The Gambia, in long form the Republic of Gambia, in English Gambia or The Gambia, and Republic of The Gambia, is a country located in West Africa. It is the continental African country with the smallest area: 11,300 km2. Landlocked in Senegal to the north, south and east, The Gambia is bordered to the west by the Atlantic Ocean. These limits correspond to the course and the valley of the Gambia river, which flows through the country and empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Its area is 11,300 km2 for a population of just over two million inhabitants (2018 estimate). Banjul is the capital and the largest cities are Serrekunda and Brikama. The Gambia shares historic roots with other West African countries that have experienced the slave trade. The slave trade is at the origin of the establishment and the maintenance of a colony on the Gambia river; first by the Portuguese, when the country was called “A Gâmbia”, and later by the British. In 1965, The Gambia gained independence from the United Kingdom. Since independence, The Gambia has had three leaders: President Dawda Jawara, who ruled the country from 1970 to 1994 before Yahya Jammeh took power in a coup as a young army officer. On December 1, 2016, Adama Barrow won the presidential election but the outgoing president, Yahya Jammeh, did not recognize his defeat. A delegation from ECOWAS (of which The Gambia is a member state) tried to settle the situation peacefully, but after negotiations broke down on January 19, 2017, the Senegalese army intervened in The Gambia, at the following the vote on a resolution of the United Nations (UN). On the evening of January 21, 2017, Yahya Jammeh decided, under pressure from the United Nations and neighboring countries, to leave the Gambia, and to go into exile in Equatorial Guinea. This decision now allows Adama Barrow to exercise power.

The economy of The Gambia is dominated by agriculture, fishing and tourism. About a third of the population lives below the international poverty line of $ 1.25 a day.

Gambia’s history

Pre-colonial period

Arab traders give the first written accounts of the region around the ninth and tenth centuries. During the tenth century, Muslim merchants and scholars established communities in several commercial centers in West Africa; trade routes were established across the Sahara, resulting in a large trade in the export of slaves, gold and ivory and the import of manufactured goods. Around the 11th or 12th centuries, rulers of kingdoms such as the Tekrour (a monarchy centered on the Senegal River, just to the north), ancient Ghana and Gao, were converted to Islam. At the beginning of the fourteenth century, The Gambia was part of the Mali Empire. The Portuguese reached the area by sea in the mid-15th century, and began foreign trade. At its height in the fourteenth century, the Mali Empire extended to Gambia.

European colonization

In 1455, the Portuguese installed trading posts along the Gambia River from which they organized the slave trade. Portugal sold its rights to these territories to the United Kingdom in 1588. In 1723, the British African Company bought land in The Gambia. From 1651 to 1661, part of Gambia, the island of Saint Andrews, current James Island, constitutes a colony of the Republic of the Two Nations, Polish and Lithuanian, through its duchy of Courland. For almost a century, the mouth of the Gambia River was disputed between the Duchy of Courland, founder of Fort James, and Holland. Courland was a vassal duchy of Poland-Lithuania at the time, located on the territory of present-day Latvia and which had a large commercial fleet. At the end of the disputes, the British took over. Fort James served as a commercial base and trading stopover during the centuries of slavery and triangular trade in the Atlantic, like other stops on the coast (Gorée, Loos Islands, etc.). It is the first and oldest permanent establishment of Europeans in The Gambia.

In 1723, the British African Company acquired a series of lands around the Gambia River and the British settled in The Gambia when Senegal was “captured” in 1758. The French and the English disputed the territory for a long time. The Treaty of Versailles of 1783 attributes Gambia to the United Kingdom, with the exception of the Albreda enclave (now North Bank). From the eighteenth century, the British occupied this small landlocked territory in Senegal. They abolish the slave trade in 1807, then slavery in 1833. In 1807, the United Kingdom suppresses the slave trade everywhere in its empire and therefore in Gambia. Slave ships intercepted by the West African Royal Navy squadron in the Atlantic sail to Gambia, with slaves freed on MacCarthy Island far up the Gambia River where they were expected to have established new bases of life. The British established in 1816 on the mainland, at the mouth of the Gambia River, the military post of Bathurst, now Banjul, the present capital of The Gambia.

During the French Revolution, between 1793 and 1816, Great Britain occupied French trading posts in Senegal, including Saint Louis. In 1815, the treaty of Vienna will restore the French counters in Senegal, and the effective return of the French will intervene between 1816 and 1817. In 1816, the British colony of Gambia will increase, by integrating all the Gambia river, whereas before, the colony was constituted mainly around Bathurst and towards the coast. The French occupy a small post taken from the Portuguese and which vegetated on the North bank of the Gambia, Albreda. The latter was finally ceded to the United Kingdom in 1856. Following a Franco-British agreement on its borders in 1889, The Gambia officially became a British protectorate in 1894. The current borders are drawn in 1889 after several unsuccessful attempts to exchange the Gambia for other French territories in the Gulf of Guinea. The Franco-British agreement of 1889 made it possible to define the borders with the future Senegal, including the Casamance taken by the French from the Portuguese. The United Kingdom officially made the country a British protectorate in 1894. The smallest colony in the British Empire, The Gambia does not experience any significant events and remains a marginal territory. During World War II, The Gambia was a stopover point for US Air Force flights and a port of call for convoys of Allied forces. Anecdotal, the American president Franklin Delano Roosevelt made a stopover, in 1943, in Banjul, capital of The Gambia, before going to the Casablanca conference, which constitutes the first visit of an American president in office on the African continent.

Independent Gambia

Gambia gained independence in 1965 and Dawda Jawara became its first president. On April 24, 1970, The Gambia became a Republic within the Commonwealth, following a second referendum. Prime Minister Dawda Kairaba Jawara holds the post of President as well as the posts of Minister of Foreign Affairs and the post of Prime Minister. The Gambia was ruled by President Dawda Jawara who was re-elected five times in a row. There was an attempted coup on July 29, 1981. The Gambia is experiencing a weakening of its economy and also allegations of corruption against politicians. The coup attempt took place while President Jawara was visiting London. This coup was carried out by the National Revolutionary Left Council, composed of socialists and revolutionaries from the Samba Sanyang Kukoi Labor Party (PDS) and elements of the “Force de Campagne” (a paramilitary force which formed the of the country’s armed forces). President Jawara immediately asked for military aid from Senegal, which deployed 400 troops to The Gambia on July 31. On August 6, some 2,700 Senegalese soldiers were deployed and defeated the rebel forces. Between 500 and 800 people were killed during this coup. The Gambia was united with Senegal from 1982 to 1989 in an ephemeral confederation of Senegambia. In 1994, the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) brought down the Jawara government and prohibited all political opposition activities. Lieutenant Yahya Jammeh, President of AFPRC, becomes Head of State of The Gambia. He will be president for 22 years. AFPRC announces a transition plan for the return to democratic civilian government. The provisional independent electoral commission (PIEC) was created in 1996 to organize national elections. The CEIP was transformed by the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) in 1997 and became responsible for the registration of voters and the conduct of elections and referendums.

Towards the end of 2001 and the beginning of 2002, The Gambia completed a complete cycle of presidential, legislative and local elections, which foreign observers considered free, fair and transparent, despite some shortcomings. Re-elected President Yahya Jammeh, installed on December 21, 2001, retains a power originally obtained by a coup. His party, the Patriotic Alliance for Reorientation and Construction (APRC), retains a large majority in the National Assembly, especially after the main opposition force Unified Democratic Party (UDP) boycotted the legislative elections. While it has been a member since 1965, The Gambia, through its Minister of the Interior, announced on October 2, 2013 its withdrawal from the Commonwealth. The country rejects UK human rights injunctions as President Yahya Jammeh’s regime becomes more authoritarian and accuses the organization of being neo-colonial. The presidential election of December 2016 sees Adama Barrow, opposition candidate, winning over the outgoing president whose mandate runs until January 18, 2017. On January 19, 2017, Adama Barrow is sworn in at the Gambian embassy in Dakar in Senegal, after the outgoing president’s refusal to cede power. The same day, the Senegalese army enters Gambia, strong of a resolution of the UN. On January 20, 2017, Jammeh agreed to leave power, and went into exile the next evening for Conakry, before joining Equatorial Guinea. On February 8, 2018, The Gambia joined the Commonwealth again.

Gambia’s politics

Organization of powers

The Gambia is a multiparty republic with a presidential system, where the president exercises both the functions of head of state and head of government. Executive power is in the hands of the government while legislative power is shared between the government and parliament. The current constitution was approved in 1996. The parliament consists of 53 seats. On December 12, 2015, President Yahya Jammeh declared that his country was now an “Islamic State”, which was challenged by an opposition official who described this decision as “unconstitutional”, the separation of the Church and the State being enshrined in the Constitution. The country’s Christian minority is estimated at 8%. The administration requires women officials to veil themselves: “All female staff in government, ministries, departments and government agencies are no longer allowed to show their hair during official working hours from December 31 2015. Female staff are called upon to cover and tie their hair. On January 28, 2017, the new president, Adama Barrow, canceled the long form change.

Political trends and elections The first president of the Republic of Gambia is Dawda Jawara, from 1970 when the country becomes a Republic, succeeding the queen of the United Kingdom Elisabeth II. Yahya Jammeh was in power from the coup of July 23, 1994. He was then elected by universal suffrage on September 27, 1996 and re-elected on October 18, 2001, September 22, 2006 and November 24, 2011. His party, the Patriotic alliance for reorientation and construction, dominates local political life without being the only official party. In 2016, Adama Barrow was elected President of the Republic. Due to Yahya Jammeh’s refusal to cede power, the ECOWAS intervenes in The Gambia and Adama Barrow becomes president on January 19, 2017.

Gambia’s economy

The Gambia has a liberal market economy characterized by traditional subsistence farming and historical dependence on groundnut cultivation. Its import trade, built around its port, low import duties and minimal administrative procedures, feeds traffic to Senegal. We have to add a tourism industry.

The Gambia does not contain important minerals or other natural resources and its agricultural base is limited.

About 75% of the population depends on crops and livestock for their livelihood. The small-scale production activity includes processing peanuts, fish and skins. The re-export of food and manufactured products to neighboring countries, mainly Senegal, constitutes a significant part of economic activity, but the devaluation of 50% of the CFA franc in January 1994 made Senegalese products more competitive. The Gambia benefited from a recovery in tourism after its decline in response to the military takeover on July 22, 1994.


The Gambia’s current per capita GDP recorded a maximum growth of 233% in the 1970s. But this proved to be unsustainable, and consequently it decreased by 8.3% in the 1980s and again by 5.2% in the 1990s. Tourism is divided into three categories. There are the traditional “sea, sex and sun” holidays taking advantage of the very warm climate and the marvelous beaches. The Gambia is also the first African destination for many European bird lovers, given its spectacular and easily accessible avian fauna. There are also a significant number of African Americans on the trail of their roots in this country, where so many Africans were captured during the time of the slave trade. The tourist season is the dry season, which corresponds to the winter months of the northern hemisphere. Short-term economic progress remains very dependent on the sustainability of bilateral and multilateral aid, as well as compliance with the financial management and economic governance directives issued by IMF technical advisers. Annual GDP growth is expected to fall to less than 4% in 2000-2001. The Gambia has a liberal and market economy, characterized by traditional subsistence agriculture, historical dependence on peanuts because of export profits, re-export trade concentrated around its ocean port, taxes very weak import, reduced administrative procedures, a fluctuating exchange rate without controls, and a significant tourism industry.

Agriculture accounts for 23% of GDP and employs 75% of the workforce. In agriculture, peanut production occupies 5.3% of GDP, other crops 8.3%, livestock 4.4%, fishing 1.8%, and forestry 0.5%. Industry accounts for 12% of GDP; the manufacturing sector 6%, a low figure which is explained by the sector’s exclusive dependence on agricultural activities (for example, processing peanuts, bakeries, breweries, tanneries). Other manufacturing activities include soap, soft drinks and clothing. The tertiary sector represents 19% of GDP. In 1999 the United Kingdom and other European countries were the Gambia’s main export markets, accounting for 86% of the total; followed by Asia with 14%; then by African sub-regions, including Senegal, Guinea-Bissau and Ghana, with 8%. The United Kingdom and the other European countries – namely Germany, France, the Netherlands and Belgium – were the main sources of imports, accounting for 60% of total imports, followed by Asia with 23%, Côte d’Ivoire and other African countries with 17%. The Gambia reports that 11% of its exports go to the United States.

Gambia’s demography

The population of The Gambia is estimated at 1.96 million inhabitants in 2015. The annual demographic growth is 2.2% and the urbanization rate is 57%. In 2013, it was made up of 39.2% of people aged 0 to 14, 57.6% of people aged 15 to 64 and 3.2% of people aged 65 and over. Its human density is 167 inhabitants / km2. In 2013, its population growth rate was 2.3%. In 2015, the estimated birth rate was 30.86 ‰, the mortality rate of 7.15 ‰, the infant mortality rate of 63.9 ‰, the fertility rate of 3.73 children / woman and the rate 2.12 migration migration. The life expectancy of men is 62.27 years and that of women is 67 years. Young Gambian women. About 90% of the population is Muslim and 8% Christian. Between 1 and 2% is animist (far east of the country).

Gambia’s education

Primary education is free and compulsory in The Gambia. The lack of resources and educational infrastructure makes its implementation difficult. In 1995, the gross primary school enrollment rate was 77.1% and the net primary school enrollment rate was 64.7%. School fees have long prevented many children from attending school, but in February 1998, President Jammeh made primary school free. Girls represent around 52% of primary school students. The figure may be lower for girls in rural areas, where poverty and cultural factors prevent parents from sending girls to school. About 20% of school-aged children attend Koranic schools.

Gambia’s languages

English is the official language of The Gambia, so it is widely used. The other languages ​​spoken are Mandinka, Wolof, Fulani, Soninke, Serer, Krio and other vernacular languages. Due to the geographic location of the country, knowledge of French (the official language of Senegal that surrounds the country) is relatively widespread. The country has been an observer member of the International Organization of La Francophonie since 2018.