The Gambia (officially: Republic of The Gambia) is located on the westernmost tip of Africa on the Atlantic Ocean. The Gambia, with an area of 11,295 km², is the smallest country on the African mainland.
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The Gambia measures approximately 320 km from east to west. The width varies from 20 to 50 km from north to south. The Gambia is enclosed on three sides by Senegal. The landscape is slightly sloping with some hills. The highest point is about 40 meters, making Gambia even flatter than the Netherlands. The easily navigable river Gambia runs right through the country.
The Gambia River carries water all year round. There are many sandy beaches along the coast. The delta of the Gambia River is quite swampy with mangrove vegetation. The north of The Gambia has a parkland savanna landscape with long grasses, large shrubs and some trees. South of the Gambia River begins the forest savanna, grassland with groups of trees.
The Gambia has a subtropical climate with a dry and a wet season. The dry season lasts from about mid-October to about mid-June. It often happens that during this period there really is not a drop of rain. March to May are the sunniest months, with an average of 10 hours of sunshine per day.
The northeasterly wind (Harmattan) blows from the Sahara in those months and can sometimes bring sand instead of rain. The temperature can reach up to 40 °C at the end of the dry season. The heat regularly causes whirlwinds called Tonkolong. Humidity can drop to 25% in the dry period.
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The wet period lasts from about mid-June to mid-October. July, August and September are the wettest months in The Gambia. Half of all rain falls in August. The rain usually falls in showers, at night and in the morning. However, it does not always rain during the wet period, on average on about twelve days a month.
In the capital Banjul, located on the coast, about 1400 mm of rain falls annually. Georgetown, located in the interior, receives about 1050 mm of rain per year. The highest humidity, up to 95%, is measured in August. The water temperature in the Atlantic Ocean ranges from 20 to 27 °C.
The Gambia has a wide variety of vegetation. In 1980 The Gambia still had about 50,000 ha of forest. Eight years later, only 10,000 ha. Some reforestation projects have been started in the last ten years. Different types of palms are found in The Gambia, especially the coconut palm.
A striking feature is the cotton or kapok tree, which can reach a height of more than 50 meters. The kapok that comes from the seeds is used as a filling for mattresses and pillows. The cola tree provides the raw material for the soft drink cola. The mahogany tree yields the beautiful but very expensive mahogany. Due to the many felling, this tree species is still rare in The Gambia. Bamboo forests are found in the more humid areas. Fences, furniture and various utensils are made from bamboo. Mangrove forests are found in the river deltas and can reach far inland.
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In the dry regions acacias and the most characteristic tree of Africa are found: the baobab or monkey bread tree. The baobab grows to about 20 meters high and can live for more than 1000 years. The tree plays a role in countless African myths and legends. The bark, the fruits, the leaves, the wood, almost everything from this tree is used by the population.
In the wetter south, mango, cashew and citrus trees grow. Poinsettias, lilies, wild orchids, oleanders, hibiscus and bougainvillea provide beautiful colors. The quinine plant supplies juice that protects against malaria, among other things. The elephant grass is a very tall grass and is considered a weed by the farming population.
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The Gambia is a bird paradise for bird lovers. About 450 different species have been counted so far, and new ones are still being discovered. For example, the snake-eating laughing falcon was first observed in 1995. Some species are only found in The Gambia. There are therefore no ordinary safaris in Gambia, but bird safaris.
Large birds include the marabou, vultures, spoonbills, cranes, eagles, owls and the remarkable ground hornbills. Large mammals are almost all extinct. Giraffes, lions, buffaloes, large antelopes, they are searched in vain. Deep inland hippos and crocodiles can still be found in the Gambia River. Various small monkey species such as the velvet monkey and the patter monkey are everywhere. Chimpanzees only live in Baboon Island National park, and there are also small antelopes, aardvarks and warthogs.
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Snakes are found both on land and in water, some of them are highly poisonous. Giant lizards and chameleons are also common. The Gambia River is home to several rare fish species such as the guitarfish, the frogfish, the lungfish and the loach. Because the water of the Gambia River is salt or brackish about 150 to 180 kilometers inland, dolphins can even be seen in the river.
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The coastal waters of The Gambia include sea turtles, rays, sea snakes, crabs, sharks, squid, swordfish and tuna. The almost extinct sea cow can still be seen from time to time at river mouths. The mangrove swamps include various crab species, many water birds and mud jumpers. Mangrove oysters grow on the roots of mangrove trees.
The Gambia's written history does not begin until the 15th century, when the Portuguese founded a trading post on an island in the Gambia River. Little is known about before that time. About 500 years BC. the Carthaginian Admiral Hanno makes mention of the Gambia River for the first time. In 445 BC. sailed the famous Greek historian Herodotus up the Gambia river.
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An unknown people left around 700 AD. stones behind which are placed in the form of circles. These stone circles can be found near Wassu, on the south side of the Gambia River. Strangely, all other circles found are north of the river.
At that time the Arabs crossed the Sahara and gradually conquered North Africa. Berbers were driven to the south and in turn the Wolof and the Mandinka were forced to move south, including to the area of the present-day Gambia. People and tribes began to form that were conquered by the kingdom of Ghana around 1100, then situated on the site of what is now Mali and Mauritania. After this, Berber tribes invaded The Gambia, and with them came Islam.
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At the beginning of the 14th century, the emperor of Mali invaded and the Gambia was conquered again. The emperor was also a descendant of Berbers. During the 16th century, trade relations developed between Berbers living in The Gambia and tribes from the border area of Mali and Nigeria.
New tribes emerged, called Songhai. Meanwhile, the whites arrived in Africa and the Berbers withdrew to Mali from the area of the Gambia River. After this, quarrels arose among the Songhai people and the Songhai were therefore easy prey for the Spanish and Portuguese. They were Spanish and Portuguese Muslims, driven from Europe by Christian troops, who appeared off the coast of The Gambia.
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In 1456 the Portuguese sailed up the Gambia River on the initiative of Henry the Navigator. On an island in the river, a trading post, Ilha de San André, was established and the Portuguese ruled the entire area along the river. From 1501 the first slaves were sold mainly to Spain. The British took it big and the first large slave transport dates back to 1562 to Great Britain.
Immediately afterwards the slave shipments to America and the Caribbean began. It is estimated that between 1501 and 1856, the year in which America abolished slavery, over 12,000,000 slaves were transported from The Gambia to America. This was done under degrading circumstances and probably more than half of the slaves died during the journey. At the end of the seventeenth century, the Senegambian area had more than ten fortresses and posts for the slave trade.
The Gambia and the slave trade were discussed extensively in writer Alex Haley's bestseller, "Roots". The television series that was made as a result of the book also made a big impression.
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In 1651 the German Duke Courland had the first fort built on the Ilha de San André. In 1661, Ilha de San André was occupied by the British and they built a new fort called Fort James, after the English King James II. However, the British frequently came into conflict with hostile tribes and French soldiers. In 1681, the French founded an enclave called Albadarr or Albreda on the north bank of the Gambia River.
After a great fire in 1686, the French left Albadarr. In 1689 it was recaptured by the British and in 1695 the French reclaimed the area and destroyed Fort James. Even at the beginning of the eighteenth century, Fort James was constantly changing. And in the end, during its 300-year occupation, the island changed hands at least 10 times.
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The 1763 treaty of Paris seemed to offer a solution. The Gambia would become British, while the French were allowed to stay in Albadarr. Now, however, the British were again expelled by natives and the French seized their chance again. In 1779, the island was occupied by the French, but the Gambia was finally granted to the British by the Treaty of Versailles in 1783, and neighboring Senegal was for the French. However, the boundaries of the area were far from fixed. These were not established until 1884 at the Berlin Conference. From 1920 the Gambia became a British protectorate. In the twentieth century, the British empire slowly collapsed and major changes were imminent for The Gambia. In the early 1960s, David Jawara founded the People's Progressive Party. This party won the elections in 1962 and became the largest party in the newly established Gambian parliament. The Gambia became independent on February 18, 1965, albeit under the banner of the Commonwealth of Nations as an independent member. Jawara became The Gambia's first Prime Minister. In 1967, the Gambia and Senegal signed a cooperation treaty that was to lead to the two countries continuing as one country, Senegambia. In 1976 the borders between the two countries were redefined and between 1982 and 1989 they formed a confederation of states. That treaty was canceled in 1989 because Senegal felt that the Gambia was not developing fast enough. The Gambia then decided to remain independent.
It was not until 1970 that the Gambia became fully independent with Jawara as its first president. The Gambia was the last British colony in Africa to gain independence. In 1980 and 1981, conspiracies against Jawara were discovered, and armed forces (200 men) and police (700 men) were expanded.
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Some time later, the armed forces were expanded again and that eventually led in 1994 to a coup d'état by Lieutenant YahYa Jammeh, which incidentally came about without bloodshed. Jawara was accused of corruption. The ordinary population also benefited too little from the increasing income from the tourist industry. Jawara fled to Senegal. Jammeh formed a military government but promised to restore democracy and called elections for July 1996. Meanwhile, the economy was severely damaged by all the events. England and the Scandinavian countries in particular advised tourists not to travel to The Gambia. It was not until the end of 1995 that tourism got back on track.
In 1996 and 1997 parliamentary democracy was "restored" with a new constitution, Jammeh was elected as new president and general elections took place. Jammeh's new party won with 56% of the vote, amid protests from its opponents. Foreign countries also disagreed with the conduct of the elections. Still, Jammeh remained popular among the common people. Jammeh in turn announced far-reaching plans with regard to infrastructure and the economy. A new airport was also built and it was promised that hospitals and schools would be built in the interior.
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In late 1997, The New African magazine published an article about millions of dollars in development aid allegedly ending up in foreign bank accounts. Human rights would also be messed around. Despite this negative publicity, it appears that Jammeh is currently the only one who can provide the Gambia with much-needed stability. Partly under pressure from foreign donors, presidential elections were held in 1996 and parliamentary elections in 1997. Jammeh won with 56% of the vote and was installed as President on October 18, 1996.
In the presidential elections of October 18, 2001, Jammeh was re-elected with 53% of the votes cast. His main opponent, Ousainou Darboe, got 32% of the voters behind him. Although several violent and intimidating incidents towards the opposition occurred in the run-up to these elections, the elections have been conducted in an orderly manner and have been labeled free and fair by observers. On June 1, 2002, ex-President Sir Dawda Jawara, deposed in 1994, returned to The Gambia after an eight-year exile in the United Kingdom. The return was possible after an amnesty granted by Jammeh.
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Due to the many changes of ministers and state secretaries, as well as, for example, the chief of defense staff, chief of police, chief of security and central bank director, he has few supporters left. In October 2005, former Home Secretary Samba Bah was arrested for economic crimes, espionage and terrorism. The chairman of the election committee, appointed to organize the presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections, also suffered and was removed from office in early July 2005. Trust that ministers and government officials have in the president and the functioning of the government is therefore small and decisions are only made at the level of the president. To date, the opposition has not yet managed to present a joint opposing candidate. If the opposition succeeds in this, there is a high risk of political instability in the run-up to the presidential elections (as happened before in the run-up to the 2001 elections).
During by-elections in September 2005, three of the four parliamentary seats to be won were won by the opposition coalition National Alliance for Democracy and Development (NADD). In September 2006, President Yahya Jammeh (41 years old) was re-elected as president. He received the most votes in 47 of the 48 constituencies. In January 2007 his party also won the parliamentary elections. In May 2008 Jammeh draws attention with the statement that he wants to behead every homosexual in The Gambia, he is strongly criticized by the international gay movement.
In September 2009 Jammeh threatens to kill human rights activists. In November 2011, President Jammeh wins the presidential election and will run for another term. In October 2013, The Gambia left the Commonwealth, according to Jammeh, due to the neocolonial structure of the organization. In December 2014, military personnel commit a failed coup during a trip abroad by President Jammeh. Many arrests of both military and civilians followed in January 2015. President Jammeh proclaims that The Gambia is an Islamic republic. He says he wants to deal with the colonial past with this.
In the summer of 2016, there have been attacks by the government on the opposition ahead of the 2016 presidential election. Opposition leader Ebrima Solo Kurumah dies in detention, Amnesty International is investigating the case. In December 2016, Jammeh loses the presidential election to opposition candidate Adama Barrow.
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In January 2017, he finally leaves the country after threats from neighboring states with intervention. In the April 2017 parliamentary elections, the United Democratic Party wins the absolute majority, ending the power of ex-President Jammeh's party.
The Gambia had 2,051,5363 inhabitants in 2017. The population density is about 181 inhabitants per km2, making The Gambia the fourth most densely populated countries in Africa. Most Gambians live in the coastal region, where the major cities are. Most inhabitants live in the capital Banjul (504,000 people) and Banjul is one of the smallest capitals in Africa. Because it is located on an island, Banjul cannot actually get much bigger. The migration to the cities is great; in 2017, 60% of the population lived in cities. The birth rate is high; 29.4 children are born per 1000 inhabitants. Infant mortality is also high; 60 out of 1000 children die in the first year of life.
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The population structure of The Gambia cannot be compared in any way with the West European one; children and young people up to the age of 14 make up 37% of the population. The average life expectancy is 65.1 years (women 67.5, men 62.8 years); 2017.
The population of The Gambia comes from many peoples, each with their own culture and language. These tribes are not only found in The Gambia, but in practically all West African countries. There are about fifteen different tribes in The Gambia who speak about 30 different languages.
The main tribes are: The Mandinka live in The Gambia, Senegal, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali and Nigeria. It is the largest population group, about 34% of the population.
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The Fula lead a nomadic existence. They have a remarkably light skin color, so that their origin is very likely not in Africa, but that they descend from the Arabs. Nine very different dialects are spoken within the Fula tribe. Eighteen percent of the Gambian population belongs to the Fula.
The Wolof have always lived in Africa and came from the Sahara region. They were traders, so Wolof has always played an important role as a language. Most Wolof currently live in The Gambia and Senegal. Sixteen percent of the Gambians belong to the Wolof tribe.
From a historical point of view, little is known about the Jola. Yet they have long lived along almost the entire Atlantic coast of West Africa. Characteristic of the Jola is the formation of “clans”, families that are independently established within a tribe. Ten percent of the Gambian population belongs to the Jola tribe.
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A small but important group are about 1000 Lebanese who control many bakeries, restaurants and an important part of the food import.
Furthermore, there are still about 25,000 Senegalese living there, mainly as workers. A separate group are the Aku, descendants of returned slaves and freed slaves. The Aku are generally Christians and often have an English surname.
English is the official language in The Gambia, especially in the government, education, the judiciary and of course in the tourist centers. More than half of the Gambians speak English in addition to their own tribal language. Also in the interior you can generally speak English well. Typically, the official name is not The Gambia, but The Gambia. The Gambia River is also always called River Gambia.
The main tribal language is Mandinka. This language is also widely used when people from different tribes speak to each other. Especially in the cities, Wolof also has this function. Furthermore, Fula, Serahuli and Jola are important tribal languages. French is also frequently used as a commercial and colloquial language. Especially in the tourist centers where many French-speaking Senegalese work.
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The Gambia is a largely Islamic country. Around 90% of the population is Muslim. About 10% of the population belongs to the Roman Catholic or Anglican Church. There are also small groups of Methodists and Seventh Day Adventists.
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Animism has disappeared as a formal belief. Animism is a primal belief in which it is believed that all earthly things such as trees, animals or even stones have their own spiritual power. Yet it still lives on to some extent, even among Muslims and Christians. Superstition also plays a role.
Because according to Islam men are allowed to have a maximum of four wives, polygamy still occurs regularly, especially in the interior. In the cities this is much, much less the case.
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The Gambia has been a republic since April 26, 1970, with a president as head of state who is also head of government. The Gambia has one chamber (National Assembly) with 45 members who are elected by the people for five years. There are as many as there are administrative areas (45). The National Assembly is further expanded with eight members who do not have the right to vote: the Minister of Justice, a chairman, a deputy chairman and five deputy members. There are also five district chiefs (Chiefs) in the National Assembly.
General elections were held for the first time in 1964. Just like in England, the elections are held according to a district system. The Gambia is administratively divided into six “divisions” (provinces). These are divided into 45 districts. For the current political situation see chapter history.
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Just over a quarter of the population has finished school. A much larger percentage can read and write. There is no compulsory education, and it does not matter when children go to school for the first time. Usually at the age of five or six. Further education is followed by only 25% of the children in rural areas. Six-year primary education is free. It is mandatory to wear a school uniform, the cost of which must be paid by the parents. There are private schools as well as schools funded by the government. The Quran is taught in mostly Islamic schools, which is why Arabic lessons are compulsory.
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In the interior there are still mission schools. The secondary and higher schools pass on their costs in full to the parents. Secondary education is divided into three years of “junior secondary school”. After that, one can continue at the “senior secondary school”.
The higher courses take an average of five years. Higher in the case of Gambia means administrative training and technical secondary education. HBO courses and university education are possible since 1999. The University of The Gambia was established by an Act of the National Assembly of the Gambia in March 1999. The enactment, which was a bold step to fulfill a long-standing desire of the people of The Gambia and to respond to several years of advocacy both within and outside the country for a university, ended years of indecision on the university question.
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Although the number of schools is growing rapidly, there is still a chronic shortage. There are more than 200 primary schools. About 70,000 children attend this education. There are 25 secondary schools and 10 higher education schools. Only 15,000 students attend secondary education and even fewer, 1,500 students, attend higher education.
The Gambia's economy is among the weaker in the world. Per capita GDP was $ 2,600 in 2017. The Gambia's economy is mainly agricultural. Most important export products are still peanuts and peanut products such as peanut oil and animal feed. This monoculture means that The Gambia is highly dependent on peanut prices on the world market and therefore the economy has a shaky foundation. With the support of mainly British development funds, efforts are being made to improve production methods and stimulate the cultivation of other crops. The emphasis is on the development of agriculture and irrigation of the marshes around the Gambia River.
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Small quantities of spices, papayas, mangoes, cotton, millet, bananas and palm tree products are also exported. However, most agricultural products such as cereals are grown for domestic use. Important trading partners for the Gambia are Guinea-Bissau, Great Britain, the Netherlands, France, Mali and Senegal (also smuggling trade). Total exports in 2017 were $ 72.9 million. Other important exports are fish and fish products, in particular dried fish, most of which go to countries in the region.
Many goods and products are imported, especially food, beverages and tobacco. Furthermore, among others machines, oils and fats, chemical products and textiles. Important trading partners in terms of imports are China, Great Britain, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Belgium and Senegal. Total imports were $ 377 million in 2017.
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Most of the working people in The Gambia have two sources of income. Firstly, an official job and secondly, income from the sale of mainly home-grown agricultural products. Nearly 500,000 people earn from the market and 150,000 of them have a business or shop.
The industry is not much in the Gambia yet. There is some agricultural manufacturing industry and some packaging factories.
In The Gambia, almost half of the population lives below the poverty line, which means that they are unable to provide for their basic needs.
For shipping, only the port of Banjul at the mouth of the Gambia river is important; the river is especially important for inland navigation. Of the roads (2386 km in total), 750 km can be used all year round. There are two routes from west to east through The Gambia. One of them runs north of the Gambia River and is unpaved. The other route runs south of the Gambia River and is paved. The only significant airport is Yundum, near Banjul.
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25% of the national income currently comes from the tourism industry. The coastal strip in particular is being further developed for the benefit of tourism. Tourism began to take off in the mid-1960s. The Gambia has become a popular tourist destination, especially in winter.
The capital Banjul is definitely worth a visit. There is a colorful market, the Albert market. This market has everything you can expect from a traditional African market. From batik fabrics and handbags in the stalls to pyramids of citrus fruits that balance dangerously on the sidewalk. It's a great place to soak up the atmosphere and pick up a bargain. Don't be afraid to bargain if the price is too high.
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The National Museum is The Gambia's main museum with a wide range of historical and archaeological objects about the people and the area, including the period of British colonial rule. Dating back to 1982, the museum is a major cultural attraction and also has a number of photographs and maps in its collection.
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The Gambia is mainly visited because of the beautiful beaches and the even climate. One thing everyone should do during their vacation is a trip on the Gambia River. Ships and boats regularly carry passengers upstream, where you can enjoy the sights and sounds of over 300 different species of wildlife. Many visitors choose to sail in the traditional flat-bottomed boats, known locally as 'pirogues'.
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Experienced guides lead you through beautiful mangroves, rice paddies and swamps and point out various birds such as flamingos and pelicans. There's also the chance to see antelopes, baboons, hippos, warthogs and possibly even dolphins.
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Derksen, G. / Gambia, Senegal
Hesseling, G. / Senegal/Gambia : mensen, politiek, economie, cultuur
Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen
Waard, P. de / Reishandboek Gambia
CIA - World Factbook
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