The Gambia (the /ˈɡæmbiə/; officially the Republic of the Gambia) is a country in West Africa. It is surrounded by Senegal, apart from a short strip of Atlantic coastline at its western end. It is the smallest country on mainland Africa.
The country is situated on either side of the Gambia River, the nation's namesake, which flows through the country's centre and empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Its area is 10,689 square kilometres (4,127 sq mi) with a population of 1,882,450 at the 15 April 2013 Census (provisional). Banjul is the Gambian capital, but the largest cities are Serekunda and Brikama.
The Gambia shares historical roots with many other West African nations in the slave trade, which was the key factor in the placing and keeping of a colony on the Gambia River, first by the Portuguese and later by the British. On 18 February 1965, the Gambia gained independence from the United Kingdom and joined the Commonwealth of Nations, from which it withdrew in October 2013. Since gaining independence, the Gambia has enjoyed relative political stability, with the exception of a brief period of military rule in 1994.
Due to the fertile land of the country, the economy is dominated by farming, fishing, and tourism. About a third of the population lives below the international poverty line of US$1.25 a day.
Arab traders provided the first written accounts of the Gambia area in the ninth and tenth centuries. During the tenth century, Muslim merchants and scholars established communities in several West African commercial centres. Both groups established trans-Saharan trade routes, leading to a large trade in slaves, gold, ivory (exports) and manufactured goods (imports).
The first picture is of the Senegambian stone circles (megaliths) which run from Senegal through the Gambia and which are described by UNESCO as "the largest concentration of stone circles seen anywhere in the world".
By the eleventh or twelfth century, the rulers of kingdoms such as Takrur (a monarchy centred on the Senegal River just to the north), ancient Ghana and Gao, had converted to Islam and had appointed Muslims who were literate in the Arabic language as courtiers. At the beginning of the fourteenth century, most of what is today called Gambia was part of the Mali Empire. The Portuguese reached this area by sea in the mid-fifteenth century, and they began to dominate overseas trade.
During the late 17th century and throughout the 18th century, the British Empire and the French Empire struggled continually for political and commercial supremacy in the regions of the Senegal River and the Gambia River. The British Empire occupied the Gambia when an expedition led by Augustus Keppel landed there—following the Capture of Senegal in 1758. The 1783 First Treaty of Versailles gave Great Britain possession of the Gambia River, but the French retained a tiny enclave at Albreda on the river's north bank. This was finally ceded to the United Kingdom in 1856.
As many as three million slaves may have been taken from this general 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 Muslim traders before the transatlantic slave trade began. Most of those taken were sold by other Africans to Europeans; others were prisoners of inter-tribal wars; some were victims sold because of unpaid debts; and others were simply victims of kidnapping.
Traders initially sent slaves to Europe to work as servants until the market for labour expanded in the West Indies and North America in the eighteenth century. In 1807, the United Kingdom abolished the slave trade throughout its empire. It also tried, unsuccessfully, to end the slave trade in the Gambia. Slave ships intercepted by the Royal Navy's West Africa Squadron in the Atlantic were also returned to the Gambia, with liberated slaves released on MacCarthy Island far up the Gambia River where they were expected to establish new lives. The British established the military post of Bathurst (now Banjul) in 1816. 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 colony.
An agreement with the French Republic in 1889 established the present boundaries. The Gambia became a British Crown colony called 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 it gradually progressed toward self-government. Slavery was finally abolished in 1906.
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 18 February 1965, as a constitutional monarchy within the Commonwealth, with Elizabeth II as Queen of Gambia, represented by the Governor-General. Shortly thereafter, the national government held a referendum proposing that the country become a republic. This 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 24 April 1970, Gambia became a republic within the Commonwealth, following a second referendum. Prime Minister Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara assumed the office of President, an executive post, combining the offices of head of state and head of government.
The Gambia was led by President Dawda Jawara, who was re-elected five times. The relative stability of the Jawara era was first shattered by an attempted coup on 29 July 1981 which followed a weakening of the economy and allegations of corruption against leading politicians. The coup attempt occurred while President Jawara was visiting London and was carried out by the leftist National Revolutionary Council, composed of Kukoi Samba Sanyang's Socialist and Revolutionary Labour Party (SRLP) and elements of the "Field Force" (a paramilitary force which constituted the bulk of the country's armed forces). President Jawara immediately requested military aid from Senegal which deployed 400 troops to Gambia on 31 July. By 6 August, some 2,700 Senegalese troops had been deployed and they had defeated the rebel force. Between 500 and 800 people were killed during the coup and the resulting violence.
In 1982, in the aftermath of the 1981 attempted coup, Senegal and Gambia signed a treaty of confederation. The Senegambia Confederation aimed to combine the armed forces of the two states and to unify their economies and currencies. After just seven years, Gambia permanently withdrew from the confederation in 1989.
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 then 29-year-old dictator remains president to this day. 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 21 December 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, though it has participated in elections since.
On 2 October 2013, the Gambian interior minister announced that the Gambia would leave the Commonwealth of Nations with immediate effect. The Gambian Government said it "decided that The Gambia will never be a member of any neo-colonial institution and will never be a party to any institution that represents an extension of colonialism".
The Gambia is a very small and narrow country whose borders mirror the meandering Gambia River. It lies between latitudes 13° and 14°N, and longitudes 13° and 17°W.
The country is less than 48.2 km (30.0 mi) wide at its widest point, with a total area of 11,295 km2 (4,361 sq mi). Approximately 1,300 km2 (500 sq mi) (11.5%) of the Gambia's area is covered by water. It is the smallest country on the continent of Africa. In comparative terms the Gambia has a total area which is slightly less than that of the island of Jamaica. The Gambia is surrounded on three sides by Senegal, with 80 km (50 mi) of coastline on the Atlantic Ocean on its western side.
The climate of the Gambia is tropical. There is a hot and rainy season, normally from June until November, but from then until May there are cooler temperatures with less precipitation. The climate in the Gambia is about the same as that found in neighboring Senegal, southern Mali, and the northern part of Benin.
Its present boundaries were defined in 1889 after an agreement between the United Kingdom and France. During the negotiations between the French and the British in Paris, the French initially gave the British approximately 200 miles (320 km) of the Gambia River to control. Starting with the placement of boundary markers in 1891, it took nearly fifteen years after the Paris meetings to determine the final borders of the Gambia. The resulting series of straight lines and arcs gave the British control of areas that are approximately 10 miles (16 km) north and south of the Gambia River.
Gambia is a republic. Its current President is Yahya Jammeh.
Following independence, the Gambia conducted freely contested elections every five years. Each election was won by The People's Progressive Party (PPP), headed by Dawda Jawara. The PPP dominated Gambian politics for nearly 30 years. After spearheading the movement toward complete independence from Britain, the PPP was voted into power and was never seriously challenged by any opposition party. The last elections under the PPP regime were held in April 1992.
In 1994, following corruption allegations against the Jawara regime and widespread discontent in the army, a largely bloodless and successful coup d'état installed army Lieutenant Yahya Jammeh into power. 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 Yahya Jammeh won 56% of the vote. The legislative elections held in January 1997 were dominated by the APRC, which captured 33 out of 45 seats.
In July 2001, the ban on Jawara-era political parties and politicians was lifted. Four registered opposition parties participated in 18 October 2001 presidential election, which the incumbent, President Yahya Jammeh, won with almost 53% of the votes. The APRC maintained its strong majority in the National Assembly in legislative elections held in January 2002, particularly after the main opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) boycotted the legislative elections.
Jammeh 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 21 and 22 March 2006, amid tensions preceding the 2006 presidential elections, an alleged planned military coup was uncovered. President Yahya Jammeh immediately returned from a trip to Mauritania, many army officials were arrested, and prominent army officials fled the country. Some believe the planned coup was fabricated by the President for his own purposes, but no proof has been found.
For their roles in an alleged 2009 coup plot, eight Gambians, including the former Chief of Defence Staff of the Gambian Armed Forces, a former head and deputy head of the National Intelligence Agency and others were tried for treason, found guilty and sentenced to death in July 2010. One of the convicted, a businessman, disappeared while in custody awaiting his appeal. Before that trial concluded, the former Chief of Defence Staff and the former Chief of the Gambia Naval Staff were charged with treason for their complicity in the failed 2006 coup. A key prosecution witness, serving a lengthy prison sentence for his role in the 2006 coup plot, received a presidential pardon, apparently in return for his testimony.
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.
In November 2011, elections were held under conditions that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) characterised as "not to be conducive for the conduct of free, fair and transparent polls". These elections, which were not monitored by ECOWAS, returned Jammeh to another 5-year term.
On 22 August 2012, Gambia announced it would execute all death-row convicts, 42 men and 2 women, by September 2012. The country had not executed anyone in the past 30 years. Nine were executed in August 2012.
The Gambia followed a formal policy of nonalignment throughout most of former President Jawara's tenure. It maintained close relations with the United Kingdom, Senegal, and other African countries. The July 1994 coup strained the Gambia's relationship with Western powers, particularly the United States, which until 2002 suspended most non-humanitarian assistance in accordance with Section 508 of the Foreign Assistance Act. Since 1995, President Jammeh has established diplomatic relations with several additional countries, including Libya (suspended in 2010), Republic of China (Taiwan, terminated in Nov 2013), and Cuba. The People's Republic of China cut ties with the Gambia in 1995 after the latter established diplomatic links with Taiwan.
The Gambia plays an active role in international affairs, especially West African and Islamic affairs, although its representation abroad is limited. As a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Gambia has played an active role in that organisation's efforts to resolve the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone and contributed troops to the community's ceasefire monitoring group (ECOMOG) in 1990 and (ECOMIL) in 2003. It also has sought to mediate disputes in nearby Guinea-Bissau and the neighbouring Casamance region of Senegal. The Government of the Gambia believes Senegal was complicit in the March 2006 failed coup attempt. This has put increasing strains on relations between the Gambia and its neighbour. The subsequent worsening of the human rights situation has placed increasing strains of US–Gambian relations.
The Gambian Armed Forces consists of the Gambia National Army, Republican Guards comprising a well trained and equipped Presidential Guards and the Special Forces, and the Navy, all under the authority of the Ministry of Defense (a ministerial portfolio held by Jammeh). Prior to the 1994 coup, the Gambian Armed Forces received technical assistance and training from the United States, United Kingdom, People's Republic of China, Nigeria, and Turkey. With the withdrawal of most of this aid, the Army has received renewed assistance from Turkey and others. A number of junior Gambian Army officers are regularly trained at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, and sergeants from the Royal Gibraltar Regiment were observed training Gambian troops in Bakau in November 2010.
The Gambia allowed its military training arrangement with Libya to expire in 2002.
The Gambia is divided into eight Local Government Areas, including the national capital, Banjul, which is classified as a city. The Divisions of the Gambia were created by the Independent Electoral Commission in accordance to Article 192 of the National Constitution.
The Local Government Areas are further subdivided (2013) into 43 districts. Of these, Kanifing and Kombo Saint Mary (which shares Brikama as a capital with the Brikama Local Government Area) are effectively part of the Greater Banjul area.
Graphical depiction of Gambian product exports in 28 color-coded categories
The Gambia has a liberal, market-based economy characterised 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.
The World Bank pegs Gambian GDP for 2011 at US$898M; the International Monetary Fund puts it at US$977M for 2011.
Agriculture accounts for roughly 30% of gross domestic product (GDP) and employs about 70% 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 approximately 8% of GDP and services approximately 58%. The limited amount of manufacturing is primarily agricultural-based (e.g., peanut processing, bakeries, a brewery, and a tannery). Other manufacturing activities include soap, soft drinks, and clothing.
Previously, the United Kingdom and other EU countries constituted the major Gambian major domestic export markets. However, in recent years Senegal, the United States, and Japan have become significant trade partners of the Gambia. In Africa, Senegal represented the biggest trade partner of the Gambia in 2007, which is a defining contrast to previous years that saw Guinea-Bissau and Ghana as equally important trade partners. Globally, Denmark, the United States, and China have become important source countries for Gambian imports. The UK, Germany, Ivory Coast, and the Netherlands also provide a fair share of Gambian imports. The Gambian trade deficit for 2007 was $331 million.
As of May 2009, there were twelve commercial banks in the Gambia, including one Islamic bank. The oldest of these, Standard Chartered Bank dates its presence back to the entry in 1894 of what shortly thereafter became Bank of British West Africa. In 2005, the Swiss-based banking group, International Commercial Bank established a subsidiary and has now four branches in the country. In 2007, Nigeria's Access Bank established a subsidiary that now has four branches in the country, in addition to its head office; the bank has pledged to open four more. In May 2009, the Lebanese Canadian Bank opened a subsidiary called Prime Bank.
Brightly painted fishing boats are common in Bakau, the Gambia.
From 2006 to 2012, the Gambian economy grew annually at a pace of 5–6% of GDP.
In January 2013, with support from the British High Commission (BHC) and Conscience International charity, a large literacy-training program for women was to be launched in the Gambia. The lessons are intended to "increase women's life skills, improve their abilities to access opportunities, and enable them to participate in community decision making processes." The Gambia is a champion in women empowerment, there are many women empowerment initiatives in the Gambia including free girls' education. The country's vice-president Isatou Njie-Saidy is a woman and the longest serving cabinet member and many women are serving or served in the cabinet.
In contrast to other developing countries, The Gambia has consistently reported high national coverage rates for most routine immunizations... The proportion of children receiving no vaccines at all is very low (3%) and the coverage of BCG immunization is high, indicating that the system of delivering immunizations at or close to birth works well.
Under President Jammeh, the Gambia has improved public health. In October 2012, it was reported that the Gambia has made significant improvements in polio, measles immunisation, and the PCV-7 vaccine.
The Gambia was certified as polio-free in 2004. "The Gambia EPI program is one of the best in the World Health Organization African Region," Thomas Sukwa, a representative of the WHO, said, according to the Foroyaa Newspaper. "It is indeed gratifying to note that the government of the Gambia remains committed to the global polio eradication initiative."
The urbanization rate as of 2011 was 57.3%. 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 modernisation are bringing more Gambians into contact with Western habits and values, indigenous forms of dress and celebration and the traditional emphasis on the extended family remain integral parts of everyday life.
The UNDP's Human Development Report for 2010 ranks the Gambia 151st out of 169 countries on its Human Development Index, putting it in the 'Low Human Development' category. This index compares life expectancy, years of schooling, gross national income (GNI) per capita and some other factors.
The total fertility rate (TFR) was estimated at 3.98 children/woman in 2013.
Ethnicity and language
A variety of ethnic groups live in the Gambia, each preserving its own language and traditions. The Mandinka ethnicity is the largest, followed by the Fula, Wolof, Jola, Serahule, Serers and the Bianunkas. The Krio people, locally known as Akus, constitute one of the smallest ethnic minorities in the Gambia. They are descendants of the Sierra Leone Creole people and have been traditionally concentrated in the capital.
There are approximately 3,500 non-African residents including Europeans and families of Lebanese origin (roughly 0.23% of the total population). Most of the European minority are Britons, many of whom left after independence.
English is the official language of the Gambia. Other languages are Mandinka, Wolof, Fula, Serer, Krio and other indigenous vernaculars. Due to the country's geographical setting, knowledge of French (an official language in much of West Africa) is relatively widespread.
The Constitution mandates free and compulsory primary education in the Gambia. Lack of resources and educational infrastructure has made implementation of this difficult. In 1995, the gross primary enrollment rate was 77.1% and the net primary enrollment rate was 64.7% School fees long prevented many children from attending school, but in February 1998 President Jammeh ordered the termination of fees for the first six years of schooling. Girls make up about 52 percent of primary school students. The figure may be lower for girls in rural areas, where cultural factors and poverty prevent parents from sending girls to school. Approximately twenty percent of school-age children attend Koranic schools.
In June 2011, the United Nations Population Fund released a report on The State of the World's Midwifery. It contained new data on the midwifery workforce and policies relating to newborn and maternal mortality for 58 countries. The 2010 maternal mortality rate per 100,000 births for Gambia is 400. This is compared with 281.3 in 2008 and 628.5 in 1990. The under 5 mortality rate, per 1,000 births is 106 and the neonatal mortality as a percentage of under 5's mortality is 31. The aim of this report is to highlight ways in which the Millennium Development Goals can be achieved, particularly Goal 4 – Reduce child mortality and Goal 5 – reduce maternal death. In Gambia the number of midwives per 1,000 live births is 5 and the lifetime risk of death for pregnant women is 1 in 49.
Public expenditure was at 1.8% of the GDP in 2004, whereas private expenditure was at 5.0%. There were 11 physicians per 100,000 persons in the early 2000s. Life expectancy at birth was at 59.9 for females in 2005 and for males at 57.7.
According to the World Health Organization in 2005 an estimated 78.3% of Gambian girls and women have suffered female genital mutilation.
A group called Power Up Gambia operates in the Gambia to provide solar power technology to health care facilities, ensuring greater access to electricity.
Recently, Riders for Health, an international aid group focused on Sub-Saharan countries in Africa, was noted for providing enough health-care vehicles for the entire country. Riders for Health manage and maintain vehicles for the government. The initiative addresses a major barrier to universal health care—transport—and allows health workers to visit three times as many villages every week.
Bundung mosque is one of the largest mosques in Serekunda.
Article 25 of the Constitution protects the rights of citizens to practice any religion that they choose. The government also did not establish a state religion. Islam is the predominant religion, practised by approximately ninety percent of the country's population. The majority of the Muslims in the Gambia adhere to Sunni laws and traditions. Virtually all commercial life in the Gambia comes to a standstill during major Muslim holidays, including Eid al-Adha and Eid ul-Fitr. Most Muslims in the Gambia follow the Maliki school of jurisprudence. There is also a Shiite Muslim community in the Gambia, mainly from Lebanese and other Arab immigrants to the region. The Christian community represents about eight percent of the population. Residing in the western and the southern parts of the Gambia, most of the Christian community identify themselves as Roman Catholic. However, there are smaller Christian groups present, such as Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses and small evangelical denominations.
The remaining 1.97 percent of the population adheres to indigenous beliefs, such as the Serer religion. Serer religion encompasses cosmology and a belief in a supreme deity called Rog. Some of its religious festivals include the Xoy, Mbosseh and Randou Rande. Each year, adherents to Serer religion make the annual pilgrimage to Sine in Senegal for the Xoy divination ceremony. Serer religion also has a rather significant imprint on Senegambian Muslim society in that all Senegambian Muslim festivals such as "Tobaski", "Gamo", "Koriteh" and "Weri Kor" are loanwords from the Serer religion as they were ancient Serer festivals.
Like the Serers, the Jola people also have their own religious customs. One of the major religious ceremonies of the Jolas is the Boukout.
Although the Gambia is the smallest country on mainland Africa, its culture is the product of very diverse influences. The national borders outline a narrow strip on either side of the River Gambia, a body of water that has played a vital part in the nation's destiny and is known locally simply as "the River." Without natural barriers, the Gambia has become home to most of the ethnic groups that are present throughout western Africa, especially those in Senegal. Europeans also figure prominently in the nation's history because the River Gambia is navigable deep into the continent, a geographic feature that made this area one of the most profitable sites for the slave trade from the 15th through the 17th centuries. (It also made it strategic to the halt of this trade once it was outlawed in the 19th century.) Some of this history was popularised in the Alex Haley book and TV series Roots which was set in the Gambia.
The Cuisine of Gambia includes peanuts, rice, fish, meat, onions, tomatoes, oysters from the River Gambia that are harvested by women, cassava and chili peppers.
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 criticising 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. In December 2010 Musa Saidykhan, former editor of The Independent newspaper, was awarded US$200,000 by the ECOWAS Court in Abuja, Nigeria. The court found the Government of the Gambia guilty of torture while he was detained without trial at the National Intelligence Agency. Apparently he was suspected of knowing about the 2006 failed coup.
Association football in the Gambia is administered by the Gambia Football Association, who are affiliated to both FIFA and CAF. The GFA runs league football in the Gambia, including top division GFA League First Division, as well as the Gambia national football team. Nicknamed The Scorpions, the national side have never qualified for either the FIFA World Cup or the Africa Cup of Nations finals at senior levels. The Gambia won two CAF U-17 championships one in 2005 when the country hosted, and 2009 in Algeria automatically qualifying for FIFA U-17 World Cup in Peru (2005) and Nigeria (2009) respectively. The U-20 also qualified for FIFA U-20 2007 in Canada. The female U-17 also competed in FIFA U-17 World Cup 2012 in Azerbaijan.
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