Gambia (Commonwealth of Nations)

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Gambia (Commonwealth of Nations)

Gambia, The, republic within the Commonwealth of Nations, situated on the western coast of Africa, enclosed on the north, east, and south by Senegal, and fronting the Atlantic Ocean on the west. Also called Gambia, it has an area of 11,295 sq km (4,361 sq mi). Banjul is the capital.
The Gambia extends for about 320 km (200 mi) inland from the Atlantic Ocean on both sides of the lower Gambia River. It is only about 50 km (30 mi) wide at its widest point. The river is lined with mangrove swamps.
The Gambia has a subtropical climate with distinct hot and cool seasons. During the cool season, from November to May, the harmattan, a hot, dry, dusty wind, blows from the Sahara. Temperatures range from 16°C (60°F) in winter to 43°C (110°F) in summer. The rainy season lasts from June to October. The average annual rainfall is about 1,020 mm (about 40 in).
The main natural resource of The Gambia is the Gambia River, one of Africa’s best navigable waterways. The country’s soil is mostly poor and sandy, except in the riverine swamps, but is ideally suited for the cultivation of peanuts, upon which the economy depends. Fish are increasing in economic importance, and seismic surveys have indicated the possibility that petroleum exists.
The mangrove, oil palm, and rubber vine grow in profusion, and cedar and mahogany trees abound. Wildlife includes leopard, wild boar, crocodile, hippopotamus, and several species of antelope. Such game birds as the guinea fowl and sand grouse are plentiful.
The Gambia has lost 91 percent of its original forest habitat, which has been cleared for agriculture and fuel wood. As a result, many of the big-game animals have been destroyed, although some protected areas have been established. With government incentives encouraging growth in the number of fishing companies, over fishing has emerged as a problem.
Saltwater has intruded farther upriver, causing agricultural lands to become saline. Desertification has increased.
A wide variety of ethnic groups live side by side in The Gambia while preserving individual languages and traditions.

The population comprises the Mandinka (also known as Mandingo or Malinke), the largest ethnic group (representing about 42 percent of the country’s inhabitants); the Fulani (about 18 percent), who predominate in the eastern part of the country; the Wolof (about 16 percent), who live mainly in Banjul and the western region; the Jola (about 10 percent), who live in the western region; the Serahuli (about 9 percent), whose rulers introduced Islam into the region in the 12th century and who are primarily traders and nomads; and the small Aku community, partly descended from liberated slaves. In 2001, 31 percent of the population lived in urban areas.
The population of The Gambia (2003 estimate) is 1,501,050, making it one of the least populous countries of Africa. Still, the country has an overall population density of 133 persons per sq km (344 per sq mi), and the population is increasing at a rate of 3 percent a year. Banjul, formerly called Bathurst, is the capital and only seaport. The largest city is Serrekunda.
About 87 percent of the people of The Gambia are Muslim; 8 percent follow traditional religions, and 4 percent are Christian. English is the official language, but each ethnic group has its own language.
Primary education in The Gambia is free but not compulsory. In the 2000 school year 156,800 children were enrolled in primary school (75 percent of this age group), while 56,200 were enrolled in a secondary school (27 percent of secondary school-aged children). The country’s institutions of higher education include The Gambia College, in Bríkama, and several technical and training schools.
The Gambia’s economy depends largely on the production of a single crop, peanuts. The national budget in 1993 included revenue of $87 million and expenditure of $76 million.
Some 82 percent of the working population of The Gambia is engaged in agriculture. Rice and millet, as well as cattle, sheep, goats, and poultry, are raised for local consumption. Peanuts are grown primarily for export; the crop amounted to 151,000 metric tons in 2002. The sale of peanuts and peanut products accounted for about three-quarters of total yearly domestic exports by value in the 1990s. The government has introduced the raising of cotton, sisal, citrus fruits, and tobacco to diversify agricultural production. The coastal villages engage in fishing. In 1999 the fish catch was 30,004 metric tons, mostly from marine waters.
Manufacturing in The Gambia is limited mainly to the processing of peanuts and other primary products and to the building of fishing boats. Other manufactures include beverages, clothing, footwear, and handicrafts. The country’s unit of currency, adopted in 1971, is the dalasi (15.69 dalasi equal U.S.$1; 2001 average), consisting of 100 butut; it is issued by the Central Bank of The Gambia (1971). The cost of The Gambia’s yearly imports is usually much more than its export earnings; in 2000 imports totalled $210 million and exports were valued at $9 million.

The main trading partners for exports were Japan, Belgium and Luxembourg, Senegal, Guinea, France, and the United States; principal partners for imports were the China, Côte d’Ivoire, Hong Kong, United Kingdom, Germany, Senegal, Thailand, and the United States. The Gambia’s tourist industry is a growing source of foreign exchange; the country hosted 91,000 visitors in 1998. The Gambia River is navigable for about 190 km (about 120 mi) from the Atlantic Ocean by small ocean-going vessels. There are 2,700 km (1,678 mi) of roads; the construction of a major road south of the river has reduced the importance of the river as a major artery of transportation. The country has no railroads. An international airport is located at Yundum, near Banjul. Broadcasters include government-operated Radio Gambia and a commercial station, Radio Syd. Until the military took over The Gambia’s government in a bloodless coup in 1994, the country was governed by a 1970 constitution. Under military President Yahya Jammeh, a new constitution was approved by public referendum in August 1996 and came into effect in January 1997. Under this constitution a popularly elected president serves as head of state for a five-year term. The president may serve an unlimited number of terms. The country’s legislative body is the unicameral National Assembly. Forty-eight of the legislature’s 53 members are popularly elected to five-year terms; the president appoints the other 5. In parliamentary elections held in January 2002, 45 out of 48 elected seats went to members of Jammeh’s political party, the Alliance for Patriotic Reorganization and Cooperation (APRC).
The judicial system consists of a supreme court with unlimited jurisdiction, an appeal court, and subordinate magistrate and divisional courts. Special Muslim courts handle civil actions between Muslim citizens. Minor civil and criminal cases are tried in-group tribunals.
Stone circles, tools, and pottery found near Banjul indicate early occupation of the area; evidence of iron works dates from the 8th century AD. Numerous ethnic groups entered The Gambia after the 13th century. Chief among these were the Mandinka, Wolof, and Fulani peoples. Early states paid tribute to the Mali Empire; the different groups later created small riverine kingdoms. In 1455 Portuguese explorers entered the region and soon established trading stations along the river. Chartered companies from England and France supplanted these in the 17th century. In 1816 the British purchased Banjul Island from the ruler of a local kingdom, and founded the town of Bathurst (now Banjul). Despite endemic wars, Britain resisted expansion into the upper river areas until the European race for African territory began.

To protect its position, Britain then claimed the Gambia River. In an 1889 agreement with France, The Gambia’s present boundaries were established. The area became a British protectorate in 1894. In the following years, British administrators governed the population largely through local rulers, and Britain encouraged economic self-sufficiency.
After World War II (1939-1945) Britain belatedly began to develop The Gambia and to train some Africans for administrative posts. Political parties were formed in the 1950s and in 1960 nationwide elections were held. The Gambia became independent on February 18, 1965, with Sir Dawda K. Jawara as prime minister. In a 1970 national referendum Gambians voted to form a republic, and Jawara was elected president. He and his People’s Progressive Party (PPP) won the 1972 and 1977 elections. About 500 people were killed in a Libyan-backed coup attempt in 1981. The coup failed because of Senegalese intervention, and led to the creation of the confederation of Senegambia with President Abdou Diouf of Senegal as president and Jawara as vice president. The confederation resulted in closer economic cooperation, but never supplanted the political systems of the two nations. Jawara retained the presidency of The Gambia in the elections of 1982 and 1987. The confederation with Senegal collapsed in 1989, but a new friendship treaty was signed in 1991. Jawara was re-elected as president of The Gambia in 1992. In July 1994 the military overthrew Jawara’s government and took control of the country. The coup leaders formed Provisional Ruling Council, led by Lieutenant (later Captain) Yahya Jammeh, suspended the constitution, and banned all political activity. Jammeh declared his intention to return the country to civilian rule, but proceeded to consolidate his position. Under international pressure to hold democratic elections, Jammeh oversaw the promulgation of a new constitution that virtually guaranteed him victory in September 1996 presidential elections through candidate age limits and financial restrictions on political parties. Jammeh disbanded the Provisional Ruling Council, retired from the army, declared himself a candidate for president, and restored political activity while prohibiting three major political parties (including the PPP) from participating in the elections. Jammeh won the elections, which were widely criticized for their unfairness. Jammeh was re-elected president in October 2001.

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