Gambia -- Geography --
Official Name: Republic of The Gambia
Capital City: Banjul
Area: 11 300 sq km
Country Population: 1 705 000 (2009)
Languages: English, Demonym, Gambian
Official Currency: Dalasi (GMD)
Religions: Islam 90%
The Gambia is a very small and narrow country whose borders mirror the meandering Gambia River.
The general climate for the Gambia is tropical. During the period from June until November, there is a period of hot weather and a very rainy season. From November until May, there are cool temperatures and is part of a dry season. The climate in the Gambia is the same 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 boundary 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.
The Gambia is divided into five divisions and one city. The divisions of the Gambia are created by the Independent Electoral Commission in accordance to Article 192 of the National Constitution.
Th edivisions are:
Lower River (Mansa Konko),
Central River (Janjanbureh),
North Bank (Kerewan),
Upper River (Basse),
Banjul (East Banjul, Banjul, Central Banjul, Bakau, West Banjul Serrekunda).
The national capital, Banjul, is classified as a city.
Gambia -- History --
Arab traders provided The Gambia's first written accounts in the 9th and 10th centuries. During the 10th century, Muslim merchants and scholars created communities in several of West Africa’s commercial centers. Both groups established trans-Saharan trade routes, leading to an exchange for gold, and ivory.
By the 11th or 12th century, the rulers of kingdoms such as Takrur (a kingdom centered on the Senegal 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, Antonio, 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 and 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. Britain occupied The Gambia when an expedition led by Augustus Keppel landed there, following the Capture of Senegal in 1758. 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 18 February 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 24 April 1970, The Gambia became a republic within the Commonwealth, following a second referendum, with Prime Minister Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara, as head of state. This made The Gambia the first and last British colony in West Africa.
The Gambia was led by President Dawda 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 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.
Gambia -- 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 roughly 30% of gross domestic product (GDP) and employs about 70% of the labor 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 U.K. and other EU countries constituted The Gambia's major domestic export markets. However, in recent years Senegal, the United States, and Japan have gained fair proportions of Gambian exports. 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 U.K., Germany, Cote d'Ivoire, and Netherlands also provide a fair share of Gambian imports. Gambia's trade deficit for 2007 was $331 million.
As of May 2009, there are twelve (12) 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. 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 (Gambia).
Gambia -- Culture --
Gambians are known for their excellent music, as well as their dancing. Although 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, 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 popularized in the Alex Haley book and TV series Roots which was set in Gambia.
Classroom in The GambiaThe Constitution mandates free and compulsory primary education in The Gambia, but a lack of resources and educational infrastructure has made implementation difficult. In 1995, the gross primary enrollment rate was 77.1 percent and the net primary enrollment rate was 64.7 percent. School fees long prevented many children from attending school, but in February 1998 the President of The Gambia ordered the termination of fees for the first six years of schooling. Girls make up about 40 percent of primary school students, though the figure is much lower in rural areas where cultural factors and poverty prevent parents from sending girls to school. Approximately 20 percent of school-age children attend Koranic schools, which usually have a restricted curriculum.
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.
Gambia -- Political system, law and government --
Before the 1994 coup d'etat, The Gambia was one of the oldest existing multi-party democracies in Africa. It had conducted freely contested elections every five years since independence. The People's Progressive Party (PPP), headed by former president Jawara, had 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.
Following the coup in July 1994, 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. 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 the 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 the 21 and 22 March 2006, amid tensions preceding the 2006 presidential elections, an alleged planned military coup was uncovered. President Yahya Jammeh 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.