The Gambia is a small country in West Africa with total area of 4,000 square miles or 11,295 sq. km (about 320 km. long). 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. The coastal line is 80 km and the border boundary with Senegal is 740 km.
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.
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 who resisted the penetration and colonisation of his territory (The battle of Ndungusine).
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.
The country became a Republic in April 1970 (see 1970 Gambian Constitution), 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.
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.
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.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was officially signed in January 2005 by five leading opposition parties: the United Democratic Party (UDP), People’s Progressive Party (PPP), National Reconciliation Party (NRP), National Democratic Action Movement (NDAM) and People’s Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS). The MOU establishes an alliance known as the National Alliance for Democracy and Development (NADD) that is not only interested in replacing the ruling party but to effect far reaching changes in governance. Hence, according to the MOU the goal of the alliance is to put an end to self-perpetuating rule and ensure the empowerment of the people. Furthermore, a presidential candidate in the spirit of averting self-perpetuating rule is not permitted by the MOU to serve for more than one term or to give support to a presidential candidate.
In february 2006 both UDP and NRP pulled out of the National Alliance for Democracy and Development (NADD) and formed their own alliance to contest the presidential elections.
The most recent National Assembly elections was held on March 29th 2012. However, six of the opposition parties namely Gambia Moral Congress (GMC), Gambia Party Development and Progress (GPDP), National Alliance for Democracy and Development (NADD), People Progressive Party (PPP), Peoples Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS) and United Democratic Party (UDP) decided not to participate until a time when the IEC can assure a level playing field. Despite the boycott by the six opposition parties, electoral commission IEC continued with the elections but only a fraction of the registered voters voted since only 23 seats were contested and the rest were unchallenged. Out of this 23 contested seats, the APRC won 17 losing Basse, Lower Fulladu West, Niani and Kombo Central to independent candidates and Niamina Dankunku to Hamat Bah's National Reconciliation Party (NRP). Out of the 154, 950 voters who participated in elections in 23 Constituencies APRC had 80,289 votes cast. Out of 18 Constituencies the Independent Candidates got 60,055 votes. The NRP Contested in 8 constituencies and earned 14,606 votes. APRC had 51.8 percent of the popular vote, 38.9 percent voted for the Independent Candidate and NRP had 9.1 percent of the votes.
Presidential elections were held on 24th November 2011 were the IEC (Independent Electoral Commission) declared the incumbent Yaya Jammeh of APRC the winner with a landslide 72% victory. The elections were contested by two other opposition coalition candidates. Lawyer Ousainou N. Darbo who was the candidate for the UDP led alliance comprising of UDP and GMC is reported to get 17% and Independent candidate Hamat N.K. Bah of the opposition United front comprising of (PDOIS, NADD, NRP and GDP) 11%.
Thursday 1st December 2016 will be remembered as an historic day in the annals of the Gambia’s political history. It marked the beginning of a new dawn of democracy in our country, as the opposition coalition, led by Adama Barrow, defeated President Yahya Jammeh to win the Presidential race. Mr Barrow obtained 222,708 votes (43.3%) compared with Mr Jammeh's 208,487 (39.6%). A third candidate, Mama Kandeh, won 89,768 votes (17.1%).
President Jammeh, who accepted the election results on December 2 later rejected the results after a week. Speaking on state TV, Mr Jammeh cited "abnormalities" in the vote and called for fresh elections. The Gambia's security forces took over the headquarters of the electoral commission. Orginistations throught the world such as the UN, ECOWAS, APC and civil society groups in the country called on Jammeh to respect the choice of the sovereign People of The Gambia, as he did on 2 December 2016, and to transfer, without condition and undue delay, power to the President-elect who should be sworn in on the 19th January 2017 after the end of Jammeh's presidential term on the 18th January.
On January 14th, ECOWAS tactically toook president-elect Adama Barrow into safety after a failed attempt to persuade President Yahya Jammeh to voluntarily cede power. President- Elect Adama Barrow first travelled to Mali to attend the Africa-France sumit and later to the Senegalese capital Dakar where he stayed. On the 19th was sworn in at the Gambian Embassy in Dakar. He was sworn in by the Acting President of the Gambian Bar Association, Mr Sheriff Marie Tambedou, in a ceremony chaired by Mr Mai Fatty, a member of the coalition of seven parties that sponsored the candidature of President Barrow at the 1 December 2016 poll. Representatives from all of the UN Security Council member states were present at Adama Barrow's inauguration ceremony. Former President Yahya Jammeh finally left on the night of 21st January 2016 left the soil of The Gambia for asylum in Equatorial Guinea from Guinea Conakry, whose President Alpha Conde escorted him out of The Gambia.
Presidential elections were held on 4th December 2021, the first in 27 years without despotic former president Yaya Jammeh and the IEC (Independent Electoral Commission) declared the incumbent Adama Barrow and his NPP coalition including former President Yaya Jammeh's party APRC the winner with a landslide 53% victory.
Despite it's size, The Gambia is relatively densely populated, with a predominantly Muslim population. Major ethnic groups are Fula, Jola, Mandinka, Serahule, and Wollof. The illiteracy rates is very high, and this generally reflects the low Human Development Index scores the country has.
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 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.
After nine months of preparation in 2018, the Government of The Gambia launched the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission; and on 15th October, 2018, H.E President Adama Barrow, swore in the eleven Commissioners. The Commission began public hearings on 7th January, 2019.
The principal purpose of the Commission was very simple: to establish the truth of what happened during the twenty-two reign of Yahya Jammeh.
The National Assembly of the Republic of The Gambia enacted a law (TRRC Act, 2017) which established the TRRC. The main objectives of the Commission are, inter alia, to create an impartial historical record of violations and abuses of human rights from July 1994 to January 2017, in order to – promote healing and reconciliation, respond to the needs of the victims, address impunity, and prevent a repeat of the violations and abuses suffered by making recommendations for the establishment of appropriate preventive mechanisms including institutional and legal reforms; establish and make known the fate or whereabouts of disappeared victims; provide victims an opportunity to relate their own accounts of the violations and abuses suffered; and grant reparations to victims in appropriate cases.
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.
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.
The Bantaba - Bantaba in Cyberspace is a unique web based community forum where Gambians and friends of Gambia express their views, creative thoughts, experiences or other information with others. It’s divided into several forums with sub categories where discussions are done. Community members choose to participate in the forums they are interested in.
Some of the forums in the Bantaba are;
5. Cultural Forum: a place where issues regarding culture are discussed. Here you find a category
where community members can share jokes from time to time etc.
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.
Atlas of the Gambia Project by Dr. Malanding Jaiteh - The Atlas is an ambitious public education program aimed at providing information on biophysical and socioeconomic aspects of Gambia life.
Gambia Government Web Portal - The official web site of The Gambia. This site has information on History & Geography, Government, Investment Opportunities, Economic development, Tourism and Important addresses.
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.
Anna's Travel Maps® - acquire maps using PayPal's shopping cart. Full-colour Gambia map showing all major roads and over 600 town and village names, points of interest including accommodation, petrol stops, public facilities, and cultural and historical sites. Also includes detailed city plans of Kanifing Municipal Council and the City of Banjul.
Lonely Planet World Guide | Destination Gambia. A comprehensive travel guide to The Gambia. Lonely Planet publishes the world's best guidebooks for independent travellers.
U.S. Department of State, Human Rights Reports for The Gambia
- 2013 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
Catholic Relief Services/The Gambia - information on their projects in The Gambia
Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) - Page on Gambia and their projects
Bansang Hospital Appeal Charity web site - Bansang Hospital Appeal is a UK registered charity
Gambia Education & Teaching Support www.getsuk.org/ - is UK registered charity Raising funds to improve education in the Gambia
Access Gambia - A Comprehensive directory of Gambia related websites on the Internet
GAMES: Gambia Media Support
Internet Service Providers in Gambia
NEWS FROM OR ABOUT THE GAMBIA
Daily News on The Gambia - Read current news
GRTS Gambia Radio and Television Services
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Last updated on January 19th, 2022