The African continent is comprised of 54 nations, each with its own independent government and sovereignty, GDP, culture, natural resources, language(s), military, and religion. The treasure trove of mineral and raw material wealth has scarcely been touched and the continent's largely untapped fertile lands could feed the world. Herewith is Jewel of Africa, an interactive adventure in the cradle of mankind, an exploration of nations from A-Z in alphabetical order.
The Gambia: Smallest nation in mainland Africa
The Gambia, officially the Republic of The Gambia, is the smallest country in mainland Africa boasting a population of 2.5 million people. Banjul is the Gambian capital and the country's largest metropolitan area with a population of 459,000, followed by the next two largest cities: Serekunda with 340,000 people, and Brikama with 77,700.
The Gambia shares historical roots with many other West African nations in the slave trade, which was the key factor in the placing and keeping of a colony on the Gambia River, first by the Portuguese, during which era it was known as A Gâmbia. Later, in May 1765, Gambia was made a part of the British Empire when the government formally assumed control, establishing the Gambia Colony and Protectorate.
In 1965, the Gambia gained independence under the leadership of Dawda Jawara, who ruled until Yahya Jammeh seized power in a bloodless 1994 coup. Then, Adama Barrow became the Gambia's third president in January 2017, after defeating Jammeh in the December 2016 elections. The name "Gambia" is derived from the Mandinka term Kambra/Kambaa, meaning Gambia River. Upon independence in 1965, the country used the name the Gambia. Following the proclamation of a republic in 1970, the long-form name of the country became Republic of the Gambia. The administration of President Jammeh changed the long-form name to Islamic Republic of the Gambia, but in January 2017, President Barrow changed the name back to Republic of the Gambia.
In February 2017, the Gambia began the process of returning to its membership of the Commonwealth and formally presented its application to re-join to Secretary-General Patricia Scotland in January 2018. Boris Johnson, who became the first British Foreign Secretary to visit the Gambia since the country gained independence in 1965, announced that the British government welcomed the Gambia's return to the Commonwealth. The Gambia officially rejoined the Commonwealth on Feb. 8, 2018.
Geography and climate
The Gambia is a very small and narrow country, less than 31 miles wide at its widest point, with a total area of 14,361 square miles. About 500 square miles or 11.5 percent of the Gambia's area is covered by water. It is the smallest country on the African mainland. In comparative terms, the Gambia has a total area slightly less than that of the island of Jamaica.
Situated on the Atlantic, the country is surrounded by Senegal, except for its western coast. The Gambia encircles the Gambia River, which flows through the center of the nation and empties into the Atlantic Ocean. The present boundaries were defined in 1889 after an agreement between the UK and France. During negotiations, the French initially gave the British 200 miles of the Gambia River to control. Starting with the placement of boundary markers in 1891, it took nearly 15 years after the Paris meetings to determine the final borders of the Gambia. Ultimately, the British assumed control of an area 10 miles north and south of the Gambia River.
The Gambia contains three terrestrial eco-regions: Guinean forest-savanna mosaic, West Sudanese savanna, and Guinean mangroves. The Gambia has a tropical climate. A hot and rainy season normally ensues from June until November then gives way to cooler temperatures and less precipitation beginning in May.
Government and politics
In The Gambia today, he president appoints the vice president and cabinet of ministers and also chairs the cabinet. The office of Prime Minister was abolished in 1970. Total executive power is
Banjul is the capital city of The Republic of The Gambia on the West coast of Africa, bordered by Senegal. Banjul sits on an island where the Gambia River meets the Atlantic Ocean. the population of Banjul is 459,000. The population Gambia is 2.5 million.
With long sandy beaches that are never overcrowded, even in the height of the season, The Gambia is a beach lover’s paradise. Apart from the beaches bustling with beach-goers, those seeking quietude save the crashing surf need not travel far, however, to discover quieter beaches in The Gambia. Search a little further afield to find idyllic stretches of white sands backed by gently swaying palm trees with barely a soul in sight.
Agriculture is the most important sector in The Gambian economy and one of the priority areas of development, parti- cularly in the new global climate of price escala- tion of staple food items and oil. Agriculture is a major driver of growth in The Gambia. It accounts for approximately one quarter of GDP and employs 75 percent of the labor force. The main agricultural pro- ducts grown locally are peanuts, rice, millet and sorghum. The main fruits produced include man- goes and cashews.
These are also the major cash crops, while rice is the staple crop. About only 38 percent of the total land area of the country or about 430,000 acres is arable. Agriculture is listed as a strategic priority in the National Development Plan (2018-2021). Agri- culture is the most important sector in
The Gambian economy and one of the priority areas of development, particu- larly in the new global climate of price escala- tion of staple food items and oil.
Agriculture is a major driver of growth in The Gambia, accounting for approximately one quar- ter of the GDP and em- ploys 75 percent of the labor force. The Gambia has great potential for irrigated agriculture, with fresh water from the River Gambia, rainwater if har- vested, and fossil water that can be drilled. It also has a weather pattern suitable for almost all production. The Ministry
of Agriculture has a man- date to develop and mod- ernize agriculture.
There is no shortage of cocoa- skinned queens and princesses in Africa. Dark is absolutely beautiful and women (and girls) make the case for The Republic of The Gambia. Gambian women have been born into, circulated among or married within several local cultural and linguistic trad- tions that include Aku, Bambara, Fula, Jola, Mandinka, Manjago, Serahulle, Serer, and Wollof.
Though most large game animals such as elephants have been hunted to extinction, hippos can be found in the protected area of the Gambia River in Gambia National Park. The country has a diverse bird population and more than 560 species of birds have been spotted and recorded in this tiny West African state. The mammals which are most often seen are baboons and monkeys. The species of monkey to be found are the western red colobus, patas and the callithrix. Among the animals to be found in Gambia include aardvarks, hyena, Nile crocodiles, warthogs, bushpigs, monitor lizards, chameleons, geckos, puff adders, spitting cobras and green mambas.
vested in the president, who can also appoint five members of the National Assembly, the judges of the superior courts, regional governors, and district chiefs. In terms of the civil service, the president can appoint the Public Service Commission, the ombudsman, and the Independent Electoral Commission. The president is elected for five-year terms based on a simple majority vote. There are no term limits.
The Gambia plays an active role in international affairs, especially West African and Islamic affairs. As a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Gambia played an active role in that organ- ization's efforts to resolve civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone and contributed troops to the community ceasefire monitoring group (ECOMOG) in 1990 and (ECOMIL) in 2003. In November 2019, the Gambia filed a case against Myanmar in The Hague, accusing its military of genocide against Myanmar's ethnic Rohingya community. The Gambia has also sought to mediate disputes in Guinea-Bissau and the Casamance region of Senegal.
The Gambia withdrew from the Commonwealth of Nations in October 2013, with the government declaring the Gambia will never embrace an extension of colonialism. Under the new president, the Gambia re-joined the Commonwealth of Nations in February 2018. The Gambia currently belongs to the following international organization: Commonwealth of Nations, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the United Nations, and the African Union.
The Gambia Armed Forces (GAF) was created in 1985 as a stipulation of the Senegambia Confederation, a political union between the Gambia and Senegal. It is comprised of the Gambia National Army (GNA), which has a strength of roughly 900 soldiers in two infantry battalions and an engineering company. The force was trained by the British government. The Gambia National Gendarmerie (GNG), trained by Senegal was merged with the police in 1992, and in 1997 the government created a small navy (GN), equipped with patrol vessels donated by Taiwan in 2013. Attempts to create a Gambia Air Force in the mid 2000s was unsuccessful. Since the GAF was formed in 1985, it has been active in UN and African Union peacekeeping missions. It has been classed as a Tier 2 peacekeeping contributor and was described by the Center on International Cooperation as a regional leader in peacekeeping.
The Gambia Armed Forces is and has been the recipient of a number of equipment and training agreements with other countries. In 1992, a contingent of Nigerian soldiers helped lead the GNA. Between 1991 and 2005, the Turkish armed forces helped train Gambian soldiers. It has also hosted British and United States training teams from the Royal Gibraltar Regiment and US AFRICOM.
The Gambia is divided into eight local government areas, including the national capital, Banjul, which is classified as a city. The divisions of the Gambia were created by the Independent Electoral Commission in accordance to Article 192 of the National Constitution.
The Gambia's economy is dominated by farming, fishing, and tourism. As late as 2015, 48.6 percent of the population lived in poverty. In rural areas, poverty is even more widespread, at almost 70 percent. The Gambia has a liberal, market-based economy characterized by traditional subsistence agriculture, a historic reliance on peanuts for export earnings, a re-export trade built up around its sea port, low import duties, minimal adminis- trative procedures, a fluctuating exchange rate with no exchange controls.
Agriculture accounts for roughly 30 percent of the GDP and employs about 70 percent of the labor force. Peanut production accounts for 6.9 percent of GDP, other crops 8.3 percent, livestock 5.3 percent, fishing 1.8 percent, and forestry 0.5 percent. Industry accounts for roughly 8 percent of GDP and service industries around 58 percent. The limited amount of manufacturing is primarily agricultural-based, i.e., peanut processing, bakeries, brewery, and tannery, soap making, soft drinks, and clothing. The Gambia main imports are foodstuffs, fuel and machinery and the nation’s main trading partners in 2021 are Ivory Coast (15 percent of total imports) and China (15 percent). Others include: the US, Germany, India and the UK.
In 2021 there were 13 commercial banks operating in The Gambia—Access Bank, Arab Gambia Islamic Bank, Bank PHB, Banque Sahélo-Saharienne pour l’Investissement et le Commerce, Ecobank Gambia, First International Bank, International Commercial Bank, Guaranty Trust Bank Gambia, Prime Bank, Skye Bank Gambia, Standard Chartered Bank,Trust Bank Limited (Gambia), and Zenith Bank Gambia.
Since 2017, China has invested in Gambia as part of its Belt and Road Initiative. A major focus of Chinese activity in Gambia has been processing of locally caught fish for the production fish meal for export. The economic and environmental impacts of fish meal production in Gambia are controversial. The urbanization rate as of 2011 was 57.3 percent. Provisional figures from the 2003 census show the gap between the urban and rural populations narrowing as more areas are declared urban. While urban migration, development projects, and modernization are bringing more Gambians into contact with Western habits and values, indigenous forms of dress and celebration and the traditional emphasis on the extended family remain integral parts of everyday life.
A variety of ethnic groups live in the Gambia, each preserving its own language and traditions. The Mandinka ethnicity is the most numerous, followed by the Fula, Wolof, Jola/Karoninka, Serahule/Jahanka, Serers, Man- jago, Bambara, Aku Marabou, and the Bainunka, The Krio people, locally known as Akus, constitute one of the smallest ethnic minorities in the Gambia — descendants from Sierra Leone. The roughly 3,500 non-African residents include Europeans and families of Lebanese origin (0.23 percent). Most of the European minority in The Gambia is British, although many of the British left after independence.
English is the official language of the Gambia. Other languages include Mandinka, Wolof, Fula, Serer, Krio, Jola and other indigenous tongues. Owing to the country's geographical setting, knowledge of French (an official language in much of West Africa) is relatively widespread.
The constitution mandates free and compulsory primary education in the Gambia. Lack of resources and of educational infrastructure has made implementation of this difficult. In 1995 the gross primary enrolment rate was 77.1 percent and the net primary enrolment rate was 64.7 percent. School fees long prevented many children from attending school, but in February 1998 the president ordered the termination of fees for the first six years of schooling. Girls make up about 52 percent of primary-school students. The figure may be lower for girls in rural areas, where cultural factors and poverty prevent parents from sending girls to school. Approximately 20 percent of school-age children attend formal schools.
The International Open University (until January 2020 known as the Islamic Online University), a higher-education institution having more than 435,000 enrolled students from over 250 countries worldwide, has its global headquarters in The Gambia.
With more than 90 percent of the population identifying as Muslims, specifically Sunni Muslims, many Gambians still participate in traditional practices. The mixture of religious beliefs and ancestral customs is called syncretism — a practice where nothing is religion-based, allowing it to go on unchallenged. More than 75 percent of Gambians indulge in Islamic rituals and cultural practices.
The country is comprised of eight main ethnic groups — the Aku, Fula, Mandinka, Jola, Serahule, Serer, Tukulor, and Wolof, making the country multicultural. Each ethnic group is rooted in various cultural practices that are not in sync with its dominant religion. These cultural beliefs stem from traditional practices such as late-night calls, rites of passage, animism, and sacred site visitings.
Late-night calls are the calling of someone's name at night. Many communities believe that calling a person's name at night comes from owls announcing the community's pending death. Owls in many ethnic tribes are seen as evil; thus, tribe elders advise members never to answer late-night calls. This belief is taboo in Islam because Muslims believe that death comes from Allah, not from night creatures.
Article 25 of the constitution protects the rights of citizens to practice any religion they choose. Islam is practiced by 95 percent of the country. The majority of Muslims in The Gambia adhere to Sunni laws and traditions. Virtually all commercial life in the Gambia comes to a standstill during major Muslim holidays, which include Eid al-Adha and Eid ul-Fitr. Most Muslims in the Gambia follow the Maliki school of jurisprudence. A Shiite Muslim community exists in the Gambia, mainly due to Lebanese and other Arab immigrants to the region.
The Christian community comprises about 4 percent of the population. Residing in the western and southern parts of the Gambia, most members of the Christian community identify themselves as Roman Catholic. However, smaller Christian groups also exist, such as Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, and small evangelical denominations.
Culture, music, cuisine
Although the Gambia is the smallest country on mainland Africa, its culture is the product of diverse influences. The national borders outline a narrow strip on either side of the Gambia River. Without natural barriers, the Gambia has become home to most of the ethnic groups that are present throughout western Africa.
The cuisine of the Gambia includes peanuts, rice, fish, meat, onions, tomatoes, cassava, chili peppers, and oysters from the Gambia River, harvested by women. In particular, yassa and domoda curries are popular with locals and tourists.
The national and most popular sport in The Gambia is wrestling. Modern traditional wrestling is one of the oldest traditional sports in Gambia and wrestling festivals are a common occurrence. Leg locks are permitted but there are no patterned arm or head locks, or complicated points system. The object of the game is simply to throw one's opponent to the ground. The first wrestler down in the bout loses the contest.
The most common style of grappling is shown among the Mandinka, Fulas and Jolas. It involves each opponent grabbing each other's trunks at the start of the bout. After some strategic maneuvrerings each one would attempt to throw the other to the ground. Serers on the other hand prefer to go straight for the legs and render their opponent off-balance.
A wrestling match is part sport and part celebration with music. However, in Gambia it is more than just sport and entertainment. It is an important part of the traditional culture and is organized to reflect some of the most deeply rooted ideals of the societies that support it. The wrestling arena is a place to show courage, labor, strength, fair play; a place to honor the spirits of society.
Soccer and basketball are also popular sports in The Gambia. Soccer is administered by the Gambia Football Federation, that are affiliated to both FIFA and CAF. The GFA runs league football in the Gambia, including top division GFA League First Division, as well as the Gambia national football team. Nicknamed “The Scorpions,” the national side have never qualified for the FIFA World Cup, but qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations at senior level for the first time in 2021. They play at Independence Stadium. The Gambia won two CAF U-17 championships one in 2005 when the country hosted, and 2009 in Algeria automatically qualifying for FIFA U-17 World Cup in Peru (2005) and Nigeria (2009) respectively. The U-20 also qualified for FIFA U-20 2007 in Canada. The female U-17 also competed in FIFA U-17 World Cup 2012 in Azerbaijan.
Jarrette Fellows, Jr. / Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License