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Gambia: The Africa’s ‘smiling coast’

Gambia

Republic of The Gambia is the official name of The Gambia. The country was named after the Gambia River, which flows from East to West for three hundred miles, the entire length of the country. Gambia is a small country with a population of 1.2 million. It straddles the Gambia River on either side.

 

Land

The Gambia is a strip of land 15 to 30 miles (25 to 50 km) wide on either side of the Gambia River and extends almost 300 miles (480 km) into the interior; except for a short coastline along the Atlantic Ocean, it is entirely surrounded by Senegal.

 

Relief and drainage

The Gambia River is the country’s dominant feature. It flows across a plateau of Miocene-Pliocene sandstone consisting of compacted sediment composed predominantly of quartz grains formed from about 23.7 to 1.6 million years ago. In the east, narrow valleys are separated by broad interfluves or flattish hills. In the west, lower and smaller sand hills alternate with depressions filled in with sand to form a flat plain.

 

Soils and climate

The Gambia has a wet-and-dry tropical climate characterized by an intense rainy season occurring generally between June and October and by a longer dry season. Near the coast the rainy season lasts longer, and the rainfall is heavier, diminishing eastward. At Yundum the average annual rainfall is about 50 inches (1,300 mm), and the mean monthly temperature tends to be in the upper 70s F (mid-20s C), while at Basse Santa Su, about 270 miles (435 km) inland, the comparable figures are about 40 inches (1,000 mm) and the low 80s F (upper 20s C). The relative humidity is high but drops from December to April, when the dry northeastern wind known as the harmattan is dominant.

Plant and animal life

The vegetation cover of The Gambia is savanna on the uplands, various kinds of inland swamp in the low-lying areas, and mangrove swamp along the brackish lower Gambia River. Few wild animals are native to the region, and those that survive are under pressure from the human and domestic animal populations. In the middle and upper river areas there are warthogs, monkeys, baboons, antelope, pygmy hippopotamuses, and crocodiles. In addition, more than 500 species of birds live throughout the country. Birds and wildlife can be found in Bijilo Forest Park, along the Atlantic coast, the Abuko Nature Reserve, just upriver from Banjul, Kiang West National Park, farther inland, and River Gambia National Park (also known as Baboon Island National Park), near Kuntaur.

People

Ethnic groups

The river basin was a focal point for migrating groups of people escaping the turmoil of western Sudanic wars dating from the 12th century. The Diola (Jola) are the people longest resident in the country; they are now located mostly in western Gambia. The largest group is the Malinkecomprising about one-third of the population. The Wolof, who are the dominant group in Senegal, also predominate in Banjul. The Fulani settled the extreme upriver areas, and their kingdom, Fuladu, became a major power in the late 19th century. The Soninke, an admixture of Malinke and Fulani, are also concentrated in the upriver areas.

Languages

English is the official language, but the most frequently spoken languages are generally of the Atlantic branch of the Niger-Congo family. Mandinka and Wolof constitute the lingua francas of the country, and other languages spoken include Pulaar (Fulbe), Serer, Diola, and Soninke. Some Muslim clerics are literate in Arabic.

Religion

The population is overwhelmingly Muslim. There are a small number of Christians—predominantly Roman Catholic—and some adherents of traditional beliefs.

Human settlement in The Gambia extends across both banks of the river and is found in three regions: the swamps adjacent to the river, the riverine flats, known as banto faros (from a Mande word meaning “beyond the swamp”), and the sandstone uplands. Most rural settlement is concentrated on the uplands, which have the best-drained soils. A number of settlements are located in the banto faros on the middle course of the river, where there is less danger of flooding than in the swamps. Many villages are built on the boundary between the uplands and the riverine flats.

 

About three-fifths of the population lives in urban areas. The major urban concentration is around Banjul, the capital, and several large urban centres have developed in the vicinity. Urban dwellers retain close ties to their rural relatives, and there is considerable interaction between rural and urban populations. Migration to urban areas has remained steady since the 1970s.

Politics and governmentEdit

Dawda Jawara
1st President (1970–1994)
Prime Minister(1962–1970)
Yahya Jammeh
2nd President (1996–2017)
Chairman of theAFPRC (1994–1996)

The Arch 22 monument commemorating the 1994 coup which saw the then 29-year-old Yahya Jammeh seize power in a bloodless coup, ousting Dawda Jawara, who had been President of the Gambia since 1970.

The Gambia gained independence from the United Kingdom on 18 February 1965. From 1965 to 1994, the country was ostensibly a multi-party liberal democracy. It was ruled by Dawda Jawara and his People’s Progressive Party (PPP). However, the country never experienced political turnover during this period and its commitment to succession by the ballot box was never tested. In 1994, amilitary coup propelled a commission of military officers to power, known as theArmed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC). After two years of direct rule, a new constitution was written and in 1996, the leader of the AFPRC, Yahya Jammeh, was elected as President. He ruled in an authoritarian style until the2016 election, which was won by Adama Barrow, backed by a coalition of opposition parties.

Political historyEdit

During the Jawara era, there were initially four political parties, the PPP, the United Party(UP), the Democratic Party (DP), and the Muslim Congress Party (MCP). The 1960 constitution had established a House of Representatives, and in the 1960 election no party won a majority of seats. However, in 1961 the British Governor chose UP leaderPierre Sarr N’Jie to serve as the country’s first head of government, in the form of a Chief Minister. This was an unpopular decision, and the 1962 election was notable as parties were able to appeal to ethnic and religious differences across The Gambia. The PPP won a majority, and formed a coalition with the Democratic Congress Alliance (DCA; a merger of the DP and MCP). They invited the UP to the coalition in 1963, but it left in 1965.

The UP was seen as the main opposition party, but it lost power from 1965 to 1970. In 1975, the National Convention Party(NCP) was formed by Sheriff Mustapha Dibba, and became the new main opposition party to the PPP’s dominance. Both the PPP and NCP were ideologically similar, so in the 1980s a new opposition party emerged, in the form of the radical socialist People’s Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS). However, between the 1966 and 1992 elections, the PPP was “overwhelmingly dominant”, winning between 55% and 70% of the vote in each election and a large majority of seats continually.

In principle, competitive politics existed during the Jawara era, however, it was stated that there was in reality a “one-party monopoly of state power centred around the dominant personality of Dawda Jawara.” Civil society was limited post-independence, and opposition parties were weak and at the risk of being declared subversive. The opposition did not have equal access to resources, as the business class refused to finance them. The government had control over when they could make public announcements and press briefings, and there were also allegations of vote-buying and improprieties in the preparation of the electoral register. A 1991 court challenge by the PDOIS against irregularities on the electoral register in Banjul was dismissed on a technicality.

In July 1994, a bloodless military coup d’état brought an end to the Jawara era. The Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC), led by Yahya Jammeh, ruled dictatorially for two years. The council suspended the constitution, banned all political parties, and imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew on the populace.[46] A transition back to democracy occurred in 1996, and a new constitution was written, though the process was manipulated to benefit Jammeh. In a 1996 referendum, 70% of voters approved the constitution, and in December 1996 Jammeh was elected as President. All but PDOIS of the pre-coup parties were banned, and former ministers were barred from public office.

During Jammeh’s rule, the opposition was again fragmented. An example was the infighting between members of theNational Alliance for Democracy and Development (NADD) that was formed in 2005. Jammeh used the police forces to harass opposition members and parties. Jammeh was also accused of human rights abuses, especially towards human rights activists, civil society organisations, political opponents, and the media. Their fates included being sent into exile, harassment, arbitrary imprisonment, murder, and forced disappearance. Particular examples include the murder of journalist Deyda Hydara in 2004, a student massacre at a protest in 2000, public threats to kill human rights defenders in 2009, and public threats towards homosexuals in 2013. Furthermore, Jammeh made threats to the religious freedom of non-Muslims, used ‘mercenary judges’ to weaken the judiciary, and faced numerous accusations of election rigging.

In the December 2016 presidential election, Jammeh was beaten by Adama Barrow, who was backed by a coalition of opposition parties. Jammeh’s initial agreement to step down followed by a change of mind induced a constitutional crisisthat culminated in a military intervention by ECOWAS forces in January 2017. Barrow pledged to serve at the head of a three-year transitional government.[50] The Nigerian Centre for Democracy and Development describe the challenges facing Barrow as needing to restore “citizen’s trust and confidence in the public sector”. They describe a “fragile peace” with tensions in rural areas between farmers and the larger communities. They also reported on tensions between ethnic groups developing. An example is that in February 2017, 51 supporters of Jammeh were arrested for harassing supporters of Barrow. Although his election was initially met with enthusiasm, the Centre notes that this has been dampened by Barrow’s initial constitutional faux pas with his Vice President, the challenge of inclusion, and high expectations post-Jammeh.

ConstitutionEdit

The Gambia has had a number of constitutions in its history. The two most significant are the 1970 constitution, which established The Gambia as a presidential republic, and the 1996 constitution, which served as a basis for Jammeh’s rule and was kept following Barrow’s victory in 2016. Jammeh manipulated the 1996 constitutional reform process to benefit himself. No reference was made to term limits, indicating Jammeh’s preference to stay in power for an extended period of time. According to the 1996 constitution, the President is the head of state, head of government, and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Jammeh and Barrow have also both taken on the role of Minister of Defence.

PresidencyEdit

The president appoints the vice president and cabinet of ministers and also chairs the cabinet. The office of Prime Minister was abolished in 1970. Total executive power is vested in the president. They can also appoint five members of the National Assembly, the judges of the superior courts, regional governors, and district chiefs. In terms of the civil service, they can appoint the Public Service Commission, the ombudsman, and the Independent Electoral Commission. The president is directly elected for five-year terms based on a simple majority of votes. There are no term limits. The Constitution is under review as of 2018 and a two-term limit and other changes required to enhance the governance structures are expected.

Foreign relations

Yahya Jammeh and Mrs. Zeineb Jammeh with Barack and Michelle Obama in the White House, August 2014

The Gambia followed a formal policy of non-alignment 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 theForeign Assistance Act. After 1995 President Jammeh established diplomatic relations with several additional countries, including Libya (suspended in 2010), and CubaThePeople’s Republic of China cut ties with the Gambia in 1995 – after the latter established diplomatic links with Taiwan and re-established them in 2016.

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 Liberiaand Sierra Leone and contributed troops to the community’s ceasefire monitoring group (ECOMOG) in 1990 and (ECOMIL) in 2003.

The Gambia has also sought to mediate disputes in nearby Guinea-Bissau and the neighbouring Casamance region of Senegal. The government of The Gambia believed Senegal was complicit in the March 2006 failed coup attempt. This put increasing strains on relations between The Gambia and its neighbour. The subsequent worsening of the human rights situation placed increasing strains on US–Gambian relations.

The Gambia withdrew from the Commonwealth of Nations on 3 October 2013, with the government stating it had “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”. Under the new president, The Gambia has begun the process of returning to its status as a Commonwealth republic with the support of the British government, formally presenting its application to re-join the Commonwealth of Nations to Secretary-General Patricia Scotland on 22 January 2018. The Gambia returned to its status as a Commonwealth republic on 8 February 2018.

Human rights

According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 78.3% of Gambian girls and women have suffered female genital mutilation. LGBT activity is illegal, and punishable with life imprisonment. Efforts to promote education on the topic include work by Adriana Kaplan Marcusán and others.

The Daily Observer reporter Ebrima Manneh is believed by human rights organizations to have been arrested in July 2006 and secretly held in custody since then. Manneh was reportedly arrested by Gambia’s National Intelligence Agency after attempting to republish a BBC report criticizing President Yahya Jammeh. Amnesty International considers him to be aprisoner of conscience and named him a 2011 “priority case”.

List of International Organization MembershipsEdit

MilitaryEdit

U.S. AFRICOM commander Carter Ham and senior Gambian Army officer Masaneh Kinteh surveying the troops, 21 July 2011

The Gambia Armed Forces (GAF) was created in 1985 as a stipulation of theSenegambia Confederation, a political union between The Gambia and Senegal. It originally consisted of the Gambia National Army (GNA), trained by the British, and Gambia National Gendarmerie (GNG), trained by the Senegalese. The GNG was merged into the police in 1992, and in 1997 Jammeh created a Gambia Navy (GN). Attempts to create a Gambia Air Force in the mid 2000s ultimately fell through. In 2008, Jammeh created a National Republican Guard, composed of special forces units. The GNA has a strength of roughly 900, in two infantry battalions and an engineering company. It makes use of Ferret and M8 Greyhound armoured cars. The GN is equipped with patrol vessels, and Taiwan donated a number of new vessels to the force in 2013.

Since the GAF was formed in 1985, it has been active in UN and African Union peacekeeping missions. It has been classed as a Tier 2 peacekeeping contributor and was described by the Center on International Cooperation as a regional leader in peacekeeping. It dispatched soldiers to Liberia as part of ECOMOG from 1990 to 1991, during which two Gambian soldiers were killed. It has since contributed troops to ECOMILUNMIL, and UNAMID. Responsibility for the military has rested directly with the President since Jammeh seized power at the head of a bloodless military coup in 1994. Jammeh also created the role of Chief of the Defence Staff, who is the senior military officer responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Gambia Armed Forces. Between 1958 and 1985, the Gambia did not have a military, but the Gambia Field Force existed as a paramilitary wing of the police. The military tradition of the Gambia can be traced to the Gambia Regiment of the British Army, that existed from 1901 to 1958 and fought in World War I and World War II. In 2017, Gambia signed the UN treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

The Gambia Armed Forces is and has been the recipient of a number of equipment and training agreements with other countries. In 1992, a contingent of Nigerian soldiers helped lead the GNA. Between 1991 and 2005, the Turkish armed forces helped train Gambian soldiers. It has also hosted British and United States training teams from the Royal Gibraltar Regiment and US AFRICOM.

Administrative divisionsEdit

Local government areas of the Gambia

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.

Name Area (km2) Population Census 2003 Population Census 2013
(provisional)
Capital Number
of
Districts
Banjul (Capital City) 12.2 35,061 31,301 Banjul 3
Kanifing 75.6 322,735 382,096 Kanifing 1
Brikama
(formerly Western)
1,764.3 389,594 699,704 Brikama 9
Mansa Konko
(formerly Lower River)
1,628.0 72,167 82,381 Mansakonko 6
Kerewan
(formerly North Bank)
2,255.5 172,835 221,054 Kerewan 7
Kuntaur
(formerly the western half
of Central River Division)
1,466.5 78,491 99,108 Kuntaur 5
Janjanbureh
(formerly the eastern half
of Central River Division)
1,427.8 107,212 126,910 Janjanbureh 5
Basse
(formerly Upper River)
2,069.5 182,586 239,916 Basse Santa Su 7
Total Gambia 10,689 1,360,681 1,882,450 Banjul 43

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.[64]

EconomyEdit

Gambia Exports by Product (2014 )

Tourists in Gambia, 2014

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 pegged Gambian GDP for 2018 at US$1,624M; the International Monetary Fund put it at US$977M for 2011.

From 2006 to 2012, the Gambian economy grew annually at a rate of 5–6% of GDP.

Agriculture accounts for roughly 30% of the 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 about 8% of GDP and services around 58%. The limited amount of manufacturing is primarily agricultural-based (e.g., peanut processing, bakeries, a brewery, and a tannery). Other manufacturing activities involve soap, soft drinks, and clothing.

Previously, the United Kingdom and other EU countries constituted the major Gambian 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 had 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.[52]

In May 2009 twelve commercial banks existed 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 the Bank of British West Africa. In 2005 the Switzerland-based banking group International Commercial Bank established a subsidiary and now has 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.[66]

SocietyEdit

Population
Population
in The Gambia[67]
Year Million
1950 0.27
2000 1.2
2016 2

The urbanisation rate in 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.

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