History of The Gambia Portuguese explorers first discovered
The Gambia, a small country on the west coast of Africa, in
the mid 15th century. What they found was a cluster of small
kingdoms that were vassal states of the Mali Empire. This empire
stretched across vast swathes of land of much of what is now
known to be West Africa. Even though the central government
of the Mali Empire was distant from its tributaries, authority
was nevertheless devolved to respective regions of the empire.
There was decentralization with each kingdom well represented
in the general administration of the empire. The small states
also acted as sources of revenue for the empire through taxation.
But the Portuguese, interested mainly in exploration along the
Gambian coast, didn't stake out too much claim on The Gambia.
They handed trading rights to the British in 1588. Soon British
trading merchants arrived and founded settlements along the
Gambia River. In 1816, they purchased Saint Mary's Island from
a local chief and established Banjul, then known as Bathurst.
This city was important early on especially for its use as a
buffer against the slave trade.
The Gambia was under colonial rule from Sierra Leone until 1843,
when it became a separate colony. It was once again returned
to colonial rule from Sierra Leone between 1866 and 1888. In
the following year, the Gambian boundaries were clearly defined,
and six years later, the interior was declared a British protectorate.
First, it was the coastal area of Bathurst and then came the
hinterland. The British administered The Gambia by dribs and
drabs, piece by piece until 1902 when they extended their hegemony
over the entire land.
The subsequent years were also illustrious in
The Gambia's colonial epoch. In 1906 slavery in the colony was
banned, and a British system of 'Indirect Rule' (ruling the
people through their traditional chiefs) was now in full throttle.
However, following the Second World War, Gambians began to agitate
for a greater measure of local autonomy. The war had opened
their eyes to the western ideals of self-rule and individual
liberty. Returning Gambian soldiers who had fought gallantly
in the war had hoped that compensation from their colonial patrons
on whose behalf they had laid their lives, had not only to be
monetary but political as well. Political emancipation from
colonial rule had now entered the colonial lexicon.
By the mid 1950s, Gambians were being prepared for administrative
positions in the colonial government. This gradually began to
form an educated class to take over the reigns of government
later. A legislative council had been created, representatives
elected by the people. In 1962, The Gambia had its first prime
minister in the person of Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara, a Scotland-educated
and trained veterinarian. In 1963, The Gambia achieved self-rule.
Two years later, it became a full-fledged independent state,
joining other African countries, which had by then or even earlier,
also wrested power from their colonial rulers. After the 1970
referendum, The Gambia became a republic in the Commonwealth
Early Democratic Character
Right from the beginning, democracy in The Gambia took root.
In the run up to independence, various political parties and
trade unions emerged representing different interests in society.
Jawara's People's Progressive Party rose out of the protectorate
areas. In fact it was then called the Protectorate People's
Party because the party was meant to be a party for the hinterland
areas, an idea that was in essence given the fact that the colony
of Bathurst and its satellite areas had dominated and more,
monopolized the political system under colonial rule. The people
in the rural areas had felt left out.
The United Party under Pierre Njie also was a phenomenal presence
on the political scene, in fact, a more broad-based, popular
party than the PPP had ever been. But gradually the PPP soared
in popularity and influence especially among the rural folk.
They established dominance in the hinterland and soon spread
out in the colony areas.
There were also other parties, although smaller and less organized
than both the PPP and the UP. But it demonstrated that early
on, as colonial rule was being supplanted by self-rule, multi-party
democracy was breaking the mound in The Gambia. In stark contrast
to many other African states, also newly independent, The Gambia
was poised to institutionalize multiparty democracy and instill
democratic discipline in the minds of its people.
Since independence, successive elections have been held every
five years in The Gambia. At times, some of these elections
were marred by violence and intimidation, but the intensity
and interest with which they were contested underscored the
extent to which Gambians took delight in the idea of participatory
democracy. At independence in 1965, Gambians were already keen
to dabble at multiparty democracy.
Democracy Hits A Snag
However, in 1981 Gambian democracy received its biggest blow
yet when a ragtag of police officers and unruly civilians attempted
to seize power from the PPP under Jawara. The leader of the
rebellion Kukoi Samba Sanyang, a failed politician who had contested
and lost heavily in previous elections, staged a putsch to gain
presidential power, a feat he couldn't do through the ballot
box. Hundreds were killed and property and infrastructure pillaged
during the disturbances of the 1981 rebellion. The president,
who had been on a visit to the United Kingdom, cut short his
trip and flew to neighboring Senegal seeking assistance.
The Senegalese troops crossed into The Gambia to quell the rebellion.
In the melee, they lost several men, and a lot more carnage
took place before normalcy returned and Jawara returned to the
presidency. This event, heinous as it was, has been The Gambia's
darkest historical moment since independence. Before then, The
Gambia was an oasis of peace in the West African sub-region.
But now chaos had reigned, senseless bloodletting a curse on
the peace and tranquility the country had enjoyed years since
its independence. It took The Gambia the next 13 years to rebuild
its peace and harmony within society.
But in 1994, The Gambia was yet again jolted by another political
crisis, this time a group of young army officers seized power,
establishing a military dictatorship, outlawing political participation
and crushing dissent. The military accused the government of
corruption and inefficiency. The previous government had stayed
in power close to three decades. Lethargy in governance had
set in; indifference, too. The people were left despondent over
the perpetuity in power of a single president and party. They
Multiparty elections have returned. In the 1996 elections, the
military government put up a candidate in Yahya Jammeh, who
won a landslide victory. He won again in 2001. The Gambia has
been under the administration of a military-turned civilian
By Cherno Baba Jallow
For the Gambia, our homeland,
We strive and work and pray,
That all may live in unity,
Freedom and peace each day,
Let Justice guide our actions
Towards the common good,
And join our diverse peoples
To prove man's brotherhood.
We pledge our firm Allegiance,
Our promise we renew,
Keep us, great God of Nations,
To the Gambia ever true.
People of the Gambia
The people of the Gambia are
sure among the friendliest in the world. Their smiling faces
is the least evident fact of their friendly nature.
Languages spoken are Fula, Wollof, Mandinka, Jola, Sarahule,
Manjago, Serere, Aku, Karaninka, and more. English is the
of the 2020 Vision
To transform The Gambia into
a financial center, a tourist paradise, a trading, export-oriented
agricultural and manufacturing nation, thriving on free
market policies and a vibrant private sector, sustained
by a well-educated, trained, skilled, healthy, self-reliant
and enterprising population, and guaranteeing a well-balanced
eco-system and a decent standard of living for one and all,
under a system of government based on the consent of the
Gambian Association of Michigan, All Rights Reserved.