Background: The Gambia gained its independence from the UK in 1965; it formed a short-lived federation of Senegambia with Senegal between 1982 and 1989. In 1991 the two nations signed a friendship and cooperation treaty. A military coup in 1994 overthrew the president and banned political activity, but a new 1996 constitution and presidential elections, followed by parliamentary balloting in 1997, have completed a nominal return to civilian rule.
Government type: republic under multiparty democratic rule
Currency: 1 dalasi (D) = 100 butut
Geography of Gambia
Location: Western Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean and Senegal
Geographic coordinates: 13 28 N, 16 34 W
total: 11,300 sq km
land: 10,000 sq km
water: 1,300 sq km
total: 740 km
border countries: Senegal 740 km
Coastline: 80 km
contiguous zone: 18 nm
continental shelf: not specified
exclusive fishing zone: 200 nm
territorial sea: 12 nm
Climate: tropical; hot, rainy season (June to November); cooler, dry season (November to May)
Terrain: flood plain of the Gambia river flanked by some low hills
lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m
highest point: unnamed location 53 m
Natural resources: fish
arable land: 18%
permanent crops: 0%
permanent pastures: 9%
forests and woodland: 28%
other: 45% (1993 est.)
Irrigated land: 150 sq km (1993 est.)
Natural hazards: rainfall has dropped by 30% in the last 30 years
Environment – current issues: deforestation; desertification; water-borne diseases prevalent
Environment – international agreements:
party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
Geography – note: almost an enclave of Senegal; smallest country on the continent of Africa
People of Gambia
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 Serahuli. Approximately 2,500 non-Africans live in The Gambia, including Europeans and families of Lebanese origin.
Muslims constitute more than 92% of the population. Christians of different denominations account for most of the remainder. Gambians officially observe the holidays of both religions and practice religious tolerance.
More than 80% of Gambians live in rural villages, although more and more young people come to the capital in search of work and education. 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.
Population: 1,593,256 (July 2005 est.)
0-14 years: 45.22%
15-64 years: 52.13%
65 years and over: 2.65%
Population growth rate: 3.14%
Birth rate: 41.76 births/1,000 population
Death rate: 12.92 deaths/1,000 population
Net migration rate: 2.59 migrant(s)/1,000 population
Infant mortality rate: 77.84 deaths/1,000 live births
Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 53.59 years
male: 51.65 years
female: 55.58 years
Total fertility rate: 5.76 children born/woman
Ethnic groups: African 99% (Mandinka 42%, Fula 18%, Wolof 16%, Jola 10%, Serahuli 9%, other 4%), non-African 1%
Religions: Muslim 90%, Christian 9%, indigenous beliefs 1%
Languages: English (official), Mandinka, Wolof, Fula, other indigenous vernaculars
definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 47.5%
female: 37.1% (2001 est.)
History of Gambia
The Gambia was once part of the Empire of Ghana and the Kingdom of the Songhais. The first written accounts of the region come from records of Arab traders in the 9th and 10th centuries A.D. Arab traders established the trans-Saharan trade route for slaves, gold, and ivory. In the 15th century, the Portuguese took over this trade using maritime routes. At that time, The Gambia was part of the Kingdom of Mali.
In 1588, the claimant to the Portuguese throne, Antonio, Prior of Crato, sold exclusive trade rights on The Gambia River to English merchants; this grant was confirmed by letters patent from Queen Elizabeth I. In 1618, King James I granted a charter to a British company for trade with The Gambia and the Gold Coast (now Ghana).
During the late 17th century and throughout the 18th, the United Kingdom and France struggled continuously for political and commercial supremacy in the regions of the Senegal and Gambia Rivers. The 1783 Treaty of Versailles gave Great Britain possession of The Gambia, but the French retained a tiny enclave at Albreda on the north bank of the river which was ceded to the United Kingdom in 1857.
As many as 3 million slaves may have been taken from the region during the three centuries that the transatlantic slave trade operated. It is not known how many slaves were taken by Arab traders prior to and simultaneous with the transatlantic slave trade. Most of those taken were sold to Europeans by other Africans; some were prisoners of intertribal wars; some were sold because of unpaid debts, while others were kidnapped. Slaves were initially sent to Europe to work as servants until the market for labor expanded in the West Indies and North America in the 18th century. In 1807, slave trading was abolished throughout the British Empire, and the British tried unsuccessfully to end the slave traffic in The Gambia. They established the military post of Bathurst (now Banjul) in 1816. In the ensuing years, Banjul was at times under the jurisdiction of the British governor general in Sierra Leone. In 1888, The Gambia became a separate colonial entity.
An 1889 agreement with France established the present boundaries, and The Gambia became a British Crown Colony, divided for administrative purposes into the colony (city of Banjul and the surrounding area) and the protectorate (remainder of the territory). The Gambia received its own executive and legislative councils in 1901 and gradually progressed toward self-government. A 1906 ordinance abolished slavery.
During World War II, Gambian troops fought with the Allies in Burma. Banjul served as an air stop for the U.S. Army Air Corps and a port of call for Allied naval convoys. U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt stopped overnight in Banjul enroute to and from the Casablanca Conference in 1943, marking the first visit to the African Continent by an American president while in office.
After World War II, the pace of constitutional reform quickened. Following general elections in 1962, full internal self-government was granted in 1963. The Gambia achieved independence on February 18, 1965, as a constitutional monarchy within the British Commonwealth. Shortly thereafter, the government proposed conversion from a monarchy to a republic with an elected president replacing the British monarch as chief of state. The proposal failed to receive the two-thirds majority required to amend the constitution, but the results won widespread attention abroad as testimony to The Gambia’s observance of secret balloting, honest elections, and civil rights and liberties. On April 24, 1970, The Gambia became a republic following a referendum.
Until a military coup in July 1994, The Gambia was led by President Dawda Kairaba Jawara, who was re-elected five times. The relative stability of the Jawara era was broken first by a violent coup attempt in 1981. The coup was led by Kukoi Samba Sanyang, who, on two occasions, had unsuccessfully sought election to parliament. After a week of violence which left several hundred dead, Jawara, in London when the attack began, appealed to Senegal for help. Senegalese troops defeated the rebel force.
In the aftermath of the attempted coup, Senegal and The Gambia signed the 1982 Treaty of Confederation. The result, the Senegambia Confederation, aimed eventually to combine the armed forces of the two nations and to unify economies and currencies. The Gambia withdrew from the confederation in 1989.
In July 1994, the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) seized power in a military coup d’etat. The AFPRC deposed the democratically elected government of Sir Dawda Jawara. Lieutenant Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh, chairman of the AFPRC, became head of state.
The AFPRC announced a transition plan for return to democratic civilian government. The Provisional Independent Electoral Commission (PIEC) was established in 1996 to conduct national elections. The transition process included the compilation of a new electoral register, adoption of a new constitution by referendum in August 1996, and presidential and legislative elections in September 1996 and January 1997, respectively. Retired Col. Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh was sworn into office as President of the Republic of The Gambia on November 6, 1996. The PIEC was transformed to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) on April 17, 1997. The IEC is responsible for registration of voters and conduct of elections and referenda. The IEC conducted a presidential election on October 18, 2001, during which President Jammeh was re-elected for a second 5-year term (2001-06). National Assembly and local government elections are scheduled for January and April 2002, respectively.
The Gambia has a liberal, market-based economy characterized by traditional subsistence agriculture, a historic reliance on peanuts or groundnuts 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 23% of gross domestic product (GDP) and employs 75% of the labor force. Within agriculture, peanut production accounts for 5.3% of GDP, other crops 8.3%, livestock 4.4%, fishing 1.8%, and forestry 0.5%. Industry accounts for 12% of GDP and forestry 0.5%. Manufacturing accounts for 6% of GDP. The limited amount of manufacturing is primarily agriculturally based (e.g., peanut processing, bakeries, a brewery, and a tannery). Other manufacturing activities include soap, soft drinks, and clothing. Services account for 19% of GDP.
In FY 1999 the United Kingdom and other EU countries were The Gambia’s major domestic export markets, accounting for 86% in total; followed by Asia at 14%; and the African subregion, including Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, and Ghana at 8%. The United Kingdom and the other EU countries, namely Germany, France, Netherlands, and Belgium were the major source of imports, accounting for 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.
GDP: purchasing power parity – $1.5 billion (2000 est.)
GDP – real growth rate: 4.9% (2000 est.)
GDP – per capita: purchasing power parity – $1,100 (2000 est.)
GDP – composition by sector:
services: 67% (1998 est.)
Inflation rate (consumer prices): 3.4% (2000 est.)
Labor force: 400,000
Labor force – by occupation: agriculture 75%, industry, commerce, and services 19%, government 6%
revenues: $90.5 million
expenditures: $80.9 million, including capital expenditures of $4.1 million (2001 est.)
Industries: processing peanuts, fish, and hides; tourism; beverages; agricultural machinery assembly, woodworking, metalworking; clothing
Electricity – production: 75 million kWh (1999)
Electricity – production by source:
fossil fuel: 100%
other: 0% (1999)
Agriculture – products: peanuts, millet, sorghum, rice, corn, cassava (tapioca), palm kernels; cattle, sheep, goats; forest and fishery resources not fully exploited
Exports: $125.8 million (f.o.b., 1999)
Exports – commodities: peanuts and peanut products, fish, cotton lint, palm kernels
Exports – partners: Benelux 59%, Japan 20%, United Kingdom 7%, Spain 2% (1999)
Imports: $202.5 million (f.o.b., 1999)
Imports – commodities: foodstuffs, manufactures, fuel, machinery and transport equipment
Imports – partners: Hong Kong, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Cote d’Ivoire, France, Senegal, Belgium (1997)
Debt – external: $440 million (2001 est.)
Economic aid – recipient: $45.4 million (1995)
Currency: dalasi (GMD)