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The Commonwealth
The Gambia



Did you know:

A Gambian citizen, Abdoulie Janneh, was the Regional Director for Africa of the United Nations Development Programme 2000–05, and Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa 2005–12. The country hosts a national chapter of the Commonwealth Human Ecology Council.

Key facts

Joined Commonwealth: 1965; left 2013; rejoined 2018
Population: 2,038,501 (2016)
GDP: p.c. growth: 0.9% p.a. 1990–2011
UN HDI: world ranking 173
Official language: English
Timezone: GMT
Currency: Dalasi (D)


Area: 11,295 sq km
Coastline: 80km
Capital city: Banjul
Population density (per sq. km): 176

The Republic of The Gambia is the smallest country in West Africa. Apart from a stretch of coastline along the Atlantic Ocean, it is entirely surrounded by Senegal.

Main towns:

Banjul (capital, pop. 32,900 in 2010), Serekunda (391,100), Brikama (94,800), Bakau (64,500), Lamin (34,900), Nema Kunku (32,200), Farafenni (28,900), Brufut (28,300), Gunjur (25,200), Basse Santa-Su (17,500) and Sukuta (17,100)


There are 3,740km of roads, 19% paved. Roads in and around Banjul are mostly bituminised; unsealed roads can be impassable in the rainy season. There is no railway.

The River Gambia extends, east-west, the entire length of the country, providing a vital communications link for cargo and passengers. The river is navigable by ocean-going vessels up to Kuntaur (240km upstream) and by shallow draught vessels up to Basse Santa Su (418km). Exports (mostly groundnuts) are carried down the river to Banjul. The principal port is at Banjul, serving the international and river trade.

Banjul International Airport is situated at Yundum, 29km southwest of the city.

International relations:

The Gambia is a member of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, African Union, Economic Community of West African States, Non-Aligned Movement, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, United Nations and World Trade Organization.


The Gambia consists of a long narrow ribbon of land on either side of the River Gambia, one of the major African waterways. At the estuary, the northern and southern boundaries are 45km apart, but the belt of land narrows to about 20km inland. The terrain is generally flat and low-lying; the island capital Banjul (formerly Bathurst) is situated only one metre above sea level. Away from the coast the country rises to a low plateau with flat-topped hills in a few places. From Georgetown to the eastern boundary the area is enclosed by rocky hills. The coast has sand cliffs and 50km of unspoilt silver-sand beaches.


The climate is tropical with distinct dry and rainy seasons. The dry season at the coast, coinciding with the cooler weather, runs from mid-November to mid-May; the hot rainy season is June to October. The weather is hot and humid inland, with mid-day temperatures up to 38°C in March-June. The harmattan blows from the Sahara in January-March, bringing dust and haze


The most significant environmental issues are deforestation, desertification, and the prevalence of water-borne diseases. Erosion of the coastal sand cliffs, caused both by the sea and by sand mining for the construction industry, is a dangerous possibility.


There are mangrove swamps along the river and its creeks. Tropical forest and bamboo grow on the red ironstone banks of the lower river. Away from the river there is savannah; mahogany, rosewood, oil palm and rubber cover large areas. Forest covers 48% of the land area, having increased at 0.4% p.a. 1990-2010. Arable land comprises 40% of the total land area.


The Gambian wildlife is rich and impressive, including hippos, small game and many small mammals. Concern for wildlife led to the Banjul Declaration of 1977 which aims to conserve and protect as wide a spectrum as possible of the remaining fauna and flora. The Gambia also has an exotic and varied birdlife and the country is becoming an increasingly popular paradise for birdwatchers. There are more than 280 different species, including the rare Egyptian plover. With the River Gambia a dominant feature of the country, fish are plentiful.


Ancient stone circles on the banks of the River Gambia are evidence of an early population but little is known of it. From the fifth to eighth century the area that is now The Gambia was part of the empire of Ghana, ruled by the Serahuli. It later became part of the kingdom of Songhai; in that period Islam was introduced. The Mali empire, under the Mandinka and Susu, which established control during the 13th century, had declined by about 1500. In the late 18th century Fula invaders penetrated the area.

Europeans started to explore and settle the coast and river area from the 15th century. In 1455 and 1456, Portuguese-sponsored expeditions began exploring the river; the attractions were rumours of gold (in fact gold was shipped down the River Gambia from the interior) and the opportunities for slaving, with local business co-operation. From the 17th century up to and even after the trade became illegal in 1807 the river was a focus for the European slave-trade.

During the 17th century various English and French adventurers and semi-official expeditions came and went, on the trail of gold and slaves. There were Portuguese communities living on the river banks until the mid-18th century, and much intermarriage with local people. From the 18th century the French and the British struggled for control of the region. Between 1765 and 1783 The Gambia and Senegal were combined into the province of Senegambia, under French administration. The British settlement of James Island was recognised by the Treaty of Versailles in 1783.

In the early 19th century Britain established a military post on Banjul island (then called Bathurst) in order to suppress the slave traffic on the River Gambia carried on by American and Spanish vessels. In 1823, MacCarthy Island (270km up-river) became a settlement for liberated slaves. In 1888, alarmed by French influence in Senegal, Britain seized the river and the land on both sides of it; thus The Gambia became a separate country, the downstream part of the country being a colony and the upstream part a protectorate, and a Gambian legislature was established. Previously, the much smaller territory had been administered from Sierra Leone. A legislative council gradually became more representative as progress towards independence was made.

During the 1950s political parties emerged. In 1960, in elections held under a new constitution, the People’s Progressive Party established itself. After further constitutional changes, the country became internally self-governing in 1963 and achieved independence on 18 February 1965, with Queen Elizabeth II, represented by a governor-general, as head of state.

In 1970, following a referendum, a republican constitution was introduced. The 1970 constitution enshrined the strong traditional structures by giving a voice in the legislature to the chiefs.

The Gambia’s location, enclosed by Senegal, has suggested the benefits of some form of union between the countries. The Senegambian Confederation, established in 1982 after Senegalese troops had intervened to help deal with an attempted coup, was a loose arrangement bringing benefits to both countries. The Confederation was dissolved in 1989, however, after Gambian resistance to closer union, but in May 1991 the two countries signed a treaty of friendship and co- operation.

After re-election on five occasions (the country retaining multiparty democracy under his 29-year leadership), President Dawda Jawara was deposed in a bloodless coup by junior army officers in July 1994. Captain Yahya Jammeh then set up the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council, which pledged a return to democratic civilian government.

An 11-member constitutional commission, chaired by a Ghanaian judge and including British, American and Malawian lawyers, prepared a draft new constitution in 1995. A national referendum on the draft constitution was held in August 1996, and the ban on political activity lifted in the same month (although ex-President Jawara and the leaders of the three main opposition parties were barred). The presidential election was held in September 1996, and won by Jammeh, with 55% of the votes. Three days after this election, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) raised serious doubts about the credibility of the poll.

In January 1997, parliamentary elections were contested by Jammeh’s party, the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC), the United Democratic Party (UDP) led by Ousainou Darboe, the People’s Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS), the National Reconciliation Party (NRP) and five independents. The APRC – the only party able to contest every seat – won with a more than two-thirds majority – securing 33 seats. The UDP – which had agreed to take part on condition political detainees were released and the army and security forces did not interfere in the electoral process – won seven; the NRP two; and the PDOIS one. CMAG concluded that these were conducted in a freer atmosphere than the presidential election in September 1996.

The National Assembly was inaugurated in January 1997, and adopted the new constitution. Political prisoners, including ministers of the Jawara government and UDP supporters arrested before the elections, were released in February and charges dropped. In April 1997, the restoration of a civilian government was completed when the four remaining regional military governors were replaced by civilians.

In October 2013, The Gambia's Interior Minister announced that The Gambia would leave the Commonwealth after 48 years of membership. After the 1 December 2016 elections, Adama Barrow became the third president of The Gambia and the country began the process of returning to its membership of the Commonwealth on 23 January 2018 by formally presenting its application to re-join to Secretary-General Patricia Scotland.

The Gambia officially re-joined the Commonwealth on 8 February 2018.

The Gambia - Trip to The Smiling Coast of Africa
Gambia is being chosen more often as a holiday destination due to its great weather and fantastic nature. This film is portraying what we did while visiting the Gambia for the first time. We where there for only a week but during that time we've managed to visit some cool places but more importantly meet a bunch of beautiful people.

Learn more about The Gambia on The Commonwealth site
Society, Economy, Constitution & politics, History and Travel.
The Gambia development cooperation 1997 report
by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (pdf)
Reminiscences of the Founding of a Christian Mission in The Gambia
By The Rev. John Morgan (1864) (pdf)
The Gambia
By Sandra Murphy (pdf)

The Gambia 2017

Tips For First Timers to The Gambia

Business in the Commonwealth
Web site of the Country

Return to our Commonwealth Page


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