Africa

The Gambia country profile

  • 1 September 2016
  • From the section Africa
Map of the Gambia

The Gambia is one of Africa's smallest countries and, unlike many of its west Africa neighbours, it has enjoyed long spells of stability since independence.

President Yahya Jammeh seized power in a bloodless coup in 1994 and has ruled with an iron fist ever since.

Stability has not translated into prosperity. Despite the presence of the Gambia River, which runs through the middle of the country, only one-sixth of the land is arable and poor soil quality has led to the predominance of one crop - peanuts.

Tourism is an important source of foreign exchange, as is the money sent home by Gambians living abroad. Most visitors are drawn to the resorts that occupy a stretch of the Atlantic coast.

FACTS

Republic of The Gambia

Capital: Banjul

  • Population 1.8 million

  • Area 11,295 sq km (4,361 sq miles)

  • Languages English (official), Mandinka, Wolof, Fula

  • Major religions Islam, Christianity

  • Life expectancy 58 years (men), 60 years (women)

  • Currency dalasi

LEADER

President Yahya Jammeh

Image copyright Getty Images

Yahya Jammeh seized power in 1994 as a young army lieutenant and has won four widely criticised multi-party elections since then and faced down several coup attempts.

A controversial leader, Jammeh raised eyebrows early in 2007 when he claimed that he could cure AIDS with herbs and bananas.

Mr Jammeh's government has been criticised by international rights groups for its attitude to civil liberties. He has been accused of carrying out a brutal crackdown on the opposition ahead of the December 2016 presidential election.

Jammeh called homosexuals ''vermin'' in 2014 and said the government would deal with them as it would malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

Opposition forces attempted a coup during his absence abroad in December 2014, but security forces remained loyal to the president.

MEDIA

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The government has been accused of failing to properly investigate the killing of journalist Deyda Hydra in 2004

A "pervasive climate of fear" forces most journalists to practice self-censorship or flee the country, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

The law provides for jail terms for libel or sedition. Freedom House notes that journalists are regularly arrested on "flimsy and superficial" charges.

State-run Radio Gambia broadcasts tightly-controlled news, which is relayed by private radio stations. Radio France Internationale is available on FM in Banjul.

The government operates the only national TV station and blocks critical websites.

Many news websites and blogs are based overseas and some are run by exiled journalists, according to Freedom House.

TIMELINE

Some key dates in Gambia's history:

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Sir Dauda Jawara was The Gambia's leader from independence in 1965 until he was ousted in 1994

1889 - Present boundaries of The Gambia set by agreement between Britain and France; five years later it becomes a British protectorate until its independence in 1965.

1982 - The Gambia and Senegal form a loose confederation called Senegambia, which collapses in 1989.

1994 - Lieutenant Yahya Jammeh takes over the country in a coup. He is elected president two years later in a vote that three major political parties were barred from taking part in. He goes on to win three more elections and defeat several coup attempts.

2013 - President Jammeh announces Gambia's withdrawal from the Commonwealth, describing it as a "neo-colonial institution". Critics say the move was prompted by wide-spread international condemnation over the government's human rights violations.

2015 - President Jammeh declares the country an Islamic republic to break from the country's "colonial legacy".

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