Country Profiles:
The Gambia

Considered the smallest country in main-land Africa, The Gambia is well known as the “smiling coast of Africa,” simply because of her friendly and hospitality towards people from all parts of the world and her beautiful beaches. The River Gambia is a major tourist attraction and a dominant feature running through the heart of the country. The Gambia coastline borders the Atlantic Ocean. The River Gambia has a beautiful presence home to hippos and subspecies of Nile crocodile, birds and dominantly rich with fish. The Gambia is almost engulfed by Senegal in all three sides. The country is known for the beaches along its small Atlantic coastline and for being home to Jufureh (Juffure), the reputed ancestral village of Kunta Kinte and the main character in Alex Haley’s well-known novel Roots. The capital, Banjul formerly, Bathurst until 1973), is situated where the Gambia River flows into the Atlantic Ocean.

UNESCO Heritage sites in The Gambia includes:

1. FORT JAMES or Kunta Kinteh Island. The site is a testimony to the encounters between Africa and Europe from pre-colonial times to independence along the Gambia River.

2. Stone Circles of Senegambia, The groups of stone circles are among over 1,000 different monuments along the Gambia River. Used as burial grounds, they were erected between the 3rd century BCE and the 16th century CE.

Arab traders populated the region throughout the 9th and 10th centuries followed by trans-Saharan traders during the medieval times. Around 1230BC, Sundiata Keita founded the Mali Empire, and over 400 years it grew into a wealthy ruling, extending throughout much of West Africa.

The Soninke people assumed control after the collapse of the Mali Empire during the 16th century. Antonio, Prior of Crato and claimant to the Portuguese throne, sold exclusive trade rights to English merchants in 1588. Fort James Island, established by the British, soon had a rival fort at Albreda, built by the French. During the 17th and 18th centuries, these forts were the scenes of periodic battles between the countries striving for control of regional trade. For the this reason resulted into the peculiar shape and size of the country as a result of territorial compromises made during the 19th century by Great Britain, which controlled the lower Gambia River, and France, which ruled the neighboring colony of Senegal.

Talks in the 20th century to unite The Gambia and Senegal to form Senegambia confederation (1982–89) was short-lived; as The Gambia’s growing concern over its autonomy, led to the dissolution of the confederation in 1989. The terms of the agreement required Senegal and The Gambia to take the following steps toward union: integrate their military and security forces; form an economic and monetary union; coordinate their foreign policies and communications; and establish confederal institutions. Both countries still maintain close ties. The Gambia gained independence on February 18th 1965. Sir Dawda Jawara became The Gambia’s first president from independence in 1965 until he was ousted in 1994 by Lieutenant Yahya Jammeh in a bloodless coup. Mr. Jammeh ruled the country with an iron fist after seizing power in a 1994. His 22-year rule came to an end in 2016, when he was defeated in a shock election result by the main opposition candidate, Adama Barrow. Mr. Jammeh conceded to the results of the election and a week later question the validity of the results and refusal to change power; which lead to mass protest and a threat of armed intervention by ECOWAS. Mr. Jammeh chooses exile in Equatorial Guinea. Nevertheless, The Gambia is one of the most peaceful countries in the world and has enjoyed long spells of stability since independence. The country is gaining back momentum to be among the fastest growing economies in the continent.

The Gambia have very limited mineral resources. Peanuts/groundnut is the primary export including cotton, rice, and cattle. In addition, The Gambia River provides abundant supply of fish. There is a huge potential for commercial fishing offshore and in the river that has yet to be tapped into. The river also holds hydroelectric potential, but there are no dams on the river within the country’s borders to take advantage of such opportunity.

There are nine ethnic groups in the country. The largest group is the Malinkecomprising about one-third of the population. The Fulani, a dominating group in Guinea Conakry, The Wolof, dominant group in Senegal, also predominate in Banjul. The Soninke, an admixture of Malinke and Fulani, are also concentrated in the upriver areas. English is the official language. Mandinka and Wolof constitute the lingua Franca of the country.

Gambian cuisine is really special with African, Arabian, British, French and Portuguese influences. The result is a fusion of ingredients and spices prepared in a unique way to produce a complex range of flavors. Popular dishes include: Domoda/Mafe (Peanut stew – featured on the Drs. Show as a great source of lowering cancer). Jolof Rice (also known as Benachine a shared dish with Senegal). Afrah (grilled lamb or beef seasoned with spices), Supakanja (okra stew), Chere (couscous type millet), Chicken Yassa (fried chicken in onions), Chew i Kong (catfish stew), Chakery (is a pudding made from couscous bathed in a sweet mix preparation), Bissap or Wondo (hibiscus flower drink).

The Gambian musical scene within Africa has always been extremely vibrant with an intoxicating mix of the Kora (African Harp) with its twisting, winding melodies to the Balafon a kind of glockenspiel which often accompanies the Kora. Kora music is from the Mandinka tribe popularized by legendary music icons such as; Lalo Kebba Drammeh, Amadou Bansang Jobarteh, Momodou Suso, Jalibah Kuyateh and Sona Jobarteh. Sewruba is a popular traditional Mandinka dance which dates back to years. Sewruba is also a drum and refers to a particular Mandinka dance rhythm. The drums are classified into three; namely, Kutirr-nding (short), Mbeleng (long) and Junkunrang/Kuturoba. Mbalax – also known as Ndagga, meaning ‘rhythm’ in Wolof – derives its name from the accompanying rhythms used in sabar, a tradition that originated from the Serer popularized by Youssou N’dour. Nyamakala is a popular traditional Fula dance. One of their famous instruments is called riti. This Fula fiddle is played like a violin to produce hauntingly melodious sounds.

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