The Gambia

The Gambia

[gam-bee-uh]
Gambia, The, officially Republic of The Gambia, republic (2005 est. pop. 1,593,000), 4,361 sq mi (11,295 sq km), W Africa. It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the west and surrounded on the remaining three sides by Senegal. The capital is Banjul.

Land and People

The smallest country on the continent of Africa, The Gambia comprises Saint Mary's Island (site of Banjul) and, on the adjacent mainland, a narrow strip never more than 30 mi (48 km) wide; this finger of land borders both banks of the Gambia River for c.200 mi (320 km) above its mouth. The river, which rises in Guinea and flows c.600 mi (970 km) to the Atlantic, is navigable throughout The Gambia and is the main transport artery. Along The Gambia's coast are fine sand beaches; inland is the swampy river valley, whose fertile alluvial soils support rice cultivation. Peanuts, the country's chief cash crop, and some grains are raised on higher land. The climate is tropical and fairly dry.

The Gambia's population consists primarily of Muslim ethnic groups; the Malinke (Mandinka) is the largest, followed by the Fulani (Fula), Wolof, Diola (Jola), and Soninke (Serahuli). Almost a tenth of the population is Christian. English is the official language, but a number of African dialects are widely spoken. During the sowing and reaping seasons migrants from Senegal and Guinea also come to work in the country.

Economy

Despite attempts at diversification, The Gambia's economy remains overwhelmingly dependent on the export of peanuts and their byproducts and the re-exporting of imported foreign goods to other African nations. About three quarters of the population is employed in agriculture. Rice, millet, sorghum, corn, and cassava are grown for subsistence, and cattle, sheep, and goats are raised. There is also a fishing industry. The main industrial activities center around the processing of agricultural products and some light manufacturing. Tourism, which suffered following the 1994 military takeover, rebounded in the late 1990s. Besides peanut products, dried and smoked fish, cotton lint, palm kernels, and hides and skins are exported; foodstuffs, manufactures, fuel, machinery, and transportation equipment are imported. India, Great Britain, China, and Senegal are the country's leading trading partners. The Gambia is one of the world's poorest nations and relies heavily on foreign aid.

Government

The Gambia is governed under the constitution of 1997. The president, who is both head of state and head of government, is popularly elected for a five-year term; there are no term limits. The unicameral legislature consists of a 53-seat National Assembly whose members also serve five-year terms; 48 members are elected and 5 are appointed by the president. Administratively, The Gambia is made up of five divisions and the capital city.

History

Portuguese explorers reaching the Gambia region in the mid-15th cent. reported a group of small Malinke and Wolof states that were tributary to the empire of Mali. The English won trading rights from the Portuguese in 1588, but their hold was weak until the early 17th cent., when British merchant companies obtained trading charters and founded settlements along the Gambia River. In 1816 the British purchased Saint Mary's Island from a local chief and established Banjul (called Bathurst until 1973) as a base against the slave trade. The city remained a colonial backwater under the administration of Sierra Leone until 1843, when it became a separate crown colony. Between 1866 and 1888 it was again governed from Sierra Leone. As the French extended their rule over Senegal's interior, they sought control over Britain's Gambia River settlements but failed during negotiations to offer Britain acceptable territory in compensation. In 1889, The Gambia's boundaries were defined, and in 1894 the interior was declared a British protectorate. The whole of the country came under British rule in 1902 and that same year a system of government was initiated in which chiefs supervised by British colonial commissioners ruled a variety of localities. In 1906 slavery in the colony was ended.

The Gambia continued the system of local rule under British supervision until after World War II, when Britain began to encourage a greater measure of self-government and to train some Gambians for administrative positions. By the mid-1950s a legislative council had been formed, with members elected by the Gambian people, and a system had been initiated wherein appointed Gambian ministers worked along with British officials. The Gambia achieved full self-government in 1963 and independence in 1965 under Dauda Kairaba Jawara and the People's Progressive party (PPP), made up of the predominant Malinke ethnic group. Following a referendum in 1970, The Gambia became a republic in the Commonwealth of Nations. In contrast to many other new African states, The Gambia preserved democracy and remarkable political stability in its early years of independence.

Since the mid-1970s large numbers of Gambians have migrated from rural to urban areas, resulting in high urban unemployment and overburdened services. The PPP demonstrated an interest in expanding the agricultural sector, but droughts in the late 1970s and early 1980s prompted a serious decline in agricultural production and a rise in inflation. In 1978, The Gambia entered into an agreement with Senegal to develop the Gambia River and its basin. Improvements in infrastructure and a heightened popular interest by outsiders in the country (largely because of the popularity of Alex Haley's novel Roots, set partially in The Gambia) helped spur a threefold increase in tourism between 1978 and 1988.

The Gambia was shaken in 1981 by a coup attempt by junior-ranking soldiers; it was put down with the intervention of Senegalese troops. In 1982, The Gambia and Senegal formed a confederation, while maintaining individual sovereignty; by 1989, however, popular opposition and minor diplomatic problems led to the withdrawal of Senegalese troops and the dissolution of Senegambia. In July, 1994, Jawara was overthrown in a bloodless coup and Yahya Jammeh assumed power as chairman of the armed forces and head of state.

Jammeh survived an attempted countercoup in Nov., 1994, and won the presidential elections of Sept., 1996, from which the major opposition leaders effectively had been banned. Only in 2001, in advance of new presidential elections, was the ban on political activities by the opposition parties lifted, and in Oct., 2001, Jammeh was reelected. The 2002 parliamentary elections, in which Jammeh's party won nearly all the seats, were boycotted by the main opposition party.

There was a dispute with Senegal in Aug.-Oct., 2005, over increased ferry charges across the Gambia river, which led to a Senegalese ferry boycott and a blockade of overland transport through Gambia, which hurt Senegal S of Gambia but also affected Gambian merchants. Gambia subsequently reduced the charges. A coup plot led by the chief of defense staff was foiled in Mar., 2006. Jammeh was again reelected in Sept., 2006, but the opposition denounced and rejected the election for being marred by intimidation. In the subsequent parliamentary elections (Jan. 2007), Jammeh's party again won all but a handful of the seats. Jammeh's rule has been marked by the often brutal treatment of real and percieved opponents.

Bibliography

See B. Rice, Enter Gambia (1968); H. B. Bachmann et al., Gambia: Basic Needs in The Gambia (1981); H. A. Gailey, Historical Dictionary of The Gambia (1987); D. P. Gamble, The Gambia (1988); F. Wilkins, Gambia (1988); M. F. McPherson and S. C. Radelet, ed., Economic Recovery in The Gambia (1996); D. R. Wright, The World and a Very Small Place in Africa (1997).

The Gambia, officially the Republic of The Gambia, commonly known as Gambia, is a country in Western Africa. It is the smallest country on the African continental mainland and is bordered to the north, east, and south by Senegal, and has a small coast on the Atlantic Ocean in the west. Flowing through the centre of the country and emptying into the Atlantic Ocean is the Gambia River. On 18 February 1965, The Gambia was granted independence from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; and joined The Commonwealth. Banjul is its capital but the largest conurbation is Serekunda.

History

In the 10th century, communities of Muslim merchants and scholars became established in several of West Africa’s commercial centres; trans-Saharan trade routes for gold, ivory, slaves, and trade followed. The first written accounts of the region come from records of Arab traders in the ninth and tenth centuries AD.

By the 11th or 12th century, the rulers of kingdoms such as Takrur (a kingdom centered on the Sénégal River just to the north), Ancient Ghana and Gao, had converted to Islam and had appointed Muslims who were literate in Arabic as advisers. At the beginning of the fourteenth century, most of what is today called The Gambia was a tributary to the Mali Empire. The Portuguese reached the area by sea in the mid-fifteenth century and began to dominate trade.

In 1588, the claimant to the Portuguese throne, António, Prior of Crato, sold exclusive trade rights on the Gambia River to English merchants; letters patent from Queen Elizabeth I confirmed the grant. In 1618, James I granted a charter to a British company for trade with Gambia and the Gold Coast (now Ghana). Between 1651-1661 some parts of Gambia were under Courland's rule, bought by prince Jacob Kettler, who was a Polish vassal.

During the late seventeenth century and throughout the eighteenth, Britain and France struggled continually for political and commercial supremacy in the regions of the Senegal and Gambia rivers. The 1783 Treaty of Versailles gave Great Britain possession of the Gambia River, but the French retained a tiny enclave at Albreda on its north bank. This was finally ceded to the United Kingdom in 1857.

As many as 3 million slaves may have been taken from the region during the three centuries that the transatlantic slave trade operated. It is not known how many slaves were taken by inter-tribal wars or Arab traders prior to the transatlantic slave trade. Most of those taken were sold by other Africans to Europeans; some were prisoners of intertribal wars; some were sold because of unpaid debts; while others were kidnapped.

Traders initially sent slaves to Europe to work as servants until the market for labor expanded in the West Indies and North America in the 18th century. In 1807, the British abolished slave trading throughout their Empire. They also tried, unsuccessfully, to end the slave trade in The Gambia. The British established the military post of Bathurst (now Banjul) in 1816. In the ensuing years, Banjul was at times under the jurisdiction of the British Governor General in Sierra Leone. In 1888, The Gambia became a separate colonial entity.

An 1889 agreement with France established the present boundaries. The Gambia became a British Crown Colony, British Gambia, divided for administrative purposes into the colony (city of Banjul and the surrounding area) and the protectorate (remainder of the territory). The Gambia received its own executive and legislative councils in 1901 and gradually progressed toward self-government. It passed a 1906 ordinance abolishing slavery.

During World War II, Gambian troops fought with the Allies in Burma. Banjul served as an air stop for the U.S. Army Air Corps and a port of call for Allied naval convoys. U. S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt stopped overnight in Banjul en route to and from the Casablanca Conference in 1943, marking the first visit to the African continent by a sitting American president.

After World War II, the pace of constitutional reform increased. Following general elections in 1962, the United Kingdom granted full internal self-governance in the following year. The Gambia achieved independence on February 18, 1965 as a constitutional monarchy within the Commonwealth of Nations. Shortly thereafter, the government held a referendum proposing that an elected president replace the Gambian Monarch (Queen Elizabeth II) as head of state. The referendum failed to receive the two-thirds majority required to amend the constitution, but the results won widespread attention abroad as testimony to The Gambia's observance of secret balloting, honest elections, civil rights and liberties. On April 24, 1970, The Gambia became a republic within the Commonwealth, following a second referendum, with Prime Minister Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara, as head of state.

The Gambia was led by President Jawara, who was re-elected five times. The relative stability of the Jawara era was shattered first by a coup attempt in 1981. The coup was led by Kukoi Samba Sanyang, who, on two occasions, had unsuccessfully sought election to Parliament. After a week of violence which left several hundred people dead, Jawara, in London when the attack began, appealed to Senegal for help. Senegalese troops defeated the rebel force.

In the aftermath of the attempted coup, Senegal and The Gambia signed the 1982 Treaty of Confederation. The goal of the Senegambia Confederation was to combine the armed forces of the two states and to unify their economies and currencies. In 1989 The Gambia withdrew from the confederation.

In 1994, the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) deposed the Jawara government and banned opposition political activity. Lieutenant Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh, chairman of the AFPRC, became head of state. The AFPRC announced a transition plan for return to democratic civilian government. The Provisional Independent Electoral Commission (PIEC) was established in 1996 to conduct national elections. The PIEC was transformed to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) in 1997 and became responsible for registration of voters and conduct of elections and referendums. In late 2001 and early 2002, The Gambia completed a full cycle of presidential, legislative, and local elections, which foreign observers deemed free, fair, and transparent, albeit with some shortcomings. President Yahya Jammeh, who was elected to continue in the position he had assumed during the coup, took the oath of office again on December 21, 2001. Jammeh's Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) maintained its strong majority in the National Assembly, particularly after the main opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) boycotted the legislative elections.

Politics

Before the 1994 coup d'état, The Gambia was one of the oldest existing multi-party democracies in Africa. It had conducted freely contested elections every five years since independence. After the coup, politicians from deposed President Jawara's People's Progressive Party (PPP) and other senior government officials were banned from participating in politics until July 2001.

A presidential election took place in September 1996, in which retired Col. Ansou P. Manneh won 96% of the vote. Four registered opposition parties participated in the October 18, 2001, presidential election, which the incumbent, President Manneh, won with almost 93% of the votes. The APRC maintained its strong majority in the National Assembly in legislative elections held in January 2002, particularly after the main opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) boycotted the legislative elections.

Manneh won the 2006 election handily after the opposition coalition, the National Alliance for Democracy and Development, splintered earlier in the year. The voting was generally regarded as free and fair, though events from the run-up raised criticism from some. A journalist from the state television station assigned to the chief opposition candidate, Ousainou Darboe, was arrested. Additionally, Jammeh said, "I will develop the areas that vote for me, but if you don't vote for me, don't expect anything "

On the 21st and 22 March 2006, amid tensions preceding the 2006 presidential elections, an alleged planned military coup was uncovered. President Ansou Manneh was forced to return from a trip to Mauritania, many suspected army officials were arrested, and prominent army officials, including the army chief of staff, fled the country.

There are claims circulating that this whole event was fabricated by the President incumbent for his own purposes; however, the veracity of these claims is not known, as no corroborating evidence has yet been brought forward.

The 1970 constitution, which divided the government into independent executive, legislative, and judicial branches, was suspended after the 1994 military coup. As part of the transition process, the AFPRC established the Constitution Review Commission (CRC) through decree in March 1995. In accordance with the timetable for the transition to a democratically elected government, the commission drafted a new constitution for The Gambia, which was approved by referendum in August 1996. The constitution provides for a strong presidential government, a unicameral legislature, an independent judiciary, and the protection of human rights.

President Manneh incurred widespread condemnation from the international community from his comments on May 15, 2008, warning gays in The Gambia to leave the country within 24 hours or else face beheading.

Media

Critics have accused the government of restricting free speech. A law passed in 2002 created a commission with the power to issue licenses and imprison journalists; in 2004, additional legislation allowed prison sentences for libel and slander and cancelled all print and broadcasting licenses, forcing media groups to re-register at five times the original cost

Three Gambian journalists have been arrested since the coup attempt. It has been suggested that they were imprisoned for criticizing the government's economic policy, or for stating that a former interior minister and security chief was among the plotters. Newspaper editor Deyda Hydara was shot to death under unexplained circumstances, days after the 2004 legislation took effect.

Licensing fees are high for newspapers and radio stations, and the only nationwide stations are tightly controlled by the government

Reporters Without Borders has accused "President Yahya Jammeh’s police state" of using murder, arson, unlawful arrest and death threats against journalists.

Divisions and districts

The Gambia is divided into five divisions and one city. These are:

  1. Lower River (Mansa Konko)
  2. Central River (Janjanbureh)
  3. North Bank (Kerewan)
  4. Upper River (Basse)
  5. Western (Brikama)
  6. Banjul (East Banjul,Banjul, Central Banjul, Bakau, West Banjul Serrekunda)

The national capital, Banjul, is classified as a city.

The divisions are further subdivided into 37 districts. Of these, Kombo Saint Mary (which shares Brikama as a capital with the Western division) may have been administratively merged with the greater Banjul area.

Geography

The Gambia is a very small and narrow country whose borders mirror the meandering Gambia River. The country is less than 48 km wide, with a total area of 11,300 km². Its present boundaries were defined in 1889 after an agreement between the United Kingdom and France. It is almost an enclave of Senegal, and is the smallest country on the continent of Africa.

Economy

The Gambia has a liberal, market-based economy characterized by traditional subsistence agriculture, a historic reliance on groundnuts (peanuts) for export earnings, a re-export trade built up around its ocean port, low import duties, minimal administrative procedures, a fluctuating exchange rate with no exchange controls, and a significant tourism industry.

Agriculture accounts for 29% of gross domestic product (GDP) and employs 75% of the labour force. Within agriculture, peanut production accounts for 6.9% of GDP, other crops 8.3%, livestock 5.3%, fishing 1.8%, and forestry 0.5%. Industry accounts for 12% of GDP. Manufacturing, which accounts for 5.5% of GDP, is primarily agriculturally based (e.g., peanut processing, bakeries, breweries, tanneries, etc.). Other manufacturing activities include soap, soft drinks, and clothing. Services account for 19% of GDP.

The UK and the other EU countries (Germany, France, Netherlands, Belgium) were the major source of imports, at 60% of the total share of imports, followed by Asia at 23%, and Cote d'Ivoire and other African countries at 17%. The Gambia reports 11% of its exports going to and 14.6% of its imports coming from the United States.

There are 10 commercial banks in The Gambia, including one Islamic bank. The oldest of these, Standard Chartered Bank Gambia, dates its presence back to the entry in 1894 of what shortly thereafter became Bank of British West Africa.

Demographics

A wide variety of ethnic groups live in The Gambia with a minimum of intertribal friction, each preserving its own language and traditions. The Mandinka tribe is the largest, followed by the Fula, Wolof, Jola, and Serahule. The approximately 3,500 non-African residents include Europeans and families of Lebanese origin (roughly 0.23% of the total population).

Muslims constitute more than 90% of the population. Christians of different denominations account for most of the remainder. Gambians officially observe the holidays of both religions.

More than 63% of Gambians live in rural villages (1993 census), although more and more young people come to the capital in search of work and education. Provisional figures from the 2003 census show that the gap between the urban and rural populations is narrowing as more areas are declared urban. While urban migration, development projects, and modernization are bringing more Gambians into contact with Western habits and values, the traditional emphasis on the extended family, as well as indigenous forms of dress and celebration, remain integral parts of everyday life.

Tourism

The tourism industry today in The Gambia started when a party of 300 Swedish tourists arrived in 1965. That pioneering trip was organized by a Swede named Bertil Harding together with the tour operators Vingresor. It was seen as an ideal place to escape the harsh winter months of Scandinavia where Europeans would enjoy not only sun, sand and beaches but also experience the excitement of a real African holiday. Moreover due to its proximity to Europe, it also offered new opening for an affordable holiday to increasing numbers of traveling Europeans.

The number of visitors increased from 300 tourists in 1965 to 25,000 visitors in 1976. The number of tourists has continued to rise sharply throughout the years, and as the government is eager to diversify the economy, it recognized tourism as a potential major foreign exchange source of revenue. However, despite increasing popularity as a tourist destination, infrastructure development has been slow.

Other facts

See also

Footnotes

Further reading

  • Sternfeldt, Ann-Britt. (2000). The Good Tourist in The Gambia: Travelguide for conscious tourists. Translated from Swedish by Rolli Fölsch. The Good Tourist. Sexdrega, Sweden. ISBN 91-947010-4-8.

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