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World of Wonders Project:
The West Africa Expedition


The Gambia




Click on map to see it in detail


Origin of the name The Gambia Official name is the Republic of The Gambia, yet more commonly known as Gambia.  It is named for the river that flows through it. 



Click on each link below to learn more about the symbols.
  • Capital - Banjul 
  • National Flag -
  • National Anthem - For The Gambia Our Homeland
  • Coat of Arms -  
  • Motto - Progress, Peace, Prosperity
  • Independence - February 18, 1965 from the United Kingdom



The Gambia is divided into five divisions (capitals in parentheses) and one city, the divisions are subdivided into 37 districts.

Lower River (Mansa Konko)
Central River (Janjanbureh)
North Bank (Kerewan)
Upper River (Basse)
Western (Brikama)

The national capital, Banjul, is classified as a city.


Language Official language is English.



Present-day Gambia first belonged to the Empire of Ghana and then in the 10th century to the Songhai. In the 13th century it was incorporated into Mali. Portugal established a colony at the river Gambia in 1455. It was claimed by England in 1588, but no settlement was founded. In 1651 Courland founded a colony. This lasts until 1661 (with a short Dutch interruption in 1659/1660), when it was occupied by England. Courland cedes the colony de jure in 1664. Courland seizes the colony in 1651, but in 1664 an English colony is founded. In the eighteenth century France and Britain dispute the area and it is occupied by both powers consequently.

From 1766 an official colony of Senegambia is established. From 1779 until 1783 it is part of French Senegal, but in 1783 British rule is restored. Between 1821 and 1843 Gambia belongs to Sierra Leone and in 1843 Gambia becomes a crown colony. In 1857 France cedes its last settlement in the area (Albreda) to the British. Between 1866 and 1888 the colony is again part of Sierra Leone. In 1889 Britain agrees with France to established the present boundaries and Gambia became a British crown colony, divided since 1901 for administrative purposes into the colony (city of Banjul and the surrounding area) and the protectorate (remainder of the territory). Gambia receives its own executive and legislative councils in 1901 and gradually progresses toward self-government. After World War II, the pace of constitutional reform quickens. The first chief minister is Pierre Sarr N'Jie of the United Party (UP) since 1961, succeeded in 1962 as prime minister by David Jawara (later known as Dawda Kairaba Jawara) of the People's Progressive Party (PPP). Following general elections in 1962, full internal self-government is granted in 1963.

Gambia becomes an independent monarchy in 1965 and the Republic of The Gambia in 1970. When Gambia becomes a republic, Jawara is its first president. Gambia is a presidential democratic republic. He is re-elected five times. The relative stability of the Jawara era is first broken by a violent, unsuccessful coup attempt in 1981. The coup is led by Kukoi Samba Sanyang. After a week of violence which left several hundred dead, Jawara appeals to Senegal for help. Senegalese troops defeat the rebel force. This leads in 1982 to the formation of the Senegambia Confederation, which is dissolved in 1989.

In 1994 the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) seizes power in a coup d'etat, deposing the government of Dawda Jawara. Yahya Jammeh becomes head of state. The AFPRC announces a transition plan for return to democratic civilian government. Yahya Jammeh wins as a candidate of the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) the presidential elections of 1996, which are not deemed free and fair. His party wins the 1997 parliamentary elections. In 2001 presidential elections are held, which are deemed free, fair, and transparent, albeit with some shortcomings, by foreign observers. Jammeh and his APRC are re-elected.


After a brief flirtation with dictatorship, the 30-year-old Jammeh bowed to international pressure, inaugurated a Second Republic and won the 1996 presidential election comfortably. Human-rights groups and democratic watchdogs were all put at high alert when, in 2004, prominent journalist Deyda Heydara was assassinated after having expressed his opposition to a new controversial media law, and in March 2006, an alleged coup d’état attempt led to the ‘cleansing’ of governmental ranks. That same year, the country again prepared for elections, this time against a background of increasing autocracy. It now seems unlikely that the future direction of The Gambia will change dramatically, as Yahya Jammeh was sworn in as president for another five years after defeating his main rival Oussainou Daboe.,

Government Government

Before the coup d'état in July 1994, The Gambia was one of the oldest existing multi-party democracies in Africa. It had conducted freely contested elections every 5 years since independence. After the military coup, 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.

The People's Progressive Party (PPP), headed by former president Jawara, had dominated Gambian politics for nearly 30 years. The last elections under the PPP regime were held in April 1992.

Following the coup, a presidential election took place in September 1996, in which retired Col. Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh won 56% of the vote. The legislative elections held in January 1997 were dominated by the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (the new incarnation of AFPRC), 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.

In 2005 the political scenario changed, as five opposition parties united under the umbrella of the National Alliance for Democracy and Development. NADD thus represented virtually all political opposition forces in the country. Following the registration of NADD the High Court ruled that dual party membership was unconstitutional, and as NADD had been registered as a political party all four opposition MPs were dismissed from the National Assembly. By-elections were held on September 29, in which NADD retained three of the four seats. On November 15 the same year, three high-ranking NADD leaders (including the Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly, Halifa Sallah) were arrested on the grounds of subversion.

On the 21st and22 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 devious purposes - however the veracity of these claims is not known, as no corroborating evidence has as yet been brought forward. It is doubtful whether the full truth will ever be known however, as anyone with any evidence would not be likely to come forward with it in light of the poor human rights record of the National Intelligence Agency, and their well-known penchant for torturing and detaining indefinitely anyone who speaks up against the Government.

The next presidential election took place on the 22nd September, 2006. The nominations for party Presidential candidates were held on the 28th August, 2006, amid reports of the Government intimidating and unfairly detaining Opposition members and sympathisers, and of using the machineries of state (including the national media arm of the Government, GRTS), to gain an unfair advantage during political campaigns. These reports follow a widely publicised signing of a Meromandum of Understanding between the Government and Opposition parties, initiated by the Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo during a recent visit to the country. Incumbent president, Yahya Jammeh, was reelected.





Despite the growth in importance of tourism, the economy of The Gambia is still predominantly agricultural, with the vast majority of Gambians earning their living from the land and sea. Groundnuts are the traditional cash crop. The Gambia also exports produce to Europe.


About three quarters of the population is employed in agriculture. Rice, millet, sorghum, corn, and cassava are grown for subsistence, and cattle, sheep, and goats are raised. There is also a fishing industry. The main industrial activities center around the processing of agricultural products and some light manufacturing. Tourism, which suffered following the 1994 military takeover, rebounded in the late 1990s. Besides peanut products, dried and smoked fish, cotton lint, palm kernels, and hides and skins are exported; foodstuffs, manufactures, fuel, machinery, and transportation equipment are imported. India, Great Britain, China, and Senegal are the country's leading trading partners. The Gambia is one of the world's poorest nations and relies heavily on foreign aid.


Weights and Measures: Metric weights and measures are used.


Monetary Unit: The Dalasi is a paper currency of 100 Bututs. There are coins of 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 Bututs and 1/2, 1, and 5 dirhams, Notes are in denominations of D100, 50, 25, 10 and 5. B1 = $0.037 (or $1 = D26) as of 2009.

Geography and Climate



The Gambia is the smallest country on mainland Africa, bordered to the north, east, and south by Senegal, and has a small coast on the Atlantic Ocean in the west. Its borders roughly correspond to the path of the Gambia River, the nation's namesake, which flows through the country's center and empties into the Atlantic Ocean.  The country is less than 48km wide at its greatest width. The country's present boundaries were defined in 1889 after an agreement between the United Kingdom and France.


The Gambia has a subtropical climate with distinct cool and hot seasons. From November to mid-May there is uninterrupted dry weather, with temperatures as low as 16°C (61°F) in Banjul and surrounding areas. Hot, humid weather predominates the rest of the year, with a rainy season from June to October; during this period, temperatures may rise as high as 43°C (109°F) but are usually lower near the sea. Mean temperatures range from 23°C (73°F) in January to 27°C (81°F) in June along the coast, and from 24° C (75°F) in January to 32°C (90°F) in May inland. The average annual rainfall ranges from 92 cm (36 in) in the interior to 145 cm (57 in) along the coast.


There are two areas in The Gambia on the World Heritage List:

  • James Island and Related Sites

  • Stone Circles of Senegambia *

Sources:******* , unesco


Culture and Religion

Population, Ethnic Groups, Culture and Religion


A wide variety of ethnic groups live in The Gambia, each preserving its own language and traditions with minimal intertribal friction. The Mandinka are the largest ethnic group with 40% of the population, followed by the Fula, the Wolof, the Jola, and the Serahuli. The Aku also live here although only constituting a small community. Approximately 25,000 non-Africans live in The Gambia, including about 20,000 Europeans and 2,500 people of Moroccan origin.

Muslims constitute more than 92% of the population. Christians of various denominations account for most of the remainder. Gambians officially observe the holidays of both religions and practice religious tolerance.

More than 80% of Gambians live in rural villages, although more and more young people come to the capital in search of work and education. While urban migration, development projects, and modernization are bringing more Gambians into contact with Western habits and values, the traditional emphasis on the extended family, as well as indigenous forms of dress and celebration, remain integral parts of everyday life.


Fauna and Flora

Fauna and Flora

Gambia's landscape is completely flat. Vegetation changes as you move along the meanders of Gambia River. Near the estuary, the mangrove occupies the river banks. As you go up river, you will find forest-galleries and savannah.

Gambia hosts more than 560 bird species. This concentration is due to the country's geographical position. Migratory birds make a stop there, particularly waterbirds that come in crowds from Europe during winter. The reserves and national parks host all kinds of wild animals, including many monkey and chimpanzee species.

Environment Environment

The Gambia's environmental concerns include deforestation, desertification, and water pollution. Deforestation is the most serious problem, with slash-and-burn agriculture the principal cause. In the 1950s, 34,000 hectares (84,000 acres) were set aside as forest parks, but by 1972, 11% of these reserves had been totally cleared. As of 2001, only 2% of the total land area is protected. During 1981–85, deforestation averaged 2,000 hectares (5,000 acres) per year. Only 9% of the forests in The Gambia have survived the expansion of agricultural land and the use of trees for fuel. A 30% decrease in rainfall over the last 30 years has increased the rate of desertification for The Gambia's agricultural lands. Water pollution is a significant problem due to lack of adequate sanitation facilities. Impure water is responsible for life-threatening diseases that contribute to high infant mortality rates.

According to the World Resources Institute, 3.2 percent of Gambia's land area is under some form of protection. The country is home to 974 species of plants, 117 mammals, and 535 birds.

Source: Encyclopedia of Nations

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