About The Gambia

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By Admin1 (admin) on Tuesday, July 17, 2001 - 8:11 am: Edit Post

About The Gambia

About The Gambia

About The Gambia

The Gambia is a small (4,000 square miles or 11,295 sq. km) country in West Africa. It is surrounded by Senegal on all sides (see map), except on the Atlantic coast, and for this reason the two countries have a lot of ethnic and cultural ties. In contrast to Senegal, a former French colony, The Gambia was colonized by Britain and gained it's Independence on February 18, 1965.

Oral and written history give account of traders moving in caravans from the trading towns of the Niger to those of The Gambia about 400 years ago. People have been interviewed who said that their territories owed loyalty, to the Mali Kingdom. Mali was mainly composed of Mandinka speaking people. Written records also talk about the states of Niumi, Baddibu and Niani owing loyalty to the king of Saloum at Kahone in present day Senegal. Sine Saloum was composed of Wolof and Serer language groupings.

Other written records speak of meeting Jola speaking communities on the south bank near the River Gambia 400 years ago. Written history indicates, that the inhabitants of Kantora had once claimed that they owed loyalty to the Ahmami of Timbo, ruler of Futa Jalon. History also teaches that Demba Sonko, king of Niumi hired 700 Serahule soldiers to maintain order in his state in the 1840s.

The lesson is that Serer, Serahule, Jola, Fula, Mandinka and Wolof language groupings could be found in the place we now call The Gambia at various periods during the pre-colonial times. Some of these language groups had kings who established different states. There were no big Mandinka, Wollof, Fula, Jola, Serer, Serahule speaking kingdoms which involved only the members of each language grouping. Fulas, Serahules, etc, could be found in settlements where the predominant language was mandinka.

Different kings who spoke Mandinka, Wolof, etc. established different states on the north and south banks of the river. Even though the inhabitants of some of these states spoke the same language, they were loyal to the states and not their tribal origins. This was why the King of Niumi did not hesitate to hire 700 Serahule speaking soldiers in the 1840s to contain rebellion in his kingdom. This was why the King of Upper Niani was constantly at war the King of Lower Niani. One finds states like Sine Saloum Kayor, Baol, Jolof among the Wolof language grouping which stretched from Pakala, Niumi and Baddibu areas to present day Senegal. There was war among these groups.

Among the mandinka speaking groups, one finds states like Niumi Baddibu, Upper and Lower Niani, Wuli, Kombo, Kiang, Jarra, Niamina, Eropina, Jimara, Tumana and Kantora. There was war among those groups. There were also divisions into slave owners and slaves.

The Jola speaking group was divided into clans speaking different dialects which moved farther and farther from the river into what is now called the Foni and Casamance as they were attacked by invaders.

History teaches us that the Fula settlers in Kabu eventually established a state under Alfa Moloh which later stretched to involve part of The Gambia known as Fuladugu in the 1800s.

The lessons is therefore clear that before colonialism there was no Senegal or Gambia. Different language groupings settled in The Gambia at one time or another. They never succeeded in establishing a unified tribal state inhabited by all the people speaking one language, sharing a common way of life under one ruler; on the contrary, the states continued to fight each other.

Furthermore, peoples of different language group's who settled in the various states often got married and integrated in them. It is important to point out that it was the division of the states which made it possible for all them to fall under colonial domination, as it would be shown later.

Hence, it is not the colonialists who divided The Gambia. They simply exploited the existing divisions to impose colonial rule. The fundamental lesson we should learn therefore is that without unity we cannot build a future Gambia that would guarantee to her people liberty dignity and prosperity. It is the work of the future to explain how all language groupings came to settle The Gambia. Who was here first or last is insignificant. What is significant is that persons of Serer, Aku, Bayinunkas, Masuankas, Karoninkas, Mandiago, Serahule, Jola, Fula, Mandinka and Wolof origins can be found in The Gambia today. We are all human beings who can think and work to build a better Gambia if we respect and care for each other.

The most important development before the birth of colonialism was the establishment of the British settlement in what is now known as Banjul, Kombo Saint Mary.

Captain Grant who established the settlement 185 years ago in 1816 stated that a treaty was signed with the King of Kombo to get the permission to settle. They paid him 103 bars of iron annually. This shows that up to 1816 the kings had effective control over their territories. They accepted the settlement to promote trade. The British merchants provided iron, tobacco, guns gunpowder, rum, spices, corals, etc. in exchange for elephant tusks, bees wax, hides, timber, bullock horns and gold. It was a mutually beneficial trade. As a treaty between the acting Governor and the king of Kantalikunda stated, the people of England and the people of Kantalikunda agreed to trade together "innocently, justly, kindly and usefully."

Since the settlements appeared as centres for the promotion of trade in the eyes of the kings, the representatives of the monarch in England could be allowed to settle in MacCarthy Island in 1823 by the King of Lower Niani; one square mile was allotted at Barra point in Niumi in 1826 by the King of Niumi and Fatatenda in 1829 by the King of Wuli.

The British monarch saw these territories as colonies. Laws like the Imperial Act of 1843 were established to enable the British monarch to establish a government to govern the settlements. These settlements were to serve as the stepping stone to take full control of The Gambia. In a word, a net is thrown first before fishes could be caught. The settlements served as nets.

As the wars between the various kings of the area, and within their territories for succession increased, some of the kings sought the alliance of the administrators of the British settlements. For example, the King of Lower Niani at Kataba was attacked by the king of Upper Niani, Kementeng in 1840. The king of Lower Niani ( Kataba) sought the assistance of the administrator, of the British settlements and they united to combat Kementeng.

In 1844, the administrator of the British settlements requested one square mile from the king of Lower Niani to build a fort.

Hence, through seemingly offering protection to kings who were threatened by their neighbours or by internal feuds, the British administrators managed to bring such states under their protection and eventual domination.

This became easy because between 1850 and 1890 wars intensified to overthrow the kings of many of the states. Maba Jahu's army changed the face of Baddibu Niumi and Sine Saloum. Foday Kaba's army changed the face of Jarra, Kiang, Niamina and Foni. Foday Sillah's army changed the face of Kombo. Alfa Molloh's army changed the face of Jimara, Tumana and Fulladu area.

The intense wars disrupted trade to the point that values of imports and exports which stood at 153,000 pounds and 162,000 pounds respectively in 1839 dropped to 69,000 pounds and 79,000 pounds respectively in 1886. Once most of the strong states were devastated, the administrator of the British settlements established a law in 1894 called Protectorate Ordinance to prepare the ground for complete colonial domination. Between 1894 and 1902, the administrator of the British settlement had the objective of ensuring the defeat of the strongest armies, that is, the armies of Foday Sillah, Musa Molloh and Foday Kaba. They succeeded in defeating the armies of Foday Sillah and took him to Goree where he died and is buried in Ngai Mbehe in Senegal, close to the Mauritanian border. They signed a treaty of non aggression with Musa Molloh and developed a defence agreement with the French to attack Foday Kaba at Medina. He was killed in 1901.

In 1902, the Protectorate Ordinance or law divided the country into districts and divisions. The commissioners had full control of divisions and chiefs and headmen were to abide by their decisions. The chiefs were to run the affairs of districts to ensure respect for the colonial order. They were appointed by the Governor and could be removed . The headmen of villages could also be removed by the chief and his advisers. Chiefs were no longer kings but subjects of the British Crown. Kings existed in the past but chiefs were created by the colonialists to help them to impose their rule on the people they could not reach directly.

Colonialism was opposed to democracy. It stood for subjugation. Our national rights were seized. In a word, we had no territorial integrity, that is, our ownership of the country was not recognised. Gambia was deemed to belong to the British monarch. Our political independence was seized. It means that we had no right to determine the political status of our country as our social, economic and cultural development. Our sovereignty was seized. It means that we had no voice in our country. We could not determine its relation with other country and take part in its government. The British Crown determined who was to govern us and how the country was to relate to other countries. Sovereignty lay with the British Crown.

Once colonialism was established, some Gambians realised that our people were being taxed but the money was not going to build schools, hospitals, roads and improve the quality of life of the people. They realised that the colonialists decided where they wished to put the money. These enlightened Gambians developed relationship with other enlightened persons in the West African Region. They established the National Congress of British West Africa to struggle for the principle of self Government.

The pioneer of this struggle for self-determination in the Gambia was Edward Francis Small. He realised that organisation and enlightenment are the tools of national liberation. He was only 30 years when he attended the meeting of The National Congress of British West Africa in 1920. After the Congress, he started to call for representative institutions. In 1924 the Secretary of State for Colonies in England rejected the request for representative institutions by claiming that education and political thought in the colony and the protectorate had not reached a level to make the elective principle viable. People like Francis Small continued to struggle. The Bathurst Trade Union was established by him in 1928 which launched a successful strike in 1929. This gave the workers strength. He established a Rate Payers Association to ensure that the rate payers struggled for the slogan: No Taxation Without Representation. He also established newspapers to enlighten the people. He established the Cooperative Union to organise the farmers to have a say in determining the price of their crops. This shows that true liberators do not belong to tribes or place of origin. Their hearts beat in unison with the heart beats of the oppressed and exploited everywhere. A true liberator cannot be a sectionalist. Francis Small wanted the oppressed of both colony and protectorate to be free. The struggle did bear fruit.

By 1930, the first representative institution was established called the Bathurst Urban District Council and Board of Health. Even though only few members were elected and those appointed by the Governor constituted the majority, the fact that the elective principle had been introduced six years after the Secretary of State for Colonies. had dismissed it confirmed that it is the oppressed who determine their destiny; that the oppressor can only obstruct the struggle but cannot prevent its onward march to victory.

In 1942, a call for the elective principle to be introduced in the Legislative Council established by the colonialist to give advice to the Governor, Mr. J. A. Mahoney was dismissed by the then Colonial Secretary.

However, when the struggle for the elective principle intensified, the colonialists had to accept the principle of elected majority in the Town Council and the introduction of the elective principle in the Legislative Council in 1947, five years after Mr Mahoneys call for such a development was rejected. Political parties emerged in the 1950s. Between 1951 and 1954 the Democratic Party led by J.C. Faye, The Muslim Congress led by Ibrahima Garba Jahumpa and United Party led by P. S. Njie were formed.

By 1954, the colonialists amended the colonial constitutional instrument to allow 14 elected members in the Legislative Council. Political Campaigns became the order of the day in the town.

As it became clear that the movement towards independence could not be stopped, with the Independence of Ghana in 1957, new political forces emerged which sought to rely on a sectionalist tactic to gain mass support. The Protectorate People's Party was formed in 1959 a year after Francis Small retired into the world of the martyrs leaving a big political vacuum. In short none of the parties had a clear programme or vision of where to take The Gambia.

The colonialists had to bow down to pressure to convene a Constitutional Conference in 1959 to discuss Constitutional changes on how to move The Gambia towards Self Government. The 1960 Constitution was established with a representative institution which had 27 seats. 12 members were to be elected by rural dwellers; 7 members by town dwellers and 8 members by the chiefs. The colonialists wanted the chiefs who were appointed by the Governor to be the decisive factor in the House of Representatives. They just wanted to delay the Movement towards independence.

However the system proved unworkable. Another Constitutional Conference was convened in 1961 which gave rise to the 1962 Constitution. 25 members were to represent the Protectorate. 7 members were to represent the Colony. The chiefs were to elect 4 representatives. 2 members were to be nominated. In 1963 Internal Self Government was introduced. Gambia then had a Prime Minister. The Crown still retained the Sovereign power to determine the external relations of the country.

After 1963, Gambia could have become a Republic with immediate effect. However each of the Political Parties wanted to lead the country to independence. Hence they were ready to obstruct each other's Path even to the detriment of national liberation. By 1964, a Constitutional Conference was called. in 1965 the independence constitution came into being.

From Independence in 1965 to April, 1970 the country had a parliamentary democracy with a Prime Minister, and the Queen of England as the Head of State.

The country became a Republic in April 1970, with an Executive President as the Head of State, and the Parliament as the Legislative body. In contrast to a number of African countries, The Gambia retained a democratic tradition, holding universal adult suffrage elections every 5 years. These elections were contested by a number of parties, again in contrast to the single-party 'democratic' systems that were popular in a variety of African countries. The election system was slightly modified in 1982, with a change to the direct election of the President, rather than indirectly by the Members of Parliament.

The democratic tradition of The Gambia was briefly interrupted in July, 1981 with an abortive attempt to overthrow the government by the then paramilitary Field Force. This attempt was crushed by Senegalese troops, who intervened on the pretext that the coup attempt was foreign inspired, and a threat to the welfare of the Senegalese community in The Gambia. President Jawara was thus restored to power, and in the aftermath of the events, entered into a Confederation called Senegambia with Senegal. This confederation however, was to be dissolved in September, 1989 following irreconcilable differences between the parties.

A major milestone in The Gambia's political history was the overthrow of the Jawara government in July, 1994, by young, and junior officers of the Gambian military which had been built up by Jawara himself. The military officers, under the leadership of Lieutenant Yaya Jammeh (later Captain and then Colonel), alleged rampant corruption and incompetence as the main reason for overthrowing the Jawara government. The military takeover was roundly condemned by the International community, most especially because Jawara had in the almost 30 years of his rule managed to establish an international reputation for adherence to democratic rule and human rights. Following intense pressure from both within The Gambia, and without (see Report of The NCC), the military-led government announced a timetable for transferring power to civilians in 1996, following a review of the constitution, probes in the wealth of public servants, and elections.

A referendum was held on the 8th of August, 1996 and over 70 percent of those who voted endorsed the ratification of the Draft Constitution as the fundamental law of the Second Republic.

On 26 September the presidential election was held after a ban on political parties was lifted. A decree was passed which disqualified former President Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara, the former Vice-President and all former ministers of the People's Progressive Party (PPP) from contesting any political office.

The other main political parties in the Gambia before the coup, the National Convention Party (NCP), and the Gambia People's Party (GPP), were also banned from participating in the election.

Four parties contested the Presidential elections. Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) led by Mr. Yahya Jammeh who resigned from the military to run in the elections, United Democratic Party (UDP) led by Barrister Ousainou Darboe, Peoples Democratic Organization for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS) led by Mr. Sidia Jatta and National Reconciliation Party (NRP) led by Mr. Hamat Bah.

Jammeh won 56% of the votes and thereby, the first President of the Second Republic.

National Assembly Elections was held on the 2nd of January, 1997 and the APRC won 33 seats out of 45. UDP won 7 seats, NRP 2 seats, and PDOIS 1 seat and 2 Independent Candidates. The last National Assembly Elections was held in January 2002 but was boycotted by the Three-party opposition alliance led by the main opposition party UDP and thereby, allowing APRC running unopposed in 33 of the 48 constituencies. PDOIS and NRP took part. PDOIS won 2 seats and NRP won 1 seat.

Presidential elections was held on the 18th October 2001 in which President Jammeh polled 242.302 votes representing 52.96 percent of the total votes cast.

President Alhaji Yahya Jammeh's main challenger in the election who led the UDP, PPP, GPP Coalition Mr Ousainou Darboe polled 149.448 votes followed by the NRP leader and candidate Hamat N. K. Bah with 35.671 votes.

The National Convention Party leader and candidate Sheriff Moustapha Dibba, a veteran politician whose party re-joined the political arena after being banned for seven years captured 17.271 votes while the Peoples Democratic Organisation for independence and socialism PDOIS had 13.841 votes.

On the economic front, The Gambia has been a primarily agricultural country. An estimated 81% of the population is engaged in agriculture, while groundnuts (peanuts) account for about 85% of export earnings (Country Profile 1993/94: The Gambia, and Mauritania. The Economist Intelligence Unit 1993). With a trade policy traditionally more liberal than it's neighbors, because of a smaller industrial base to protect, The Gambian economy has always had a brisk re-export sector. Tourism, has been a large component of the service sector, which has accounted for up to 60% of the gross domestic product (GDP).

Despite it's size, The Gambia is relatively densely populated, with a predominantly Muslim population of slightly over 1 million (1993 census figures), and growing at an annual rate of approximately 3%. Major ethnic groups are Fula, Jola, Mandinka, Serahule, and Wollof. The illiteracy rates is very high (61%), and this generally reflects the low Human Development Index scores the country has. Thus, for 2000 The Gambias' ranked 161 out of 174 countries. In 1999 the country was ranked 163.

The UNDP Human Development Report rankings are based on access to health services, education and women's access to social services, among other factors. Per capita income is also amongst the lowest in the world.

Despite the economic poverty and political setbacks, The Gambia has always been active in the International arena, being a member of the United Nations, the African Union, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The Gambia has also provided troops to regional peace-keeping efforts, most notably in Liberia, as well as being an active participant in mediation efforts.

This strong tradition of peacefulness, and respect for human rights was the reason why the African Center for Democracy and Human Rights Studies was created in 1989 by a bill of The Gambian parliament with the vision to "promote in co-operation with other African and international institutions, the observance of human and peoples' rights and democratic principles throughout Africa". It should however be noted that the ACDHRS is governed by an independent council of African jurists and other related experts.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, an organ set up under the provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights by the OAU in 1986, is also head quartered in The Gambia. The Secretariat of this regional human rights institution is in the same building with the African Center for Democracy and Human Rights Studies.

The Gambia's human rights record has deteriorated since the military takeover of 1994. The most recent being on the 10th and 11th April 2000, when security forces had used live bullets on innocent students, to break up protesting students, thus resulting in the killing of at least 14 people including a journalist who was working as a Red Cross Volunteer and more than 100 injured.

The students were reacting to tendencies to abuse authority and honour of human values with disregard which led to the killing of Ebrima Barry a student who was allegedly tortured by the Fire Service Personnel and the reported rape of a 13-year old by a member of the security forces in March 2000.



For the Gambia, our homeland we

strive and work and pray,

That all may live in unity,

Freedom and peace each day,

Let justice guide our actions towards

the common good,

And join our diverse peoples to prove

man's brotherhood.

We pledge our firm allegiance,

Our promises we renew,

Keep us great God of nations,

to The Gambia ever true.


The Gambia on the Internet

Report of The National Consultative Committee on the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council's Programme of Rectification and Timetable for Transition to Democratic Constitutional Rule in The Gambia.

Other Gambians on the WWW - My collection of some personal, company and buisness web sites of Gambians on the Internet

The Bantaba - This forum is a place where Gambians and friends of Gambia can express their views. The other unique feature at this Bantaba is that you do not have to worry about your computer/e-mail account being cluttered with mails, etc., - all messages posted at this forum stay on the Internet.

Gambia Education Support Organisation - (GESO) Supporting Education in Gambia.

Gambia Education Support Organization's mission is to provide assistance to Gambians and Gambian institutions in education in The Gambia.

- To provide intellectual, material, logistic and other support to individuals and institurions in need at all levels of education in the Gambia.

- Facilitate access to information and resources on education and research in the Gambia.

- Improve co-ordination and communication among members to support education in the Gambia.

Gambia-L - The Gambia and related issues mailing list. Gambia-L mailing list is for Gambians and friends of The Gambia to discuss Gambia related issues. The list is a free forum for discussion, debate and the sharing of information on and about The Gambia.

GAMBIA-L is aimed at providing Gambians and those interested in Gambian and related issues, a means to communicate with each other, and exchange ideas and information of common interest. In the process, it is hoped that a spirit of cooperation, of exchange of ideas, of healthy debate and dialogue for the National good will be cultivated.

You can subscribe/unsubscribe or view archives of postings, by going to the Gambia-L Web interface at: http://maelstrom.stjohns.edu/archives/gambia-l.html

The Gambia government - The official web site of The Gambia. This site has information on History & Geography, Government, Investment Opportunities, Economic development, Tourism and Important addresses.

University Of the Gambia - Established by an Act of the National Assembly of the Gambia in March 1999.

Gambia's Online 2002 Telephone Directory - Search by Telephone Number or Surname or Firstname or Address or Town or Any Combination of the above options or search in All Fields.

The Gambia Resource Page is an excellent source of up to date information about The Gambia, like detail map, schools, some history, pictures, Gambian languages, etc.

Lonely Planet World Guide | Destination Gambia. A comprehensive travel guide to The Gambia. Lonely Planet publishes the world's best guidebooks for independent travellers.

United Nations System in The Gambia

U.S. Department of State, Human Rights Reports for The Gambia

- 2002 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices

- 2001 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices

- 2000 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices

Catholic Relief Services/The Gambia - information on their projects in The Gambia

Action aid -fact sheet in PDF on their projects in The Gambia

Tanje Village Museum opened in November 1997. It's director/owner and curator is Abdoulie Bayo, who before that was the curator of the National Museum in Banjul. The museum is intended for Gambian children, students and adults, but also for non-Gambians who want to know more about The Gambia and Gambians.

Gambia Tourist Support www.gambiatouristsupport.com - is a non profit UK organization that aims to provide link between people intending to visit The Gambia and the Gambian hosts, who can provide them with support.

The Gambia Story Liesbet's story of her trips to The Gambia

Gambia Gateway - A Comprehensive directory of Gambia related websites on the Internet

Internet Service Providers in Gambia

Gambia Telecommunication Company Ltd

Quantum Net



The Gambia Daily News - Read current news

Daily News from The Gambia- Latest Edition of Gambia Television News

Gambia Radio and Television - Website of GRTS

Daily Observer

Quantum Net - The Point,The Independent & Daily Observer

www.gambianews.com - The Gambia Daily

Africa News Online The Africa News Server - Gambia


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Last updated on April 25, 2003

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