub, mangrove patches and the reefs and islets of Bijol Island. Nearly 300 species of bird have been sighted here, both indigenous species and European migrants.

Creek fishing on the Tanji River is a relaxing way to spend an afternoon, as is a visit to the unspoiled Tanji beaches.


Geography and Climate

Situated on the western coast of Africa, between the equator and the Tropic of Cancer, the Republic of The Gambia forms a long, narrow strip on either side of the Gambia River. Except for the seacoast, it is surrounded by the Republic of Senegal and extends inland for 200 miles (320 kilometers). The country is 30 miles (48 kilometers) wide along the coast, narrowing to 15 miles (24 kilometers) at its eastern border. From sea level, interior elevations rise to 112 feet.

The Gambia River rises in the Fouta Jallon (Djallon) mountains of Guinea and empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Twelve miles wide at the mouth, near Cape St. Mary, it narrows to three miles at Banjul, The Gambia's capital city. It is fringed with mangrove swamps for the first 170 miles inland, followed by open savanna and, in places, by red iron-stone cliffs. The river is tidal throughout most of the country, and the intrusion of salt water ranges from 90 miles in the wet season to nearly 160 miles in the dry period. Ships up to 3,000 tons, with a maximum draft of 17 feet, are able to navigate 150 miles up-river to the trading port of Kaur. Banjul has a well-equipped port with two berths, spacious anchorages, large customs clearing warehouses, and a 25-ton capacity crane. Smaller fishing and pleasure boats are anchored in Oyster Creek, two miles from Banjul.

The Gambia is vulnerable to periodic drought because it is part of the arid Sahel zone between the Sahara desert and the coastal rain forest. Its vegetation is comprised of savanna woodlands, grass, and shrubs which grow in low-nutrient soils. Palm trees are found in the coastal area and along the riverbanks, and baobab and kapok trees are common throughout the country. The subtropical climate has a rainy season from June to October, and a dry transitional period from October to December. The dry season then begins, and extends through May. The onset and end of the rains are marked by high temperatures and humidity, whereas the dry season is noted for the dust-laden harmattan, winds which blow in from the central Sahara. Temperatures range from a low of 48°F (9°C) in January to a high of 110°F (43°C) in October. Rainfall ranges from an annual mean of 48 inches in the west to 34 inches up-river.

Because of the humid climate and the salt air along the coast, metal rusts rapidly. Books and leather goods often mildew or are attacked by silverfish and other insects, especially in the rainy season. Houses near the sea are affected by the corrosive salt air and spray. Termites abound year round in soils and woodwork. During the dry season, the winds blow in a fine dust which quickly gathers everywhere. However, the moderate temperatures during this interval of sunny days and cool nights give The Gambia one of West Africa's more pleasant climates, particularly in the narrow coastal region.


The Gambia's estimated population is 1.4 million people. About 80 percent live in rural areas outside the urban communities of Bakau, Serrekunda, and the capital city of Banjul. Population density for the country is about 120 persons per square kilometer, making The Gambia one of the most densely populated countries in Africa. Of the major ethnic groups, Mandinkas predominate with 42 percent of the population, followed by Fula (18%) and Wolof (16%). Other substantial ethnic groups include Jola (10%), Serahuli (9%), Serer (2%), Manjago (2%), and Aku (1%). Just over one percent of the population comes from other African countries with non-Africans accounting for fewer than one percent (mostly Europeans and Lebanese). Although each ethnic group has its own particular traditions, language, and background, the people of The Gambia share many cultural patterns due to historical connections, the small size of the country, generations of inter-marriage, and the unifying force of Islam. Gambians also share much of their cultural heritage with the people of Senegal and other West African countries.

English is the official language in schools and government, but local tongues are widely spoken. While Wolof is commonly used in the urban areas, Mandinka predominates in rural sections. Other local languages are often heard.

The population growth rate is estimated at 3.14 percent. The birth rate is 42 per thousand, and life expectancy is about 54 years. Approximately 90 percent of the population is Muslim, with nine percent Christian and, to a lesser extent, followers of traditional ani-mist beliefs and practices. Freedom of religion is recognized, and religious institutions are autonomous.


A member of the British Commonwealth, The Gambia became independent in 1965. A new constitution, adopted in 1970, established a democratic system of government based on universal adult suffrage, a multi-party electoral system, and respect for basic human and political rights. Three independent branches were established: executive, legislative, and judicial, with presidential and parliamentary elections every five years.

The executive branch is headed by a president, who is elected for a five-year term. The president then appoints a vice president and a cabinet from members of parliament. The judiciary consists of a supreme court, court of appeals, and various subordinate courts. The legal system is based on a composite of English common law, Koranic law, and customary law.

The 1970 constitution was suspended after a military junta in 1994, but presidential elections were held two years later and a new 53-member National Assembly was formed, with four members appointed by the president and the rest elected. At the time Yayah Alphonse Jamus Jebulai Jammeh was elected president. He was reelected in 2001.

For administrative purposes, The Gambia is divided into five divisions, each headed by a regional commissioner (i.e., Western, North Bank, Lower River, MacCarthy Island, and Upper River divisions). Further divisions are the districts, which are headed by chiefs who are elected by village heads. The district chiefs retain traditional power of customary law. Local government consists of six rural councils and two urban councils which have their own treasuries but are responsible to the Ministry of Local Government and Lands.

The Gambian flag consists of red and green horizontal bands and a central white, blue, and white horizontal stripe symbolizing a river flowing through fertile land at sunset.

Arts, Science, Education

The government of The Gambia is encouraging a revival of its artistic and cultural traditions. It sponsors the Gambia National Troupe, a musical and theatrical company which performs extensively in the Banjul area. Members of the troupe have traveled widely in Europe, the former Soviet Union, and in other African countries. An annual cultural festival of traditional Mandinka music and dance was inaugurated in 1983 at Georgetown. The Ministry of Education, Youth, Sports, and Culture also sponsors performances of traditional dance, as well as instruction in the music of the griot. More than just a musician, the griot in Gambian society embodies much of the country's national heritage through the historical narratives and family genealogies that griot families have passed on for generations. The songs of both kora and balafon musicians trace the history of the region and its founding families back to the 13th century. While the kora is a stringed instrument, the balafon is much like a xylophone. Individual and ensemble performances with these instruments may be heard in Banjul and surrounding areas at hotels and public functions. Several good recordings of this music, and also of traditional drumming, are available.

Local handicrafts, tie-dyeing, batik, wood carving, and the making of gold and silver jewelry are expanding as a result of increasing tourism. The Gambia National Museum features exhibits on traditional arts and crafts, and on history and ethnography. It also has a tape collection of oral histories of the region and videotapes on aspects of Gambian culture.

Scientific research is underway in several fields important to tropical and developing countries. Medical study of tropical diseases has been conducted by the British Medical Research Council since 1947; and the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) has actively sponsored a major research program of agricultural research and diversification.

The Gambia's education and training policies continue to focus on primary education, literacy, and qualitative improvements in curriculum and teacher instruction. A National Vocational Training Directorate, established in 1979, coordinates the country's technical training. Its current priorities are to upgrade the skills of those already employed. The Gambia Technical Training Institute opened in 1983, and a Management Development Institute for instruction in mid-level management and accounting procedures opened in 1984. The country has no university, but one may be established from the Schools of Education and Agriculture at Yundum.

The Gambia's literacy rate is very low. Only 48 percent of adults age 15 and over can read and write.

Commerce and Industry

The Gambia, with a per capita income of $1100 in 2001, is one of the world's poorest countries. It is confronted with the deep-rooted problems of a high population density, limited land space, a serious rate of infant mortality, high illiteracy, a dearth of natural resources, a single-crop economy, and periodic drought. The country depends heavily on agriculture, with ground-nuts accounting for the majority of export earnings. Fish, cotton lint, and palm kernels are also exported. Millet, sorghum, and rice are the staple food crops. Because emphasis is on groundnut cultivation, production has been diverted from staple crops, and food must be imported. Other imports include raw materials, fuel, machinery, and transport equipment. The country is currently pursuing policies to diversify its economy and become self-sufficient. Current emphasis is on increasing cotton, rice, livestock, and fish production and irrigating swamp areas along the River Gambia. The Gambia receives financial and technical assistance from a number of international donor agencies.

The Gambia's industrial sector is very small. Groundnut oil milling is the major source of industrial activity, although the tourist and fishing industries are growing in importance. There has been substantial investment in shrimp farming and the poultry industry. The Banjul suburb of Kanifing is developing an industrial park which already includes such industries as a brewery and soft-drink factory, shoe manufacturing, cement and brick production, lime juice production, a metalworking factory, a soap and plastics works, and several other smaller enterprises. The Gambia Produce Marketing Board, a parastatal agency, controls groundnut exports, while a number of large trading houses dominate the import sector.

Because of a rapidly expanding tourist industry, additional hotels, restaurants, and souvenir shops are being built in the Fajara beach area. The tourist season is from October to May. The 1991-1992 tourist season attracted nearly 113,000 tourists, but tourism declined significant in 1999 and 2000. Most of the tourists are Scandinavian, German, British, and French. A number of American tourists have been drawn to The Gambia, largely in response to Roots, the story built around Alex Haley's homeland.

The address of The Gambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry is P.O. Box 33, Banjul.


Banjul is 25 minutes by air from Dakar's Yoff airport, where numerous international connections can be made. Twice-daily service to Dakar is available via Gambia Air Shuttle and other carriers fly there several times during the week. British Airways has nonstop service between London and Banjul twice weekly and, during the tourist season, various charter flights arrive from Europe. Also during the tourist season, there are weekly flights to the Canary Islands.

Banjul International Airport at Yundum is 17 miles from the capital. The runway is one of the finest in West Africa. The airport is limited in marginal weather due to a lack of instrument landing aids.

Occasionally, passenger accommodations can be booked to Banjul on cargo ships sailing from European ports. Cruise ships call at Banjul on their way to other West African ports from the Canary Islands.

In Banjul, taxis are available at designated taxi parks and hotels. Like taxis in other areas of Africa south of the Sahara, however, the vehicles are often run down and in short supply during the tourist season. Fares go up during the tourist season. An exact fare should be agreed on in advance between driver and passenger.

Gambians drive on the right side of the road. The country's major asphalt road runs from Banjul along the south bank of the river to Basse. The north bank road from Barra to Georgetown is a wide laterite all-weather surface. Feeder roads linking remote settlements with these two main roads have been developed throughout the country. During the rains, though, many of the secondary surfaces become impassable.

The Trans-Gambia Highway linking Dakar with Ziguinchor in the Casamance area of southern Senegal crosses the north-and south-bank roads at Farafenni, where a ferry service operates. The crossing normally takes 25 minutes, but frequent delays of up to an hour or more are encountered. Other ferries operate at Basse, Bansang, Georgetown, Kaur, Kuntaur, Kerewan, and Barra. The Barra/Banjul crossing is the most dependable, and takes about 30 minutes. The first ferry is scheduled to leave Banjul every day after 8 a.m., but does not operate when the tide is low.

A privately owned car, preferably a compact, is essential for any extended stay in The Gambia. Vehicles with high road clearance are the most practical. Nissans, Toyotas, Renaults, Suzukis, Peugeots, and Mercedes can be bought in Banjul. American cars are risky choices, as repair facilities and spare parts are virtually unobtainable. Expatriates who decide to ship an American car to The Gambia should have an ample supply of spare parts on hand. Gasoline and oil can be purchased locally, but it is more expensive than in the U.S.

Although a valid U.S. or international driver's license will be temporarily recognized in The Gambia, a local license is required if residency is planned. Local third-party liability car insurance is mandatory as well.


The Gambia telecommunications company (GAMTEL) installed a new digital switching telephone system in November 1986. Service on this system has been very reliable, and calls to Banjul and its surrounding area can be made with the least amount of difficulty. Calls up-country are more problematic because of the old microwave equipment and frequent power outages occurring in these areas.s

Direct international dialing (including to the U.S.) is available for a small deposit fee. International calls cannot be made from a telephone without this capacity. Subscribers who have not paid the deposit have to make international calls at the GAMTEL booth in Banjul. Although international calls are expensive, monthly service charges and local calls are quite reasonable. Subscribers can obtain monthly printouts of all calls for a small fee. Telegrams and telexes can be sent from GAMTEL headquarters in Banjul. Telex charges are reasonable.

Mail service is adequate, but slow. International delivery from the U.S. takes a week to 15 days; surface mail, several months. All mail should be carefully imprinted in capital letters.

The Gambia is served by a few radio stations. Radio Gambia, a government broadcasting service, operates daily with over 100 hours of broadcasts a week in seven languages, including English. Its coverage is countrywide, although reception is poor in the eastern section. Radio Syd, a privately owned commercial station, broadcasts entertainment programsmostly musicfor 140 hours a week. It also simulcasts Radio Gambia's news programs. Radio Syd's signal reaches primarily the Western Division, but can be heard up to Mansakonko. Radio One is an FM music station.

A good shortwave radio is required to receive the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Voice of America (VOA), and other international transmissions.

The Gambia has one government owned TV station and, with a good antenna, television programs can be received from Senegal. Videotape recorders are growing in popularity in the international community; an informal exchange service is available, but U.S. and European systems differ from one another. Most Americans use VHS format cassettes. A multi-system television and VCR are recommended.

Banjul has several newspapers that comment on local affairs. The Gambia Weekly (formerly Gambia News Bulletin ), is published three times a week by the Ministry of Information. The Gambia Onward is published three times weekly. The Nation and The Gambian Times, which is published by the People's Progressive Party, appear fortnightly. All are published in English.

British papers can be purchased occasionally in Banjul, but supply is irregular. The International Herald Tribune also comes by air, but is irregular and often a week old upon arrival. Time, Newsweek, and European and African magazines also are available locally, usually with some delay.

Several bookstores in the capital carry paperbacks, stationery supplies, and children's books, but the supply is severely limited and would not meet the needs of a family. The Gambia National Library has a limited selection of books and periodicals and the Fajara Club maintains a small lending library. The U.S. Embassy has a small reading room with American periodicals, reference materials, and school catalogues; it also shows CBS weekly newscasts on videotape. Only a few technical journals are available in Banjul.


Health facilities in The Gambia do not meet U.S. standards. The government runs two hospitals (the Royal Victoria in Banjul and a smaller hospital in Bansang) and operates a network of health centers and dispensaries throughout the country. The expatriate community makes use of private hospital clinics including the Westfield Clinic and the British Medical Research Council in Fajara. Fully qualified doctors, trained in the U.K., are on staff at each of these clinics, but they are not always immediately available. In addition, the American community has access to several private physicians. Obstetric cases and medical evacuations are sent to Europe or the U.S.

Several dentists have private practices in Banjul, but they are not equipped to do major dental work.

Amoebic dysentery and many gastro-intestinal parasitic infections are common in The Gambia. Malaria, hepatitis, meningitis, and rabies are endemic. Other diseases such as tuberculosis, schistosomiasis, and upper respiratory infections (influenza) are common. Skin infections such as athlete's foot, heat rash, and boils can be problems, especially in the rainy season.

Personal hygiene is extremely important under tropical conditions. The Gambia's water supply is one of the cleanest in West Africa, yet its bacterial content differs significantly from U.S. water supplies. Filtering and boiling is necessary, at least until the body becomes acclimated to the new conditions. Vegetables should be soaked or washed in an iodine or chlorine solution, and local meats should be frozen for ten days before being cooked, or otherwise cooked until well done. A good supply of bottled water is needed for field trips.

Malarial suppressants must be taken regularly, and repellents and mosquito nets should be used as needed. It is advisable to attend to small cuts or infections immediately. Rabies is endemic, and all contact with stray animals should be avoided. Antirabies vaccine is available in case of an accident.

Clothing and Services

Informal lightweight clothing is the standard for office attire and for most social occasions. Men find that heavier suits, long-sleeved shirts, and sweaters are needed in the cooler weather during the winter months.

Loose cotton dresses are recommended as daily wear for women. Either long or short dresses are suitable for dinner and cocktail parties. Slacks and jeans are worn in urban areas, but shorts are not appropriate in public. Sandals, open shoes, and pumps are worn but it is wise to remember that high heels are difficult to wear on the sandy roads of The Gambia, and that the few walks that are cemented are very rough. Wear-and-tear on shoes is excessive.

Children rarely dress up here. Frequent changes and washing in the hot and humid season cause a great deal of wear and tear on their clothing; an extra supply should be kept on hand, as well as extra pairs of shoes.

Adults and children alike need casual clothing (cotton is recommended over synthetic fabrics), beach wear, sportswear, and sturdy shoes. Warmer clothing is needed for trips to cooler climates. Clothes mildew rapidly in the humid climate, and should be kept in closets with mildew preventative.

Gambians are very dress conscious and quite fashionable. Men and women wear beautiful caftans and long flowing gowns. A number of good tailors in Banjul work with a variety of imported cloth and colorful tie-dyes and batiks. The wide range of competence among dressmakers and tailors makes careful selection necessary. Prolonged delays should be expected.

Dry cleaning service is not recommended; laundry is done at home. Shoe repairs can be done in the Banjul market with varying degrees of success. There are several good hair stylists for men and women.

British-made household articles can be repaired after a fashion, but American equipment rarely can be adequately serviced. Stereo and videotape equipment can be repaired in Dakar.

Several shops in Banjul offer a small selection of toilet articles and cosmetics, mostly French and English brands, but all are expensive.

Domestic Help

The Gambian Government has issued guidelines regarding wages, work hours, vacations, salary increases, and termination of services but, in many instances, these are left to negotiation. Domestic workers are now eligible for enrollment in the national social security system.

As a rule, men fill cook, houseboy, gardener, and driver positions; women care for children and do housework and laundry. In addition, it is customary for guards to be employed around the clock to deter theft and vandalism. English-and French-speaking servants of varying ability are available but, because most can neither read nor understand English well, considerable care is required to ensure that instructions are understood. Employers are not obliged to provide meals or uniforms.


Persons traveling from the U.S. to Banjul may transit via London or Dakar, Senegal. British Airways has two nonstop flights a week to Banjul from London. Air Afrique flies from New York to Dakar. Also, there are numerous connections to Dakar from Europe. Twice-daily shuttle flights by the Gambia Air Shuttle connect Dakar and Banjul.

A visa is required for entry, as is a current international immunization card. (A Senegalese visa is not needed for U.S. citizens needed if transit is through Senegal.) Cholera is spot-checked as visitors enter The Gambia, particularly if they are in transit from known endemic locations. The U.S. Government advises inoculations against typhus-typhoid, polio, and hepatitis, as well as yellow fever and cholera.

No quarantine is imposed for the importation of pets. However, since rabies is hyperendemic in the country, vaccination is a stringent requirement, not only for the protection of pets, but also for that of the humans around them. Rabies shots should be renewed annually. Airlines will provide shipping details.

Weapons and a limited amount of ammunition may be imported. The Gambian Government requires a carrying permit as well as an annually renewable game license for hunting. Registration should be made with U.S. Customs before departure.

The Gambia is predominantly a Muslim country. Muslims do not eat pork or drink alcohol. Orthodox believers observe prayer periods five times each day. Calls to prayer can be heard from mosques, sometimes on loudspeakers. While men usually will be seen in mosques and at special prayer grounds, women generally pray in the privacy of their homes. Friday is a special day, when Muslim men dress in their best clothes and gather in mosques for afternoon prayer; this is also the day when beggars congregate nearby to receive alms.

Besides several mosques, Banjul and surrounding communities have Anglican, Methodist, and Roman Catholic churches, but no synagogues. The American Church of Christ, Seventh-Day Adventists, Baha'i, American Baptist, and the Worldwide Evangelical Crusade have small missions in The Gambia. Complete religious freedom exists, with no overt animosity between religious groups.

The Gambia's time is Greenwich Mean Time.

The currency is the dalasi, which is divided into 100 bututs.

Imperial weights and measures are in common use. Most shopkeepers and traders are familiar with the metric system, to which the country is gradually converting. Road distances are marked in kilometers.


Jan.1 New Year's Day

Feb. 18 Independence Day

Mar. (2nd Mon) Commonwealth Day*

Mar/Apr. Good Friday*

Mar/Apr. Easter*

Mar/Apr. Easter Monday*

May 1Labor Day

June/JulyRoots Festival*

Aug. 15Assumption

Dec. 25 Christmas


Mawlid an Nabi*


Id al-Fitr*

Id al-Adah*



The following titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country:

Gailey, Harry A. Historical Dictionary of the Gambia. 2nd ed. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1987.

Gamble, David P. The Gambia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio Press, 1988.

Insight Guide: Gambia-Senegal. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1990.

Sallah, Tijan M. Kora Land. Washington, DC: Three Continents Press, 1988.

Tomkinson, Michael. Michael Tomkinson's Gambia. Cincinnati, OH:Seven Hills Book Distributors, 1991.

Wilkins, Frances. Gambia. Let's Visit Places & Peoples of the World Series. New York: Chelsea House, 1988.

The Gambia

views updated Jun 11 2018


Republic of The Gambia



The Republic of The Gambia measures 11,295 square kilometers (4,361 square miles) and consists of a long narrow ribbon of land sitting astride the river Gambia, one of the major waterways in West Africa. Apart from the 50-kilometer (31-mile) stretch of coastline on the Atlantic ocean, it is entirely surrounded by Senegal. At the estuary of the river Gambia, the northern and southern boundaries are only 45 kilometers (28 miles) apart and the belt of land narrows to about 20 kilometers (13 miles) inland. Banjul is the coastal capital located on the southern side of the estuary.


The population of The Gambia was estimated at 1.026 million in the 1993 census and 1.169 million in 1997. The estimated population in 2000 was 1.367 million, growing at a rate of 3.2 percent a year with a fertility rate of 5.2 children per woman. It is a young population with about 45 percent under 14 years of age, 52 percent between 15 and 64 years, and 3 percent 65 and over. Population density is 117 per square kilometer (1997) with 30 percent of the people living in urban areas. Life expectancy was estimated at 47 years in 1997, up from 36 years in 1970.

The Mandinka people constitute 42 percent of the total population, followed (in descending order of population) by the Fula, Wollof, Jola, and Savaluli. There is also a community of Akus (Creoles) descended mainly from African slaves freed in the 19th century. About 90 percent of the population is Muslim and the rest are mostly Christians. There are also traditional religions practiced. English is the official language with Mandinka extensively used in the provinces while Wollof is widely spoken in Banjul.


The Gambia's economy is closely tied to its command of the Gambia river system, which gives it considerable potential in trade, depending on the level of development in the hinterland. At present, it is an economically disadvantaged country, hampered by its small size, geographical and climatic difficulties, lack of mineral or other natural resources, and rudimentary infrastructure . The economy is driven by agriculture (especially groundnut production) and tourism. Agriculture production suffered during the droughts of the last 2 decades, although the Gambia is less vulnerable than its Sahel (a semi-arid region just south of the Sahara desert) neighbors.

Tourism is the most important source of foreign exchange revenue. It suffered in the wake of an abortive coup in 1981 and again after the successful coup of 1994. It has since recovered and in 1996 and 1998 the number of tourist arrivals had overtaken pre-coup levels.

Foreign aid has been key to the development of infrastructure as well as general budgetary support. An economic recovery program, launched in August 1985, later renamed the Programme for Sustained Development, introduced austerity measures which controlled inflation and produced significant real GDP growth in the latter part of the 1980s. Real GDP grew at 3.6 percent annually between 1980 and 1990 and 2.2 percent annually between 1990 and 1997. The economy grew in real terms by 5.3 percent in 1996, 4.9 percent in 1997, and 4.7 percent in 1998. The Gambia has continued to implement market-oriented reforms which won it praise from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 1992, and its policies have been broadly continued by the post-1994 government.

The Gambian economy is strongly affected by the health of CFA franc because of its close relationship with Senegal. The Gambia has enjoyed a successful re-export trade, and the success of Banjul port has been the result of its ability to undercut the port charges of Dakar in Senegal . When the CFA franc was devalued by 50 percent in 1994, the position changed abruptly, affecting the Gambia-Senegal cross-border trade in groundnuts. Nuts grown in the Gambia were sold in Senegal because of the higher prices there, with Gambia losing on the processing and shipping revenues.

The Gambia had US$37.8 million of international debt in 1998, and this was 9.1 percent of GDP, and US$31 per head. Debt service took up 9.7 percent of the export earnings on goods and services. The levels of debt in relation to GDP and per person are significantly higher than the African average, but the debt servicing requirement from export earnings is lower.


Gambia did not receive administrative autonomy from the British until 1963. Two years later, on 18 February 1965, they achieved full independence and joined the British Commonwealth. Until the military coup of 1994, the Gambia had been governed under a republican constitution by an executive president and a unicameral legislature, with the House of Representatives elected for 5-year terms. Until 1996, the House of Representatives had 36 members elected by universal adult suffrage, 5 chief's representative members elected by head-chiefs, plus the attorney general and 8 non-voting nominated members.

A new constitution was approved by referendum on 7 August 1996. It provides for a unitary republican democracy with a president, vice-president, and secretaries of state responsible to parliament. Five members are nominated by the president, and 45 elected. There is an ombudsman and an independent judiciary. The constitution allows for declaration of a state of emergency and convening of special courts to try cases of corruption. A two-thirds majority in parliament is required to change the constitution.

Dawda Jawara, founder of the Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) who dominated Gambian politics from the 1960s, won the election in 1970 when the country was proclaimed a republic. In 1994, a military coup led by Yahaya Jammeh overthrew president Dawda Jawara, ending his long political leadership of the country. In September 1996, Jammehup to then chief of the Armed Forces Government Juntabecame the Gambia's second elected president. Since August 1997, the government has lifted restrictions which limited political activity.

In 1995, central government revenue was 20 percent of GDP. The most recent year for which data is available is 1987, when taxes in income, profits, and capital gains generated 16 percent of government revenue, domestic taxes on goods and services 10 percent, export levies and import duties 66 percent, other taxes 1 percent, and nontax revenue 7 percent.

Corporation tax is 25 percent, or 2 percent of turnover , whichever is the greater. Many charities and non-government organizations are exempt from tax, and the Ministry of Finance has considerable discretionary powers to grant tax relief to new investors.


There are over 2,700 kilometers (1,678 miles) of road in the Gambia, 35 percent of which are paved. Roads in and around Banjul are mostly sealed. Unsealed roads are impassible in the rainy season. The road network is being improved, particularly north of the river with a view to linking up with routes in Senegal. There are plans to build more roads and bridges across the river, replacing the ferry crossings for freight at Banjul and Fawafeni. In 1996 there were 15 motor vehicles, including 8 passenger cars, per 1,000 people, and 7 motor vehicles per 1 kilometer of road.

The Gambia river runs the entire length of the country east to west, providing a vital communications link for cargo and passengers. It is navigable by ocean-going vessels up to Kuntaar (240 kilometers149 milesupstream) and by shallow draught vessels up to Basse Santa Su (418 kilometers or 260 miles). The principal sea port is Banjul, serving the international and river trade, and Gambia's exports, mainly groundnuts, are shipped from there.

Banjul International Airport is situated at Yundum, 29 kilometers (18 miles) southwest of Banjul, and has a new terminal. Gambia Airways is jointly owned by the government and British Airways. Several international airlines provide air links to the country.

There are 2 English daily newspapers: The Gambia and The Daily Observer. There is also a weekly, The Point. There are 3 radio stations (2 of which are private). A national television service (Gambia TV) became operational in 1995. There were 164 radios, 4 TV sets and 2.6 PCs per 1,000 people in 1996-97. The country has an automatic telephone system and a good international connection in the Banjul area via satellite pick-up at Abuko. Telecommunications are run by Gambia Telecom (Gamtel), a private sector company. Fax facilities are available at Gamtel offices in Banjul, some open 24 hours a day. There were 21 main telephone lines and 4 mobile phones per 1,000 people in 1997.

Resources for energy production are extremely limited. Electricity supply is entirely reliant on diesel generators. All petroleum products are imported. Wood is used for domestic fuel supplies, but government policy emphasizes conservation of the forest reserves. Alternative energy sources are being developed. The use of groundnut shells for fuel and solar energy output is expanding. Various donors are assisting with the rehabilitation of electricity-generating stations, and a program of rural electrification began in 1998. Prospecting for offshore oil was active in the early 1990s, and although the exploration is continuing off-shore in Gambian waters, no exploitable oil reserves have yet been found.


Without minerals or other natural resources, and economically small in size with an under-developed

CountryNewspapersRadiosTV Sets aCable subscribers aMobile Phones aFax Machines aPersonal Computers aInternet Hosts bInternet Users b
United States2152,146847244.325678.4458.61,508.7774,100
aData are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.
bData are from the Internet Software Consortium ( and are per 10,000 people.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

infrastructure, the Gambia's economy depends heavily on agriculture, tourism, and the re-export of imported goods to neighboring countries through the port at Banjul. The 1998 estimates for the contributions of each sector to GDP were: agriculture 22 percent, industry 14 percent, and services 64 percent.


Agriculture (including forestry and fishing), acounted for 22 percent of GDP and employed 75 percent of the labor force in 1998. Agriculture grew annually at 0.9 percent from 1980-90 and 0.6 percent from 1990-97, a particularly disappointing performance as the population was increasing at 3.2 percent a year. It is the mainstay of the economy, directly supporting about three-quarters of the population, with production mostly undertaken by small-scale farmers, but generating very low incomes.

The main crop and export is groundnuts which takes up 45 percent of the total planting area. Production has generally remained at 80,000 metric tons annually in the 1990s (83,700 in 1998). Exports of groundnuts and related products accounted for an estimated 63 percent of domestic export earnings in 1998. However, a significant proportion of the crop is frequently smuggled for sale in Senegal. Cotton, citrus fruits, mangoes, avocados, and sesame seed are also cultivated for export.

Other crops are sorghum, millet, maize, rice, cotton, and palm kernels. Rice is the staple food, and is cultivated under 3 systemsswamp, upland, and irrigated but the country is not self-sufficient in food, and large quantities of rice are imported. Livestock production is an important contributor to GDP and includes sheep, cattle, goats, and pigs. Cattle are exported to other West African countries.

The fishing industry has been developed with the assistance of the EU and the African Development Bank and other donors. It has 8 factories and some 15 Gambia-registered vessels. Fish is exported to other West African countries, and the Gambia has agreements with Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Senegal, and Mauritania on fisheries protection and management, including protection of the ecosystem. A program for updating fishing facilities and equipment, supported by the African Development Bank, is running during 2000-05.


Industry (including manufacturing, construction, mining, and power) in the Gambia is quite limited. It contributed an estimated 14 percent of GDP in 1998 and about 10 percent of the total labor force was employed in the industry at the 1993 census. Industrial GDP increased at an annual average rate of 1.0 percent a year in 1990-98, with growth estimated at 5.2 percent in 1998.

Manufacturing is a significant sub-sector of industry. It contributed an estimated 6 percent of GDP in 1998 and employed about 6 percent of the labor force at the 1993 census. It is dominated by agro-industrial activities, most importantly the processing of groundnuts and fish. Manufacturing GDP increased at an annual average rate of 1.1 percent between 1990-98, and the sector's GDP increased by an estimated 2.4 percent in 1998. Beverages and construction materials are also produced for the domestic market. Although seismic surveys have suggested existence of petroleum deposits, the Gambia's mineral resource base is economically unviable and deposits of kaolin and salt are to date unexploited.


The services sector is very important to the Gambia's economy. It contributed about 64 percent of GDP in 1998, but engaged only 15 percent of the labor force. The tourist sector is second only to the groundnut industry as the most important source of foreign exchange. Tourism contributed about 10 percent of annual GDP in the early 1990s and employed about one-third of the workers in the formal sector at the same time.

The tourist industry took off in the 1970s and focused mainly on the promotion of beach holidays. The highest levels of growth were recorded in the 1980s and 1990s when the number of visitors rose to 100,000 a year. The international response to the coup of 1994 and its aftermath had a severe impact on the sector, although it recovered strongly from 1996 onwards. The industry registered 80,000 tourists and generated US$22 million (9.6 percent of exports of goods and services) in 1997, and 92,000 tourists in 1998. The industry is centered in Banjul where there is a 5-star hotel with conference facilities, and several other high-quality hotels. The majority of the tourists are from Northern Europe.

The government has expressed intentions of further exploiting the country's potential as a transit point for regional trade and also as a center for regional finance and telecommunications. According to IMF figures, re-exports contributed about 84 percent of the value of total merchandise exports in 1998. The GDP of the services sector increased at an annual average rate of 3.7 percent between 1990-98 and growth in 1998 was estimated at 5.8 percent.


The main export of the Gambia is groundnuts. Other exports include fish (and its products) and some cotton. The largest international trade activity by far is the import of food, machinery, transport equipment, manufactured goods, and fuelssome of which are re-exported to the neighboring countries. The chief export partners are Belgium-Luxembourg, Japan, the UK, Germany, and France, and the chief import partners are Côte d'Ivoire, China, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands.

The CFA devaluation of 1994 resulted in a reduction in regional re-exports, export earnings, and import expenditures. While exports have recovered slowly, imports have risen more quickly to pre-1994 levels. In 1998 total exports were worth US$132 million and imports US$201 million.

Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Gambia
SOURCE: International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.
Exchange rates: Gambia
dalasi (D) per US$1
Jan 200115.000
Q3 199912.729
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].


The dalasi (D), the unit of account, was pegged to the pound sterling until 1984, when the peg was relaxed. The currency was floated in 1986, depreciating steadily against the dollar during the 1990s. It exchanged at D9.64=US$1 in 1995, D11.8=US$1 in 1999, and in mid-2001, D16.3=US$1. This depreciation of the Gambian currency increases the prices of imported products, encouraging the use of locally-produced substitutes when these are available. It also reduces the prices of Gambian goods and services to foreigners, particularly visitors, making Gambian holidays cheaper and increasing tourism.


The Gambia is classified as one of the least developed countries and is a low-income country. Real GNP per capita growth in the 1990-97 period averaged-0.6 percent a year, so average living standards were falling.

In 1999 it was estimated that 57 percent of the population were below the US$1 per day poverty line. The families in poverty do not have enough income to provide the barest minimum of food, shelter, and clothing. Most of those in poverty are rural families relying on small-scale family farms for their livelihoods, and unable to increase their incomes as they are unable to afford investments in mechanization, fertilizers, insecticides, and

GDP per Capita (US$)
United States19,36421,52923,20025,36329,683
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.
Distribution of Income or Consumption by Percentage Share: Gambia
Lowest 10%1.5
Lowest 20%4.4
Second 20%9.0
Third 20%13.5
Fourth 20%20.4
Highest 20%52.8
Highest 10%37.6
Survey year: 1992
Note: This information refers to expenditure shares by percentiles of the population and is ranked by per capita expenditure.
SOURCE: 2000 World Development Indicators [CD-ROM].

improved seeds that would boost their output. In the main towns, electricity and the piped water supply is generally available, but in the rural areas it is rare, and lighting is by small paraffin lamps with wicks, and water is from wells. Some mains and septic tank sewage disposal are available in the capital, but in the rural areas people rely mainly on pit latrines.

The UN's Human Development Index, which combines income, health, and education indicators, places the Gambia at 161 out of 174 countries in 1998, putting Gambia firmly in the low development category.


The labor force was estimated to comprise of some 500,000 people in 1997, of which 45 percent were female and 36 percent aged between 10 and 14 years (an improvement compared with 1980, when 44 percent were estimated to be in this category). The labor force was estimated to have grown at an annual average rate of 3.6 percent in the period 1980-97. Agriculture is significant to the Gambian economy; about 75 percent of the people work on small farms for a livelihood, with a relatively small number employed in the manufacturing, tourism, and fishing industries. In agriculture, incomes are very low, and there is no regulation of working conditions.


1200. The Ghana empire establishes its authority over the area.

1400. Europeans begin to explore and settle on the coast and river areas.

1588. The Portuguese sell rights to the Gambia River to British merchants.

1783. Treaty of Versailles gives the British possession of the Gambia, with the French retaining a small enclave on the north bank at Albreda.

1816. The British establish a military post on Banjul Island (then called Bathurst) to suppress the slave trade on the River Gambia.

1857. The French cede Albreda to the British.

1888. Downstream Gambia becomes a colony and the upstream section becomes a protectorate.

1889. Britain and France reach agreement as to the boundaries of their respective colonies.

1906. Slave trade outlawed in the Gambia and other surrounding areas.

1962. Dawda Jawara and the Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) win elections but fail to assume office due to a vote of no confidence by the opposition.

1963. After further constitutional changes, the country obtains administrative autonomy from British, Jawara becomes the prime minister, and the PPP forms government.

1965. On February 18, Gambia achieves full independence.

1970. Gambia proclaimed a republic with a presidential system of government. Dawda Jawara wins election again.

1972. The dalasi is introduced as the Gambia's national currency.

1973. In national elections, the ruling PPP wins 28 of the 32 seats in the House of Representatives and Jawara is re-elected president.

1975. The success of Alex Haley's book Roots turns Gambia into an important tourism center.

1981. Muslim dissidents attempt to overthrow Jawara but are foiled with the help of Senegalese troops.

1982. The Senegambian federation established, a loose arrangement to benefit both countries, with Abdion Diouf of Senegal as its first president.

1989. The confederation of Senegambia is dissolved after Gambian resistance to closer union.

1994. A military coup overthrows Jawara. Captain Yahya Jammeh assumes presidency.

1996. Elections return Yahya Jammeh as president.

1998. IMF approves 3-year Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility of US$27 million.

1999. Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility US$4.5 million loan from IMF is approved.

2000. Gambia receives US$91 million in debt relief under the Highly Indebted Poor Countries scheme.


The Gambia's overriding dependence on the ground-nut sector, which lags behind other sectors in terms of modernization and productivity, remains an obstacle to growth. International debt and poor infrastructure are among the factors limiting Gambia's progress. It is hoped that the IMF-supported Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAF) for 1998-2000 will reduce fiscal deficits, encourage further private sector development, and form the basis for future development.


The Gambia has no territories or colonies.


The Commonwealth Secretariat. "Gambia." The Commonwealth Yearbook 2000. Birmingham: Stationery Office, 2000.

Economist Intelligence Unit. Country Profile: Gambia. London: EIU, 2000.

"Gambia." Africa South of the Sahara. London: Europa Publications, 2000.

Hodd, M. "Gambia." The Economies of Africa. Aldershot:Dartmouth, 1991.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. CIA World Factbook 2000. <>. Accessed July 2001.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. CIA World Factbook 2001. <>. Accessed September 2001.

World Bank. World Bank Africa Database 2000. WashingtonD.C., 2000.

Allan C. K. Mukungu




Dalasi (D). One dalasi equals 100 bututs. Dalasi notes come in denominations of 5, 10, 25, and 50, and coins are in denominations of D1 and 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50 bututs.


Ground nuts, fish and fish products, palm kernels, cotton.


Food, machinery, transport equipment, manufactured goods, fuels.


US$1.5 billion (purchasing power parity, 2000 est.).


Exports: US$125.8 million (f.o.b., 1999). Imports: US$202.5 million (f.o.b., 1999).


views updated Jun 11 2018


Culture Name


Alternative Names

The Gambia


Identification. Republic of The Gambia is the official name of The Gambia. The country was named after the Gambia River, which flows from East to West for three hundred miles, the entire length of the country. Gambia is a small country with a population of 1.2 million. It straddles the Gambia River on either side.

Location and Geography. Gambia is on the western coast of Africa, surrounded on three sides by Senegal. Situated on a sandy peninsula between the mouth of the Gambia River and the Atlantic Ocean, Banjul, the capital, was founded by the British as Bathurst in 1816 as a base for suppressing the slave trade. The Gambians changed its name to Banjul in 1973, eight years after independence. Gambia is the smallest country in Africa with a total area of 4,363 square miles (11,300 square kilometers), slightly less than twice the size of Delaware. Gambia has the typical West African climate: there is a hot, rainy season (June to November), and a cooler, dry season (November to May). It is a relatively flat land with its lowest point being sea level at the Atlantic Ocean with the maximum elevation being 174 Feet (53 meters) in the surrounding low hills. The Gambia River is the dominant geographical feature of the country, providing both a useful means of transportation and irrigation as well as a rich ground for fishing, boating, and sailing.

Demography. The total population of Gambia, from a July 1999 estimate, is 1,336,320. The main ethnic groups in Gambia are the Mandingo (42 percent of the overall population), Wolof (16 percent), Fulani (18 percent), Jola (10 percent), Serahuli (9 percent), other Africans (4 percent), and non-Africans (1 percent). By age, the population is distributed as follows: (per a 1999 estimate) 014 years, 46 percent (male, 305,839; female, 304,905); 1564 years, 52 percent (male, 341,947; female, 348,163); 65 years and over, 2 percent (male, 18,706; female, 16,760). The population is growing at a rate of 3.35 percent per year. The birthrate is 42.76 births per 1,000 population, and the death rate is 12.57 deaths per 1,000. The infant mortality rate is 75.33 deaths per 1,000 live births. Average life expectancy is 54.39 years; for women it is 58.83 years compared with 52.02 years for men.

Linguistic Affiliation. English is the official language but indigenous languages include Mandinka, Wolof, and Fula.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. The first written mention of Gambia is in the work of Hanno the Carthaginian in his writings about his voyage to West Africa in 470 b.c.e. Gambia at various times was part of different West African kingdoms, including the kingdoms of Foni, Kombo, Sine-Saloum, and Fulladou. Its various ethnic groups migrated to Gambia from different areas of West Africa. Trade was vital to Gambia, especially trade with Ghana, Songhai, and the Mali Empire (between the Atlantic Ocean and the River Niger), Kanem-Bornu, and the Hausa States.

By 1500 c.e., trade with Europe was established. In the 1450s, Venetian explorer Alvise Cadamosto, under commission from Portugal, was the first European to reach the Gambia River. The English were not far behind, coming to West Africa to buy gold and spices. The Portuguese successfully barred English trade for one hundred years. At the end of the sixteenth century, however, the English and French managed to establish trade in the area. After numerous conflicts the British, in the Treaty of Versailles of 1783, gained control of the Gambia River. In 1807, the British abolished slave traffic on the river.

Muslims were involved in the trans-Saharan slave trade, as well as more legitimate trade. Along with trade, merchants brought Islam and Muslim culture to Gambia. More directly, Muslim Berbers from Mauritania were the direct agents of Islam to the Gambia and Senegal. As in other parts of West Africa, rulers in the Gambia became Muslims and used its law, the Shariya, to consolidate their power.

Gambia became part of a larger British colony, the Province of Senegambia, which included present-day Senegal and Gambia. The Senegambia has the distinction of being the first British colony in Africa. The French took Senegal in 1799, and the British agreed to base their trade around Bathurst and Fort James. In 1821, Gambia became a crown colony as part of the colony of Sierra Leone. In 1843, however, the Gambia was separated from Sierra Leone. The Gambia became a British Protectorate in 1888.

The British did not begin to develop Gambia properly until after World War II when administration posts were set up. Internal self-government came in 1963. Independence Day was 18 February 1965 when Gambia became a sovereign republic within the British Commonwealth of Nations. In 1969, Gambia and Senegal formed Senegambia, but in 1982 the confederation was dissolved with the mutual consent of both partners.

National Identity. Although the Gambia is comprised of people of many different ethnic groups, there seems to be relative harmony among them and among people of different religions. Gambia has a generally good human rights record, and there is a great desire among its peoples to have the country taken seriously in the world community.

Ethnic Relations. Gambia is a multiethnic country; major ethnic groups include the Fula, Jola, Mandinka, Serahule, and Wolof. There is no part of The Gambia that is inhabited by one single ethnic group. This close dwelling has led to a sharing of many cultural traits among the groups, which has led to a movement toward a Gambian national culture. There has been a concentrated effort to represent the various minority ethnic groups in government. In addition to indigenous ethnic groups, there has also been an annual migration from Senegal,Guinea, and Mali. Many people from those countries come to trade in groundnuts (peanuts) and stay to settle.

The Wolof and the Mandinka are the major ethnic groups. The Wolof live mainly in the capital, Banjul. The Mandinka are the largest single ethnic group in the country. These groups represent the former Empire of the Wolof in the Senegambian region and the Mandingo Empires of Mali and Songhai. Creoles form a large element within the local elite. Additionally, there are Mauritanians, Moroccans, and Lebanese in the country. These groups are mainly traders and shopkeepers. English is commonly spoken by members of all ethnic groups since it is the official language of the country. Each ethnic groups speaks its own language as well. Harmony among ethnic groups is the general rule, so much so that Gambia is considered to be a melting pot of West African ethnic groups.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Banjul is the only real urban center in Gambia. It has a typical former British colonial feel to it. The administrative buildings are built in the center of the city, tending toward Edwardian "majesty." Many of the buildings are done in pastel colors with huge gardens. The colonial bungalow is a typical form of architecture. Squatter settlements resembling poorer versions of rural settlements dot the area. There are large public areas in the British style.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Not surprisingly, following two hundred years of British colonialism, Western food is available in Gambia. Gambian traditional food includes benachin ("Jollof rice," a mixture of spiced meat and rice cooked with tomato puree and vegetables), base nyebe (rich stew of chicken or beef with green beans and other vegetables), chere (steamed millet flour balls), domodah (meat or chicken stewed in groundnut butter and served with rice), plasas (meat and smoked fish cooked in palm oil with green vegetables) served with fu-fu (mashed cassava), and chura-gerteh (a sweet porridge consisting of pounded groundnuts and rice and served with yogurt or sour milk). The most commonly eaten fruits are mangoes, bananas, grapefruit, papayas, and oranges.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Food is important at ceremonial occasions such as naming ceremonies, betrothals, marriages, and deaths. At these occasions, meat is served along with Jollof rice and fruit. The more food, the more successful the occasion.

Basic Economy. About 80 percent of the population is comprised of subsistence farmers. A majority of these subsistence farmers are women. Groundnuts make up the majority of export products. Millet is also grown widely in the country. There is very little manufacturing in the country. The Fulani specialize in dairy products and trade them for grain and other products. The fact that there is very little manufacturing in Gambia has resulted in liberal trade policies and the encouragement of tourism. The rapidly growing population of 1.3 million is divided between a rural majority and a growing urban minority. The private sector of the economy is led by tourism, trading, and fisheries. This sector is healthy and is experiencing modest growth. Gambia's high population growth rate has diluted the positive effects of economic expansion. Gambia's per capita gross domestic product is about $360 (U.S.). About 23 percent of the population is in the agricultural sector, 13 percent in the industrial sector, and 64 percent in the service sector.

Land Tenure and Property. All ethnic groups have traditional patterns of inheritance in which priority is given to the male survivors. Islam, however, under the Shari'a law, provides a portion of the estate for widows. Land is traditionally distributed by need, although modern British law is taking root. In the modern sphere, British property law is exerting a greater influence.

Commercial Activities. There is relatively little commercial activity in Gambia. Gambia does rely heavily on trade to obtain industrial goods and, therefore, trades agricultural products, mainly peanuts, to obtain foreign capital. Trade laws are quite liberal.

Major Industries. Gambia has a mining industry that is in its early stages of development in addition to a small oil industry. Electricity is provided by the parastatal utility Gambia Utility Corporation. There have been attempts to develop the fisheries industry and local food processing. Tourism plays a dominant role in the nation's economic development.

Trade. Gambia exported $110.6 million worth of products and imported $164 million in 1994. The bulk of the imported items were comprised of petroleum products, processed food, and manufactured goods.

Division of Labor. Women have entered the modern sphere on a basis of equal pay. Most women, however, are involved in the subsistence farming sector. As in much of West Africa, women do the majority of the day-to-day farming, while men do the heavy clearing.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. With the exception of the Fulani, ethnic groups are highly stratified. This stratification is a remnant of the great empires that once ruled the country. In each group, status was essentially inherited from the father. The rulers also inherited their statuses, and administered a feudal domain. The majority of people were peasant farmers who owed various services to their rulers.

Symbols of Social Stratification. Elaborate rituals of rank prevailed in the past. Generally, those of the lower orders abased themselves through prostration in front of those who outranked them. Differences in clothing, food, and the wearing of precious stones also were signs of privilege. Visits to Mecca set some Muslims apart from others.

Political Life

Government. Gambia currently has a multiparty political system. The Constitution of the Second Republic of Gambia provides for elections by universal suffrage for adults eighteen and older. The ballot is a secret one, and elections must be held every five years. The country's National Assembly includes forty-five elected members and four nominated members. The president, popularly elected for a five-year term, is both the chief of state and head of government.

The country's administration is divided into the capital territory (the seat of government), the adjoining Kombo Saint Mary area, and the provinces. Each province has five divisions, each one headed by a commissioner. These divisions are further subdivided into districts locally administered by head chiefs.

The judicial system resembles that of other common law jurisdictions. There is a single system of courts, forming a hierarchy. The subordinate courts consist of Khadis' courts, district tribunals, and magistrate courts. At the higher level are the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, and the Privy Council. The latter is the highest court of appeal for the Gambia.

Leadership and Political Officials. In July 1994, junior officers overthrew the government. Lieutenant Yaya Jammeh (later Captain and then Colonel) led the coup. The International community condemned the coup since Gambia had been a model of democracy for over 30 years. It also had been a model of human rights. In spite of promises, there has not yet been a return to political democracy. Rights are denied to opposition politicians, and meetings and a free press are banned. President Jammeh's party, the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC), controls thirty-three of forty-five elected assembly seats and four members appointed by the President. Women are free to participate in government but are poorly represented there. There is only one woman in the assembly. However, the Vice President (who is also Minister of Health) is a woman. Three cabinet members are also women.

Social Problems and Control. The major social problems are poverty, disease, and lack of economic development. A 1994 military coup was an attempt to address these problems by clearing away corruption that stifled democracy. In 1996 and 1997 free elections were held.

Military Activity. Gambia is not at war with any country. Its military is well trained and has returned power to civilian rule. Its military branches include the army (including a marine unit), national police, and national guard. There are currently approximately 150,000 males aged fifteen to forty-nine who are fit for military service. The Gambia spends about $1.2 million on the military, about 2 percent of its budget.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

Like many African states, Gambia has many serious welfare problems. The government is on record as being dedicated to change, and their particular attention is given to children's welfare. The Department of Education and the Department of Health, Social Welfare, and Women's Affairs are heavily funded. However, lack of sufficient resources hinders the full implementation of programs. For example, although free, compulsory primary education is the law of the land, there are insufficient resources to implement the program. In February 1998, the president ended fees for the first six years of schooling. There is even less opportunity for secondary education. Female participation in education is rather low. There are two men for every woman in education, and the ratio is even lower in rural areas.

The government is less concerned with the welfare of children in distress, considering this matter to be a case for parental and family concern. Similarly, although the government requires child support for the children of divorced parents, the requirement is rarely enforced. However, authorities do typically get involved in cases of child abuse that come officially to their attention, although there is little pattern of such abuse. The tourist industry has increased begging and child prostitution. Female genital mutilation (FGM) exists and is widespread. Estimates are that 60 to 90 percent of women in Gambia have been subjected to FGM. Seven of the nine major ethnic groups support FGM. The government considers FGM to be an integral part of the cultural system.

There are no government provisions to aid the disabled. However, there appears to be no discrimination against those people who can perform work. Those who cannot perform work are left to private charity, which often means begging.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

Gambia has a number of religious and secular NGOs. There are Muslim brotherhoods, Catholic missions, and international agencies working to care for various problems and to aid development efforts.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Traditionally women are subordinate to men. Polygyny is prevalent and even in groups without traditional patrilineal descent, Islam has strengthened male control of women. In the modern sector, women have equal rights in employment as they have in government. However, relatively few of Gambia's women operate in the modern sector. Most are engaged in subsistence farming. Inheritance in the traditional system also favors women.

Division of Labor by Gender. Women do most of the farming. At one time, women's farm incomes outstripped male incomes in general. Male landholders, however, attempted to use the new ecology movement as a means of erasing women's social and economic gains. Men control tree crops in Gambia, while women control garden farms.

The new ecology movement in anthropology relates to a deeper understanding of the relationship of technology and social organization to the environment. Conscious choices and preferences, as well as relationships between different groups, lead to changes in the physical environment.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. In law, there is equality of the sexes. In practice, men tend to exert control over their wives and female children. At the same time, there is a growing women's movement in Gambia.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Each ethnic group has its own marriage, residence, and kinship patterns. Additionally, Islam and Christianity have their own regulations. Any particular marriage pattern, kinship system, or residence pattern depends upon a confluence of variables.

Marriage. Marriage in Gambia is regulated by either customary, Shari'a (Muslim), or general law. Customary law is reserved for all non-Muslims and covers inheritance, land tenure, tribal and clan leadership, as well as other relationships. Shari'a law is primarily for Muslims and covers marriage and divorce. General law is based on British law. Rape is illegal in the case of both married and unmarried women and, along with assault, is a crime. The law does not differentiate between married and unmarried women in this regard. Any person who has carnal knowledge of a girl under the age of 16 is guilty of a felony (except in the case of marriage); incest is also illegal. These laws are generally enforced.

Polygyny is the general rule for each of Gambia's ethnic groups. Similarly, each group has arranged marriages. Married women in monogamous or polygynous unions have property and other rights, including the right to divorce their husbands. Their husbands, however, are free to marry other wives without their permission. Shari'a law usually is applied in divorce and inheritance matters for Muslims, who make up approximately 90 percent of the population. Women normally receive a lower proportion of assets distributed through inheritance than do male relatives.

Employment in the formal sector is open to women at the same salary rates as men. No statutory discrimination exists in other kinds of employment. However, women generally are employed in endeavors such as food vending or subsistence farming.

Domestic Unit. There are variations in the domestic units of the various ethnic groups of Gambia. The social structure of the pastoral Fulani is egalitarian, in marked contrast to that of other Muslim groups, such as the Hausa, and to most sedentary Fulani. The influence of Islam on kinship patterns is evident in the general preference for cousin and other intralineage marriages. Most men are polygynous, the typical household unit comprising the family head, his wives, and unmarried children. Other Islamic groups, such as the Soninke, follow the same general pattern. The Wolof are noted for their double descent kinship system. A household unit usually has a nuclear family or a polygynous unit. There may also be other close kin living together.

Kin Groups. The vast majority of Gambia's ethnic groups are patrilineal and patrilocal. This tendency toward male groups is strengthened through Islamic affiliation, as 90 percent of the population is Muslim. Even the Soninkewho practice double descenthave developed a bias toward the patriline.


Socialization is generally through imitation and proverbs. Older children, especially girls, care for their younger siblings. Generally, male children accompany their fathers, while girls follow their mothers. Segregation by sex is common, and children tend to follow their parents example and occupations. Males tend to be dominant over females. Religion plays its role in supporting the established order. European missionaries have helped bring in Western ideas and modern employment options to the country.

Infant Care. Infant care generally follows West African patterns. Women have general responsibility for child care. Young girls carry their siblings around with them. Any community member can correct any child or commandeer it for reasonable help. Folktales and proverbs illustrate moral ideas.

Child Rearing and Education. Education, in theory, is free and universal for primary school. In practice, that is not always the case. Urban areas tend to have better schools and more reliable attendance.

Literacy in Gambia is defined as those fifteen and older who can read and write. In the total population, the literary rate is 38.6 percent; by gender, it is 52.8 percent for males and 24.9 percent for females.

Higher Education. Relatively few of Gambia's people advance to higher education. In fact, there are no universities in Gambia, but in the late 1990s, university extension programs were offered for the first time.


In general, Gambian ethnic groups prize tranquility of life, and their manners tend to ease the attainment of that goal. Gambians tend to be soft-spoken and gentle in demeanor, seeking to avoid noisy conflicts and striving toward quiet settlement of disputes. Greetings tend to be drawn out while people ask about one another's families.


Religious Beliefs. The religious distribution is Muslim, 90 percent; Christian, 9 percent; and indigenous believers, 1 percent.

Religious Practitioners. There are a number of traditional religious practitioners as well as Muslim imams, Catholic priests, and Protestant ministers. Each traditional group has its own practitioners.

Rituals and Holy Places. There are no places that are sacred to all peoples; each ethnic group has its own particular local shrines. Muslims go to Mecca on pilgrimage and Catholics increasingly travel to Rome and other Catholic holy places.

Death and the Afterlife. Each group has its own particular beliefs concerning the afterlife and death. Catholics and Muslims tend to combine the particular traditional beliefs of their ethnic group with more universal Catholic or Muslim beliefs.

Medicine and Health Care

Gambia suffers from the usual list of tropical diseases, many of them water borne. Malaria is endemic; blindness afflicts a large percentage of the population. Modern health care is found in urban centers and sporadically in villages.

Secular Celebrations

Independence Day is 18 February. There is a six-month "tourist" festival based on the television series and book Roots. It runs from June to January, with variable dates. Christmas, New Year's, and other general holidays are also celebrated.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. There is some government support but the Gambia is a poor country and can spare little for the arts.

Literature. Increasingly, there are collections of folk tales, poetry accompanied by the Kora, a lutelike instrument, and novels. No Gambian novelist has reached the stature of other Africans, such as Chinua Achebe or Wole Soyinka, but there are promising young Gambian authors.

Graphic Arts. The masks of Gambia are well known and appreciated.

Performance Arts. The Kora, a lutelike instrument, accompanies much singing and dancing. There are many collections of these performances on audio and videotape.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

The Gambian government supports physical and social research for its various development projects. There is a strong tradition of academic freedom in the country.


Davison, Jean, ed. Agriculture, Women, and Land: The African Experience, 1988.

Gray, John. Kora Land Poems, 1989.

Kelly, Robert, Debra Ewing, Stanton Doyle, and Denise Youngblood, eds. Country Review: Gambia, 1998/ 1999, 2000.

Magel, Emil A., trans. Folktales from the Gambia: Wolof Fictional Narratives, 1984.

Marcie-Taylor, C. G. N., ed. The Anthropology of Disease, 1993.

Mark, Peter. The Wild Bull and the Sacred Forest: Form, Meaning, and Change in Senegambian Initiation Masks,1992.

McPherson, Malcolm F., and Steven C. Radelet, eds. Economic Recovery in the Gambia: Insights for Adjustment in Sub-Saharan Africa, 1996.

Schroeder, Richard A. Shady Practices: Agroforestry and Gender Politics in the Gambia, 1999.

Sowa, Shiona, et al. Trachoma and Allied Infections in a Gambian Village, 1965.

Wright, Donald R. Oral Traditions from the Gambia.

Frank A. Salamone

Gaza Strip See Palestine, West Bank and Gaza Strip

The Gambia

views updated May 23 2018

The Gambia

Basic Data

Official Country Name:Republic of the Gambia
Region (Map name):Africa
Language(s):English, Mandinka, Wolof, Fula
Literacy rate:38.6%

Background & General Characteristics

The Gambia is a very small, multi-party democracy in West Africa. The geographic territory of the Gambia, a narrow finger of land surrounded by Senegal, follows the Gambia River in an eastward direction from the Atlantic coast. The capital is Banjul. The Gambia's population of only 1.4 million, comprising a number of ethnic groups, practices Islam and Christianity. English and indigenous languages are used throughout the country.

Since independence several decades ago, the Gambia has enjoyed relatively long periods of political stability, broken by occasional coups and political violence. The current president, Yahya Jammeh, formerly served with Gambian peacekeepers in Liberia and took power from the Gambia's first elected president, Dawda Jawara, in a military coup in 1994. Two years later, President Jammeh was confirmed as president in an unfair election. He was reelected president in October 2001, this time in an election viewed as free and fair by international observers. However, after the election, allegations were made that thousands of Senegalese from Casamance, Senegal and living in the Gambia had fraudulently been registered and allowed to vote for Jammeh. The accusing journalist, Alhagie Mbye, was arrested, detained, and reportedly beaten and tortured by President Jammeh's security forces for reporting on the fraudulent voting.

President Jammeh is extremely sensitive to criticism and the possibility of renewed civil unrest in the country. Angered by his perception that the staff of Radio Gambia were siding with the political opposition and reporting unfavorably on him, the president in July 2001 threatened that anyone "bent on disturbing the peace and stability of the nation will be buried six feet deep." A large public and media outcry ensued against the president's intimidating behavior toward television and radio journalists.

Gambian government laws and practice considerably restrict freedom of expression and the media. The U.S. Department of State summarized the situation in the Gambia in 2001 as follows: "The Government significantly limited freedom of speech and of the press, and security forces arrested and detained persons who publicly criticized the Government or who expressed views in disagreement with the Government. Journalists practice self-censorship." In general, the state-owned broadcasting media are skewed in favor of the government and afford little coverage to opposition politicians, including Members of Parliament. However, during the presidential election campaign of 2001, opposition candidates were given relatively fair access to and coverage by state radio and television, at least more so than previously. This was due in part to the fact that journalists in the Gambian Press Union adopted a Code of Conduct aimed at ensuring more balanced reporting as well as to President Jammeh's July 2001 lifting of a ban on the opposition party he had ousted in 1994.

The Daily Observer is the largest-selling, independent daily newspaper in the country. Other independent and privately owned papers include The Independent, The Point, Foroyaa, The Gambia News, and Report Weekly Magazine.

Economic Framework

The Gambian economy is based almost entirely on the production of peanuts. Other significant exports are fish, cotton lint, and palm kernels. Annual per capita income is only about US$330. Although the country has the Gambia River's ample water supply, much of the soil is unsuitable for farming, and only one-sixth of the land can be farmed. Peanuts are the only crop that can be easily grown. The Gambia also lacks valuable natural resources like the minerals and timber found in abundance in countries nearby.

The private press sometimes has difficulty supporting itself financially due to the excessive fees and taxes levied by the government to stifle the political opposition and silence criticism of government officials, policies, and actions. Nonetheless, several independent and private newspapers do exist, some of which are supported financially by adherents of various political parties.

Press Laws

The Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and of the press. However, the government substantially interferes with the media, censoring journalists, withdrawing licenses of radio stations it wishes to censure, and exacting other penalties and sanctions on those whom government officials believe criticize or are a threat to the ruling APRC party or the president.

Amnesty International noted that in 2001, "restrictive legislation severely limiting freedom of expression remained in force." For example, Decrees 70 and 71 obstructed the free reporting of news by imposing a requirement that all newspapers either post a bond equivalent to US$6,500 or stop publishing. The bond funds were intended to cover future possible government judgments to be imposed against the papers for blasphemy, sedition, or other libelous acts.

Since at least 1999, the government has attempted to establish a National Media Commission that essentially will control free expression and interfere greatly with the practice of journalism. Although strong protests by Gambian journalists and media associations stopped the National Media Commission Bill of 1999 from passage, a yet-more-stringent bill was introduced to the Gambian parliament in March 2002.

On May 2, 2002 (ironically, the eve of World Press Freedom Day) the Gambian parliament passed the National Media Commission Bill of 2002. Amended two months later at the president's request to include a requirement that the commission's chair be a high court judge appointed by the state's chief justice, this bill awaited President Jammeh's signature in early August 2002, when the present article went to press. International media organizations and human rights associations were urging President Jammeh not to sign into law this bill, which would place even greater restrictions on journalists, requiring them to register with an obviously politicized government regulatory commission. The commission also would be empowered to impose substantial fines, jail journalists, close down newspapers, oblige journalists to reveal their sources, and take other harsh steps to control free expression. The Gambian Press Union and numerous international media associations such as the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, the World Editors Forum, and the World Association of Newspapers all protested this bill, pointing out that it contradicts both the Gambian Constitution and international human rights standards, including those set forth over fifty years ago by the United Nations in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


As noted above, the president is especially sensitive to criticism and seeks to tighten control on the media when the international spotlight is shifted off the Gambia, as in the periods just before and just after the presidential election campaign. The president and his government show little tolerance for those who do not provide favorable coverage of government activities or policies or for those who report on the activities of opposition parties and their key leaders, particularly opposition figures known for their scathing critiques of the ruling party and president.

Interestingly, in 1999 the most popular independent daily, The Daily Observer, was purchased by a supporter of the ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) party. Since that time, journalists at the paper have been harassed and controlled in what they are permitted to report. This led to the June 2001 resignation of at least eight of the paper's journalists, including editor-in-chief Paschal Eze. Their managing director, Bubacar Baldeh, an APRC party propagandist, had tried preventing publication of stories related to Lamin Waa Juwara, a staunch critic of President Jammeh and controversial propagandist for the UDP, one of the Gambia's opposition parties.

One independent radio station in particular, the popular Citizen FM, has experienced especially strong government efforts to silence its programming and harass those associated with its broadcasts. For several years, the radio station has had its license suspended repeatedly by state authorities for breaching the limits of government tolerance. Moreover, in October 2001, the station's owner himself, Babucar Gaye, fell into the government's ill favor. Gaye was arrested and taken to the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), a stalwart enforcer of government restrictions on free speech and press freedom, where he was ordered to pay allegedly unpaid taxes before his station could broadcast again. Although Gaye complied and paid his supposedly overdue taxes, despite denying that he had broken any Gambian law in broadcasting the October presidential election results, at the end of 2001 Citizen FM still was not allowed to broadcast.

Also in October 2001, George Christensen, the owner of Radio 1 FM, a private radio station broadcasting in the Gambia, was arrested by the NIA and questioned for several hours about his station's finances, then released without charge. The international media protested government treatment of the two radio station owners, Gaye and Christensen.

Even one of the key staff members of the Gambia's state-run radio, Radio Gambia, was blacklisted by the government. Peter Gomez, a key producer of the station's programming, lost his job in January 2001 after refusing to broadcast a government-mandated "correction" of a news story Gomez insisted was true: namely, that President Jammeh had announced his intention to promote Shari'a (strict Islamic law) in the Gambia, an announcement made by the president when he met with a group of Muslim elders on a Muslim feast day. The Press Institute and the Gambian Press Union stood by Gomez, believing he had reported what the president in fact had said.

The government likewise interrogated three journalists from various media outlets in June 2001 for reporting on problems with accommodations and food at the 5th National Youth Conference and Festival. One of the journalists, Momodou Thomas, was held incommunicado for about eight hours by the NIA before being released.

On a more serious topic, campaigners against female genital mutilation, which is still widely practiced in the Gambia and has not yet been specifically outlawed, have been denied access to state-owned media to publicize their cause and educate the public about this widespread health hazard and abuse of women's human rights.

With deliberate attempts by the Gambian government to regulate the media and curtail press freedom, journalists typically practice self-censorship, an increasingly necessary practice for Gambian journalists wishing to avoid fines, imprisonment, or sudden dismissal from their jobs.

State-Press Relations

The U.S. Department of State noted that in 2001, "Freedom of expression remained under threat as journalists from the privately owned independent media were arrested, beaten and harassed." Some journalists accused of publishing inaccurate or insensitive reports about the government have been arrested and detained. The State Department backed up its claim by stating that Kassa Jatta, an activist with the opposition UDP, was arrested in April 2001 after publishing an article in which he criticized the foreign policy of President Jammeh.

A court reporter, Omah Bah, who works for The Independent, was beaten in July 2001 by government soldiers for attempting to cover the military trial of a lieutenant in Banjul. This occurred despite the fact that Bah had been given official permission to report on the trial.

Besides government soldiers, the NIA also works as the government's strong-arm, attacking and arresting journalists deemed to be acting against the best interests of the ruling party and the president. Alhagie Mbye, another reporter with The Independent, was twice detained in 2001 by the NIAonce in August for three days after publishing a story about reports of coup attempts and again in November for eight or nine days. His second detention, during which he reportedly was beaten and tortured, followed a report he had sent to the British-based news magazine, West Africa, alleging that vote fraud had occurred by the thousands in the October presidential election. In both cases, Mbye was held incommunicado. Another journalist, Alagi Yoro Jallow, the managing editor of The Independent, was questioned by NIA agents for publishing an editorial in early December in which he criticized the attack on Mbye and likened the NIA to the Gestapo, Nazi Germany's secret police.

Attitude toward Foreign Media

For the most part, foreign newspapers, magazines, radio programs, and television broadcasts are permitted and distributed in the Gambia. According to the U.S. Department of State, in 2001, "Local stations sometimes rebroadcast the British Broadcasting Corporation, Radio France Internationale, and other foreign news reports, and all were available via short-wave radio. Senegalese television and radio are available in many parts of the country."

However, specific instances have occurred of problems faced by journalists working for foreign media. In May 2001, for instance, police held and beat a reporter for The Daily Observer Alieu Badara Mansaray from Sierra Leone. Mansaray apparently had witnessed an act of bribery involving another police officer and a woman. Besides being beaten and bruised, Mansaray lost his watch, necklace, and mobile phone, all of them destroyed by the police. Released some hours later, he was never charged. Only one of the police was dismissed; the other two officers met with no punitive action.

In October 2001, Muhammed Lamin Sillah, who heads the Gambian chapter of Amnesty International and serves as coordinator for the Coalition of Human Rights Defenders, was arrested by the NIA after being interviewed for the BBC's "Focus on Africa" program. Having told the BBC that he believed the human rights situation in the Gambia called for improvement, Sillah was held incommunicado for four days in detention, the released on bail for US$18,000 after his case went to the High Court. The NIA accused Sillah of trying to overthrow the government and of inciting confusion and genocide, all of which Sillah denied.

Furthermore, in late July 2002, a journalist working in the Gambia for the Pan African News Agency (PANA) was arrested for supposedly running a newspaper without proper government permission. Guy-Patrick Massoloka, the journalist in question from Congo (Brazzaville), was arrested by the NIA and taken into custody. The incident provoked an international outcry from media associations and other journalists protesting government abuse and led to Massoloka's expulsion from the Gambia in early August. Massoloka was told by Immigration Department officials that he could return to the Gambia after renewing his expired visa abroad. While held by the NIA, Massoloka apparently was questioned about the likes of a French newspaper called "Echo du Baobab."

Broadcast Media

In 2001 only one private radio station regularly created its own news programming in the Gambia. Otherwise, private radio simulcasts news and programming produced by the one state-owned radio station, Radio Gambia, or broadcasts international news from such media outlets as the British Broadcasting Corporation and Radio France Internationale. Public affairs programs are occasionally developed by at least two independent radio stations.

The government runs the only television service that broadcasts nationally. Its programs cover about 60 percent of the Gambia's territory and reach those living in the eastern part of the country.

Those who can afford satellite systems are able to receive additional independent television programming such as that provided by the Premium TV Network, an external, privately owned station that transmits by Arab-sat to Banjul.

Electronic News Media

Internet access is readily available and unrestricted by the government in the Gambia. Both Internet cafés and private Internet accounts make accessing the Internet affordable for many.


The level of government censorship has been increasing steadily in the Gambia, despite positive measures by journalists themselves to promote balanced, fair reporting. Although the most recent presidential election was considered reasonably fair and a significant proportion of the votes cast went to opposition candidates, the legal restrictions on press freedom are increasing and the president and his National Intelligence Agency seem more determined than ever to control public expression deemed hazardous to their own political health. With the advent of international media associations on the Gambian scene, however, and the vocally courageous Gambian Press Union, it appears unlikely that the president and his ruling party will continue to expand their powers indefinitely. Surely, the time will come when both the domestic press and the international community of journalists gather sufficient strength to challenge President Jammeh's maneuvers and demand respect for the basic rights of journalists, with positive effect.

Significant Dates

  • 1999: The most popular independent daily newspaper, The Daily Observer, is purchased by a major supporter of the ruling party, the APRC.
  • 1999: The first National Media Commission Bill, which would severely impair press freedom, is proposed, but Gambian journalists gather enough strength to defeat its passage.
  • January 2001: Peter Gomez, a key producer of the government-sponsored radio station, Radio Gambia, is dismissed after refusing to broadcast a government-dictated "clarification" of an earlier broadcast claiming that President Yahya Jammeh had declared his support for extending Shari'a law in the Gambia.
  • July 2001: President Jammeh threatens to put "6 feet deep" those "bent on disturbing the peace and stability of the nation"a pointed remark aimed at Radio Gambia's reporting of his speeches, which he claimed were misrepresented.
  • October 2001: President Jammeh is reelected to office in an election basically considered free and fair, although thousands of Senegalese are later alleged to have been allowed to register and vote for the incumbent.
  • November 2001: Alhagie Mbye, a reporter for The Independent newspaper and the British news maga zine, West Africa, is arrested and held for more than a week by the National Intelligence Agency, during which time he is beaten and tortured for having reported the occurrence of vote fraud in connection with the October presidential election.
  • May 2002: National Media Commission Bill of 2002 is passed by the Gambian parliament, much to the dissatisfaction of supporters of press freedom; as of early August 2002, the president, faced with strong domestic and international protest from media professionals and rights associations, has not yet signed the bill into law.


Amnesty International. "Gambia." Amnesty International Report 2002. London: Amnesty International, May 28, 2002. Available at!Open.

BBC Monitoring. "Country profile: The Gambia." Reading, UK: British Broadcasting Corporation, June 29, 2002. Available at

Bojang, Sheriff Jnr. "Foreign Journalist Ordered to Leave." The Independent, Banjul, the Gambia, August 5, 2002. Available at

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State. "The Gambia." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2001. Washington, DC: Bureau of Public Affairs, U.S. Department of State, March 4, 2002. Available at

Committee to Protect Journalists. "The Gambia." Attacks on the Press in 2001: Africa 2001. New York, NY: CPJ, 2002. Available at

Committee to Protect Journalists. "The Gambia: New press law would force journalists to reveal sources." CPJ 2002 news alert, May 6, 2002. Available at

Independent, The. "International Outcry Over Media Commission Bill, Described As Second Highly Restrictive Legislation in Africa." The Independent, Banjul, the Gambia, May 10, 2002. Available at

Independent, The. "NIA Swoop Down On Foreign Journalist." The Independent, Banjul, the Gambia, July 23, 2002. Available at

Reporters without Borders. "The Gambia." Africa annual report 2002. Paris, France: Reporters sans fronti¤res, April 30, 2002. Available at

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN). "Parliament Passes Harsh Media Bill." July 25, 2002. Available at

Barbara A. Lakeberg-Dridi


views updated May 09 2018


POPULATION 1,455,842
ISLAM 90 percent
CHRISTIAN 9 percent

Country Overview


The Republic of the Gambia, located in western Africa, is shaped like a finger and is surrounded by Senegal on the north, east, and south and by the Atlantic Ocean on the west. A tropical country, it took its name from the Gambia River, which flows through it westward into the Atlantic.

The Gambia was a British colony until it gained independence in February 1965. Colonial rule had a significant impact on religious life, helping both Islam and Christianity develop throughout the region. Religion continues to be an important element in Gambian society and politics.

In the Gambia are several important ethnic groups, including the Mandingo (42 percent of the population), Fulani (18 percent), Wolof (16 percent), Jola (10 percent), Serahuli (9 percent), and non-Africans (1 percent). Although English is the official language, 16 indigenous languages are also spoken in the country.


The Gambia has a remarkable legacy of religious tolerance. Religious freedom is guaranteed by the constitution. Christians and Muslims live peacefully together, interacting freely in daily life, be it in the market square, schools, political parties, or business ventures. This hospitable environment has created conditions in which Islam and Christianity have been able to thrive. Christians and Muslims have maintained their religious particularities while engaging in an ongoing dialogue about life and faith. Religious tolerance is also extended to adherents of African traditional religion.

Major Religion


DATE OF ORIGIN c. 1600 c.e.


Islam in the Gambia dates back to the medieval empires of Ghana and Mali. It arrived in the Senegambian region (Senegal and the Gambia) in the ninth century, presumably (according to a general consensus among scholars) by virtue of itinerant traders, marabouts (Islamic scholars), and Islamic jihad (struggle, or holy war). The earliest accounts of Islam in the Gambia are from the travel journals of the fifteenth-century Portuguese explorer Alvise Cadamosto.

In the nineteenth century, as holy wars continued, Islam became fully established in the Senegambian region, and Islamic states were founded. By the mid-nineteenth century these powerful Islamic forces had to wrestle with non-Islamic groups in the region, as well as with the rising tide of European traders along the African coast. By the close of the nineteenth century, Gambian Muslims were, for all intents and purposes, under the hegemony of the British Empire, and Muslim leaders had to live side by side with this imperial power.

Islam at the beginning of the twentieth century was not a state religion but rather a religion of faithful believers who associated with different Sufi orders, such as the Tijaniyah, Qadiriyah, or Muridiyah. British colonial policies, however, created the perfect ambience for Islam to flourish. For example, by providing road networks and creating an access to the Gambia River, the British allowed Muslim leaders and merchants to connect with one another and to become part of the broader ummah (Islamic community). This gave Gambian Muslims the confidence to practice their religion without fear of reprisals or antagonism. Islam eventually became the religion of the elite as well as the common people, and Koranic schools provided the basic instruction of the faith. When the Gambia gained independence in 1965, Muslims constituted about 80 percent of the total population.


In the Gambia a prominent spokesperson for Islam has been President Yahya Jammeh, who came to power in July 1994. He has been a strong supporter of religious tolerance.


Two noted contemporary scholars of religion from the Gambia are Lamin Sanneh (Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut) and Sulayman Nyang (Howard University, Washington, D.C.). Both Sanneh and Nyang have been prolific writers in the study of Islam, politics, and culture in the Gambia.


In the Gambia the most important place of worship for Muslims is the mosque. The voice of the muezzin summons people to prayer at specific times during the day. Contemporary architectural designs for mosques generally follow patterns from the Middle East. Within some of the big mosques are Koranic schools where young people are given religious instruction and memorize verses from the Koran. The mosque provides a place for people to socialize, meditate, and perform the obligatory daily prayers.


There is no element of the sacred distinctive to Islam in the Gambia. The mosque is the house of prayer and thus a sacred place.


In the Gambia, Muslims celebrate the Id al-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice) and the Id al-Fitr (the end of the fasting month of Ramadan). For the Id al-Fitr businesses and government offices are closed, and invitations are extended to friends, neighbors, and family to join in celebrations. The Gambia is probably the only Muslim nation in the world that observes as public holidays Christian feasts, such as Good Friday and the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Mary. Christians and Muslims celebrate these festivals with pomp and pageantry. It is customary for Christians and Muslims to visit one another during these religious celebrations.


In the Gambia many Muslims still dress in a traditional Islamic fashion. For instance, women often wear a scarf or another form of Islamic head covering as a visible way of affirming their identity. With the influence of modernity and globalization, however, it is now common for some Gambian Muslims to wear Western clothing.


There are no dietary laws specific only to Gambian Muslims. Islamic dietary restrictions, however, are strictly observed in the Gambia. Animals must be properly slaughtered, and Muslims are forbidden from eating pork or drinking alcohol.


In the Gambia, as in other countries, Muslims come together for the Jumat (the Friday noon prayer). The mosque is the center for worship and fellowship for Gambian Muslims, and prayer is central and paramount to their lives. The basic rituals before and after the salat (prayer) are strictly observed.

Gambian Muslims see the marriage ceremony—a celebration involving music, dance, and food—as the best way to bring families together. Islam in the Gambia has been influenced by the African ethos of communal commitment and connections. Muslim marriages reflect this aspect of African culture.


The traditional stages in life (birth, marriage, death) in Islam are still observed by Muslims in the Gambia, though Gambian Muslims view these stages within the particular traditional teachings of their ethnic group. Muslims place tremendous emphasis on marriage. A dowry is required for a marriage to be legitimate. When a person is about to die, it is customary for a family member to turn the dying person's face toward Mecca and recite the first shahadah (Islamic declaration of faith), "There is no god but Allah."


The Gambia Muslim Congress, a group concerned with Islamic dawah (missionary work), propagates Islamic values and teachings in the Gambia. Their primary goal is to bring new members to Islam. Other organizations engaged in dawah include the Gambia Muslim Association, the Gambia Islamic Union, and the Supreme Islamic Council. In order to compete with Christian missionaries from the West, many international (including Middle Eastern) Muslim organizations have boosted their activities in The Gambia.


By the 1920s young Muslims obtained a basic education in Islamic schools. This educated class of Muslims established the Young Muslim Society in 1929. In the 1950s this organization was renamed the Gambia Muslim Congress. The organization's objectives were to promote and safeguard the interests of Muslims and ensure that Muslims occupied key positions in the government and civil service.

Nowadays such Muslim organizations as the Gambia Muslim Association, the Gambia Islamic Union, and the Supreme Islamic Council are involved in issues concerning social justice, human rights, equality, and total well-being for Muslims.


Gambian Muslims are encouraged to marry and have children. Celibacy and renunciation of sexuality are forbidden. Marriage is a solemn union sanctioned and blessed by God. As in traditional African culture, Muslim men in The Gambia can have more than one wife. Children are enrolled in Koranic schools at an early age.


The availability of Islamic literature and increased globalization have helped raise political awareness within Gambian Muslim communities. Young people within national Muslim groups, such as the Gambia Muslim Association, the Gambia Islamic Union, and the Supreme Islamic Council, are politically conscious and raise questions about the political and economic policies of the nation's government.


Controversial among Gambian Muslims is the status of women in religion and society. Although traditional social views have led to discrimination against women in education and employment (for example, just one-third of high school students are girls), the atmosphere of tolerance in The Gambia has encouraged open dialogue on the issue.


In the Gambia a wide range of Islamic literature, in both English and Arabic, has become available, which has led to a growing intellectual depth in how people understand the religion. This literature has especially influenced young people in the Gambia.

Other Religions

In 1458 Diogo Gomez, a Portuguese explorer, arrived in the Gambia. According to written accounts, Gomez was the first Christian in the country. He met and discussed religious issues with a Mandingo chief, Nomimansa, who eventually converted to Christianity and begged Gomez to baptize him. Because he was not a priest, Gomez could not fulfill this request, so he sent the Abbot of Soto de Cassa to instruct Nomimansa on the basic tenets of the Christian faith.

Portuguese communities emerged in the Gambia shortly after Gomez's arrival. Settlers married into local families and established their own communities. They built houses and churches in the Portuguese architectural style. Priests from the island of Cape Verde, who maintained a regular staff of 12 friars, periodically served the new churches.

Although Christianity was received positively by the indigenous people, it did not enjoy major success until the early nineteenth century, when Protestant missionary activity started in the Gambia. Catholic and Protestant missionaries subsequently established schools in the area.

In contemporary Gambia the Christian community is largely Catholic. Other significant Christian denominations include Methodists and Anglicans. Catholic schools are prominent in the country. The government does not put restrictions on religious instruction, which is made available in both public and private schools.

African traditional religion is the faith of a tiny percentage of the population. Many Muslims and Christians, however, follow traditional rituals and practices during important events in their lives, especially birth, marriage, and death.

Akintunde E. Akinade

See Also Vol. 1: Christianity, Islam


Anderson, J.N.D. Islamic Law in Africa. London: Colonial Research Publications, 1954.

Gailey, Harry. A History of the Gambia. London: Praeger, 1964.

Nyang, Sulayman S. "A Contribution to the Study of Islam in the Gambia." Pakistan Historical Journal (April 1977): 125–38.

——. "Gambia." In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islam World. Edited by John L. Esposito. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

——. "Gambia: A State in Search of Viability." Africana Marburgensia 8, no. 1 (1975): 3–25.

Sanneh, Lamin. Piety and Power: Muslims and Christians in West Africa. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1996.

Ungar, Sanford J. Africa: The People and Politics of an Emerging Continent. 3rd rev. ed. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989.


views updated May 21 2018


  • Area: 4,363 sq mi (11,300 sq km) / World Rank: 161
  • Location: Northern and Western Hemispheres, in western Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean and surrounded by Senegal.
  • Coordinates: 13°28′N, 16°34′W
  • Borders: Senegal, 460 mi (740 km)
  • Coastline: 50 mi (80 km)
  • Territorial Seas: 12 NM
  • Highest Point: Unnamed location, 173 ft (53 m)
  • Lowest Point: Sea level
  • Longest Distances: 210 mi (338 km) E-W; 29 mi (47 km) N-S
  • Longest River: Gambia River, 700 mi (1,126 km)
  • Largest Lake: None of significant size
  • Natural Hazards: Drought
  • Population: 1,411,205 (July 2001 est.) / World Rank: 147
  • Capital City: Banjul, located on a peninsula facing the Atlantic coast on the south-westerly bank of the mouth of the Gambia River
  • Largest City: Serekunda, near Banjul, population 207,000 (2002 est.)


A product of colonial trading history, Anglophone (English-speaking) Gambia is an enclave of Francophone (French-speaking) Senegal. Its serpentine borders surround the Gambia River and border the Atlantic Ocean. Between 1982 and 1989, Gambia established a short-lived political federation with Senegal called the Confederation of Senegambia. In area, the Gambia is roughly twice the size of the state of Delaware, making it the African continent's smallest country.

Most of Gambia is low-lying but it is generally divided into three regions on the basis of topographical features: the valley floor built up of alluvium with areas known as Bango Faros; a dissected plateau edge, consisting of sandy and often precipitous hills alternating with broad valleys; and a sandstone plateau which extends, in parts, across the border into Senegal.

Gambia is situated on the African Tectonic Plate, not near any major faults or plate boundaries, so seismic activity is rare. The Gambia River, the country's major waterway, is its most distinguishing geographic feature.


Gambia is primarily the area surrounding the Gambia River. Thus, it occupies a fairly flat fluvial plateau dissected by streams, a few steep hills of insignificant height, and broad valleys.


The Gambia River rises in Guinea and follows a twisting path for about 1,000 mi (1,600 km) to the sea. In its last 292 mi (470 km), the river flows through Gambia, narrowing to a width of 3 mi (5 km) at Banjul. During the dry season, tidal saltwater intrudes as far as 155 mi (250 km) upstream. The Gambia River is one of the finest waterways in West Africa and is navigable as far as Kuntaur, 150 mi (240 km) upstream, by seagoing vessels and as far as Koina by vessels of shallow draft. Brown man-grove swamps line the lower reaches on both sides of the river for the first 90 mi (145 km) from the sea. Behind these mangroves are the "flats", which are submerged completely during the wet season. The land then gives way to more open country and in places to red ironstone cliffs. The land on either side away from the river is generally open savanna with wooded areas along the drainage channels. In addition to the lower reaches of the Gambia River, the coast is marked with capes and lagoons. Banjul is located on a lowland peninsula separated from the mainland by swamps.


On its west side, Gambia borders the Atlantic Ocean. Most of its border is composed of the peninsula on which the cities of Banjul and Serekunda sit. Sandy white beaches cover most of Gambia's 44 mi (71 km) coast (also called the "smile coast"). A strip of beach hotels and resorts is located to the west of Banjul near Cape St. Mary. Sand dunes line the coast at Gambia's southern border with Senegal. Though it has no islands in the ocean, several islands are found in the Gambia River. These include the historic James Island, which the French had named St. Andrews, and historic McCarthy Island where Georgetown is located.



Gambia has a subtropical climate with distinct cool and hot seasons. From November to mid-May there is uninterrupted dry weather, with temperatures as low as 61°F (16°C) in Banjul and surrounding areas. Hot, humid weather predominates the rest of the year, with a rainy season from June to October. During this period, temperatures may rise as high as 109°F (43°C) but are usually lower near the sea. Mean temperatures range from 73°F (23°C) in January to 81°F (27°C) in June along the coast, and from 75°F (24°C) in January to 90°F (32°C) in May inland.


The average annual rainfall ranges from 36 in (92 cm) in the interior of the country to 57 in (145 cm) along the coast. Rainfall has decreased by 30 percent in the last thirty years, leading to problems with agricultural yield. Most of the rain falls from June to October.


Slash-and-burn agriculture and the use of trees for charcoal has resulted in grassy expanses mixed with scrub and fire-resistant trees in the open savanna away from the river.

Forests and Jungles

Along the river Gambia is mainly sub-tropical savanna with tropical forest, mangroves, and bamboo found along the lower Gambia River. Mahogany, rose-wood, oil palm, and rubber are found along the river banks giving Gambia a park-like appearance. Away from the river savanna takes over. Due to agriculture and wood fuel, only 9 percent of the forests have survived deforestation. The decrease in rainfall over the last 30 years has encouraged desertification.


Gambia has a population density of more than 344 people per sq mi (133 people per sq km), mostly due to its small size. The majority of the population lives in the peninsular region near the Atlantic coast with the interior on the country sparsely populated. Almost 15 percent of the population lives in the Serekunda metropolitan area, but this is the only city with more than 60,000 inhabitants. Most of the country has not seen urbanization and still lives dependent on agriculture and fishing.


Gambia is poor in mineral resources, with no real deposits of any kind. Its greatest natural resources are its fish and unspoiled natural areas including its beaches and fertile land. Sixteen percent of the land is arable; 9 percent is meadows and pastures; 20 percent is forest and woodland; and 55 percent is used for other purposes. The leading exports are fish and peanuts and their related products.

Population Centers – The Gambia
(1993 CENSUS)
Banjul (capital)42,407
SOURCE : Census of Population, The Gambia, April 15, 1993. As cited on Thomas Brinkhoff: City Population. (accessed July 2002).


Africa South of the Sahara 2002. "The Gambia." London: Europa Publications Ltd, 2002.

AllAfrica Global Media. Equatorial Guinea and the Bakassi Dispute. (Accessed March 30, 2002).

Hughes, Arnold, and Harry A. Gailey. "Historical Dictionary of The Gambia." African Historical Dictionaries, No. 79. Lanham, Md., and London: The Scarecrow Press, Inc, 1999.

Park, Mungo. Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa. N.p., London, 1899.

PrimaNET Communications Inc. Gambia. (Accessed April 1, 2002).

Vollmer, Jurgen. Black Genesis, African Roots: A Voyage from Juffure, The Gambia, to Mandingo Country to the Slave port of Dakar, Senegal. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1980.

Webb, Patrick. "Guests of the Crown: Convicts and Liberated Slaves on McCarthy Island, The Gambia." The Geographical Journal 160 (2): 136-7, July 1994.

The Gambia

views updated May 29 2018

The Gambia

Official name: Republic of The Gambia

Area: 11,300 square kilometers (4,363 square miles)

Highest point on mainland : Unnamed location (53 meters/173 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres : Northern and Western

Time zone: Noon = noon GMT

Longest distances: 338 kilometers (210 miles) from east to west; 47 kilometers (29 miles) from north to south

Land boundaries : Senegal 740 kilometers (460 miles)

Coastline: 71 kilometers (44 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)


Except for its Atlantic coastline, Anglophone (English-speaking) The Gambia is surrounded entirely by its only neighbor, Francophone (French-speaking) Senegal. Its twisting land boundary surrounds the Gambia River. In area, The Gambia is roughly twice the size of the state of Delaware, making it the African continent's smallest country. The Gambia River, the country's major waterway, is its most prominent geographic feature.


The Gambia has no territories or dependencies.


The Gambia has a subtropical climate with distinct cool and hot seasons. From November to mid-May there is uninterrupted dry weather, with temperatures as low as 16°C (61°F) in Banjul and surrounding areas. Hot, humid weather predominates the rest of the year, with a rainy season from June to October.

During this period, temperatures may rise as high as 43°C (109°F) but are usually lower near the sea. Mean temperatures range from 23°C (73°F) in January to 27°C (81°F) in June along the coast, and from 24°C (75°F) in January to 32°C (90°F) in May inland. The average annual rainfall ranges from 92 centimeters (36 inches) in the interior of the country to 145 centimeters (57 inches) along the coast. Rainfall has decreased by 30 percent in the last thirty years, leading to problems with agricultural yield. Most of the rain falls from June to October.


To the west lies the Atlantic coastline, which is fringed with sandy beaches. The interior is generally low-lying on both sides of the Gambia River, although elevations are higher in the east. Throughout the country, low, flat-topped hills alternate with valleys or depressions. Fertile alluvial soil is found in the areas to the east, while sandy soil predominates in the west. Mangrove swamps are found along the coast and riverbanks.


At its western end, The Gambia borders the Atlantic Ocean.

Seacoast and Undersea Features

In addition to the lower reaches of the Gambia River, the coast is marked with capes and lagoons.

Islands and Archipelagos

Though The Gambia has no islands in the ocean, it has several on the Gambia River, including James Island and McCarthy Island, where Georgetown is located.

Coastal Features

Most of The Gambia's Atlantic border is composed of the peninsula on which the cities of Banjul and Serekunda sit. Sandy white beaches cover most of The Gambia's 71-kilometer-long (44-mile-long) coast (also called the "smile coast"). Sand dunes line the coast at The Gambia's southern border with Senegal.


There are no sizable lakes in The Gambia; however, brown mangrove swamps line the lower reaches on both banks of the Gambia River for the first 145 kilometers (90 miles) inland from the sea. Behind these mangroves are the "flats," which are submerged completely during the wet season.


The Gambia River rises in Guinea and follows a twisting path for about 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) to the sea. For its last 470 kilometers (292 miles), the river flows through The Gambia, narrowing to a width of 5 kilometers (3 miles) at Banjul. During the dry season, tidal saltwater intrudes as far as 250 kilometers (155 miles) upstream. The Gambia River is navigable by seagoing vessels as far as Kuntaur, 240 kilometers (150 miles) upstream, and as far as Koina by vessels of shallow draft.


There are no deserts in The Gambia.


Past the riverbanks, the land on either side of the Gambia River is generally open savannah with wooded areas along the drainage channels.


There are no mountains or other significant elevated areas in The Gambia. The country's terrain, which closely surrounds and parallels the Gambia River, rises only to a few steep hills of insignificant height. The highest elevation is 53 meters (173 feet) above sea level.


There are no significant caves or canyons in The Gambia.


The Gambia occupies a fairly flat fluvial (produced by the action of a stream) plateau dissected by streams, broad valleys, and a few low hills.


Fort Bullen, located on Barra Point at the mouth of the Senegal River, is a two-hundred-year-old structure that was built by the British, who colonized the country.



Park, Mungo. Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa. London: n.p. 1899.

Vollmer, Jurgen. Black Genesis, African Roots: A Voyage from Juffure, The Gambia, to Mandingo Country to the Slave Port of Dakar, Senegal. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1980.

Web Sites

The Gambia Tourist Office. (accessed June 17, 2003).

World Travel Guide. (accessed June 17, 2003).


views updated May 18 2018


Basic Data
Official Country Name:Republic of the Gambia
Language(s):English, Mandinka, Wolof, Fula
Literacy Rate:38.6%

History & Background

Gambia, officially Republique of the Gambia, is an independent republic of western Africa and one of the smallest independent countries on the continent. It achieved its independence from Great Britain in 1965. Geographically, it is a narrow enclave that extends about 15 to 30 miles along the Gambia River and is almost completely surrounded by Senegal, a fact that forced a short-lived merger between the two nations between 1982 and 1989. There was a military coup in 1994, but a new constitution created in 1996 followed by parliamentary balloting in 1997 helped the nation to return nominally to civilian rule. The Gambia accepted a seat on the UN Security Council during 1998 to 1999, effectively ending their period of isolation.

The population (based on a July 2000 estimate) is 1,367,124 people and includes diverse ethnic groups that are 99 percent African heritage and 1 percent non-African. The most populous group is the Mandinka (42 percent), followed by the Fula (18 percent), Wolof (16 percent), Jola (10 percent), and others (14 percent). The official language is English, but each of the diverse ethnic groups also speaks their own language. The most popular are Mandinka, Wolof, and Fulu.

Educational SystemOverview

Gambia has a state educational structure inherited from its colonial power and continues to use English as the language of instruction. Schooling is not compulsory and the system remains under-developed as noted by the lack of adequate funding from the government and the insufficient number of schools to accommodate all of the potential students. Children under the age of 15 account for 45 percent of the country's population. Existing schools may actually operate as two distinct schools with one group of students attending a morning session and another attending an afternoon session. Some classes, even with the split shift, may still have an enrollment of 100 students or more with 3 or 4 students sharing a single desk, book, or other supplies. A lack of teachers and low salaries further demoralize educators, causing a downward cycle in education. This downward cycle is noted in the nation's low literacy rate (38.6 percent).

Educational accessibility to school also varies greatly. Although schooling is theoretically available to all children at the primary level, secondary schooling is competitive and available only to those who pass their examinations. However, failure to attend secondary school is due less to poor performance on the exam and more as a result of low income. Children from poorer families cannot afford school fees, books, or uniforms and thus are prevented from furthering their education. Children may also be needed to contribute to the family income by working in the fields or seeking other forms of employment. This further prevents them from progressing to the next level.

There are instances at the grass roots level where communities are striving to become more involved in the problem of education. For example, villagers from Kanuma built a bamboo classroom to accommodate the children of that village. Still, the basic structure of the educational system includes a Primary School, Secondary Middle School, Higher Secondary School, and Sixth Form.

Preprimary & Primary Education

Children attend primary school for 6 years from the ages of 7 through 13. Although schooling is not compulsory, almost all of the children living around Banjul (capital) attend school; only a third of those in other parts of the country go to school. At the completion of six years, students are awarded the Primary School Leaving Certificate.

Secondary Education

Secondary education is divided into Middle School (three years), Higher Secondary, and Sixth Form (2years); students attend from the ages of 13 through 21. At the successful completion of each level, a certificate is awarded. If students finish the sixth form and have completed all 13 to 14 previous years of education, they may earn the West African Examinations Council A Level Certificate.

Higher Education

Gambia has no university level institution, so stu dents who wish to pursue a university degree must go abroad to study. Gambia College, located in the capital of Banjul, is the only institution of higher learning in the nation and is divided into schools of agriculture, education, nursing, and public health.

Primary school teachers are trained at the Gambia College School of Education for two years and earn a primary teachers' certificate. There is also a three-year, in-service course available to unqualified teachers to earn a basic teachers' certificate. Admission to the program is based on the middle school leaving certificate.

Secondary school teachers are also trained at Gambia College for two years and earn the higher teachers' certificate. Admission is based on earning the West African Examinations Council school certificate.

Studies at the higher technical and vocational institutes lead to certificates, diplomas, or examinations of the City and Guilds of London Institute and the Royal Society of Arts.


The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The World Factbook 2000. Directorate of Intelligence, 1 January 2000. Available from

"Education System in Gambia.", 2000. Available from

International Association of Universities (IAU). "Educational System-Gambia," 1996. Available from

Jean Boris Wynn


views updated Jun 11 2018


At a Glance

Official Name: Republic of the Gambia

Continent: Africa

Area: 3,861 square miles (10,000 sq km)

Population: 1,411,205

Capital City: Banjul

Largest City: Kombo St. Mary (228,214)

Unit of Money: Dalasi

Major Languages: English (official), Mandinka

Literacy: 39%

Land Use: 18% arable, 9% meadows, 28% forest, 45% other

Natural Resources: fish

Government: Republic under multiparty democratic rule

Defense: 15 million

The Place

Gambia is a narrow country on the western coast of Africa, surrounded by Senegal to the north, east, and south. It is approximately 200 miles (320 km) from east to west, and a maximum of 30 miles (50 km) from north to south. The country's 50-mile-(80-km) long coastline fronts the Atlantic Ocean to the west. It is the smallest country in Africa.

The main feature of the country is the Gambia River, which cuts the country in half length-wise. The river begins in Guinea and flows westward to the Atlantic Ocean at Banjul, Gambia's capital. Throughout the country, the Gambia River ranges from 80 to 250 feet (25 to 75 m) above sea level.

Gambia has a subtropical climate and experiences hot and cool seasons. The cool season lasts from November to May, and has temperatures of about 60° F (16° C). In the summer, temperatures can reach 110° F (43° C). Gambia receives about 40 inches of rain each year, mainly during the rainy season from June to October.

The People

There are many different ethnic groups in Gambia. The largest group is the Mandinka, and they tend to be most influential in politics. The Fula make up about 18% of the population and live mainly in the eastern part of the country. The Wolof live in Banjul and in other western regions. The Jola make up one-tenth of the population and also live in the west. The Serahuli are nomads.

Gambia is one of the least populated countries in Africa. The population is growing quickly, however, at a rate of 3.3% each year. Women give birth to an average of 6 children, and half the country's population is under the age of 16. The government is concerned with the rapid population increase and is trying to institute family planning programs. The population density is 315 people per square mile (122 people per sq km).

Health conditions are poor, and the country has high infant mortality and death rates. Malaria, tuberculosis, and parasitic diseases are very common. Life expectancy is 55 years.