There are signs that among the first people to settle in The Gambia
were the Jola. The banks of The River
Gambia have been inhabited continuously for many thousands
of years. There are indeed pottery fragments that have been found
and have been dated to about 5,500 years old. There is some historical
evidence that some of the ancient peoples of Europe were in continuous
contact with the West Africa region.
The first known written record about The
is a notation in the writings of Hanno, the Carthaginian, of his
voyage down the west coast of Africa in about BC 470. These links
came to an end with the decline of the Roman Empire and the rise
and the subsequent expansion of Islam from North Africa.
As far back as AD 500, towns and villages based on agriculture
and the knowledge of iron were scattered across West Africa. As
we move into first millennium, trade and commercial activities
increased substantially between the areas north and south of the
Sahara. It is assumed that between the 5th and 8th centuries most
of the Senegambian area
was populated by the tribe of the Serahule,
and their descendants represent about 9% of today's Gambian population.
In the 14th century, the (Manding) Mali Empire of Mali - established
by Mandinka, Sundiata Keita,
leader of the Malinké people - encompassed the areas from the
edge of the Sahara to the forests of the south in what is now
Liberia & Sierra Leone. From East to West, it covered all
the regions between Takedda beyond the Niger Buckle covering Senegambia
on the Atlantic Ocean. This vast empire controlled nearly all
the trans-Saharan trade, and contact with the rulers of the Arab
states to the north led the Mali rulers to embrace Islam with
Though the rise of the Mali empire was swift its decline was slow.
By the beginning of the 15th century, the empire had lost its
hegemony over the affairs of the Western Sudan and had been
reduced into the small area of Kangaba, where it had first originated.
By the middle of the 15th century a group of Mandingos
drifted into the area of the Gambia River basin and with them
The first Europeans to reach the river were the Portuguese in
1455. Captains Luiz de Cadamosto and Antoniotti Usodimare traveled
a few kilometres upstream before being repulsed by the angry local
inhabitants. In 1456 the same group returned and this time managed
to travel 20 miles up-river and came across what was later re-named
James Island. It is said
they had named the island St. Andrews Island after a sailor who
had passed away and was buried there. The name was later changed
by European colonialists.
In the early 15th century, Prince Henry of Portugal began instructing
navigators to sail along the west coast of Africa, trying to circumvent
the Arab and Muslim domination of the trans-Saharan gold trade,
which by that time was at the centerpiece of Portugal's public
finances. Although the Portuguese didn't establish a settlement,
they continued to monopolise trade along the West African coast
throughout the 16th century. In their trading posts, salt, ostrich
feathers, iron, pots and pans, firearms and gunpowder were exchanged
for ivory, ebony, beeswax, gold and slaves.
(It's been suggested that the Gambia River's name originated from
the Portuguese word cambio, meaning 'exchange,' or, in this context,
By the 1600s the large agricultural and commercial estates owned
by Portuguese, in Brazil, needed more labour, which the Portuguese
began to transport from West Africa. Although slavery had existed
in Africa for many centuries, the Portuguese developed the trade
on a large scale and had a virtual monopoly on it until the mid-16th
century, when Britain joined the trade. The success of Portuguese
exploration encouraged other Europeans to enter The Gambia River
and trade with the local inhabitants. James Island which was to
become the main settlement of the Europeans, frequently changed
ownership. Thus from the Portuguese, its ownership switched to
the Duke of Courland, the Dutch and finally the British. By the
1650s, Portugal had been largely ousted by the French and British.
first European settlement in Gambia was made by Baltic Germans,
who built a fort on James Island
in 1651. Ten years later, they were ousted by the British, who
were themselves ever under threat from French ships, pirates and
the mainland African kings. Fort James lost its strategic appeal
with the construction of new forts at Barra
and Bathurst (now Banjul) at
the mouth of the Gambia River, which were better placed to control
the movement of ships, though Fort James continued to serve as
a slave collection point until the trade was abolished.
The first British traders in the Gambia came in 1587. They began
to explore the river in 1618. They eventually got control of St.
Andrew's Island 1661. It was renamed James Island after the Duke
of York, later King James II, a name it has retained to this day.
Trading companies were set up and they tried to control the trade
of the river. The companies, such as the Companies of Merchant
trading in West Africa, The Royal Adventurers and the Royal African
Company traded and controlled the area. By the mid-seventeenth
century, the slave trade had over-shadowed all other trade. The
British and French competed for the control of the trade of the
In 1765, the forts and settlements were vested in the British
Crown and for eighteen years what is now The Gambia, formed part
of the British Colony of Senegambia,
with headquarters in St. Louis at the mouth of the river Senegal.
However in 1783, the greater part of the Senegambia region was
handed to France. The Gambia section ceased to be a British colony
and was again placed under the charge of the African Company.
With the British abolition of the Slave Trade in their settlements
in 1807, they tried to look for a suitable location in The Gambia
from where they would be able to monitor
river and stop ships from entering and leaving with slaves.
Alexander Grant, sent out from Goree for this purpose, found the
fort at James Island to be
too far inland and in ruins. He therefore entered into a treaty
with the Chief of Kombo in April, 1816 for the cessation of the
detached sand bank known as St. Mary's Island. Originally called
Banjulo by the Portuguese, Grant named the new settlement, Bathurst
after the Colonial Secretary
of the time Lord Bathurst.
declared the Gambia River a British Protectorate in 1820 and for
many years ruled it from its administrative base in Sierra Leone.
In 1886, Gambia became a crown colony, and the following year
France and Britain drew the boundaries between Senegal (by then
a French colony) and Gambia.
the slave trade at an end,
the British were forced to come up with a new source of wealth
to support the fledgling protectorate, which led to the planting
of groundnuts. The groundnuts or
peanuts are originally South American, were they were grown by
Indian communities. (It was introduced to West-Africa (first the
Senegambia area) by the Portuguese in the 16th century. Here it
spread quickly, though faster in the interior of Africa than along
the coast). The harvested nuts are crushed to make oil, which
is exported to Europe for use in food manufacture. In the 1950s,
Gambia's groundnut production was beefed up as a way to increase
export earnings and make the country that much more self-supportive,
and today groundnuts remain the
chief crop of both Gambia and
The desire of the people of The Gambia to rule themselves gradually
developed after the World War II. Political parties were formed
in the colony and some later extended to the Protectorate. On
the 18th of February 1965, The Gambia gained political independence
from Britain. Although Britain's Queen Elizabeth II remained as
titular head of state. It was strongly felt that The Gambia would
not be able to stand on her own and there were talks of forming
a federation with Senegal. But this did not materialise at the
Around the same time, two events occurred that enabled the tiny
nation to survive and even prosper. For a decade after independence,
the world price for groundnuts increased
significantly, raising the country's GNP almost threefold. The
second event had an even more resounding effect - Gambia became
a significant tourist destination.
On April 24, 1970, The Gambia became a republic following a majority-approved
Until a military coup in July 1994, The Gambia was led by President
Dawda Kairaba Jawara, who was re-elected five times. The relative
stability of the Jawara era was broken first in a violent coup
attempt in 1981. The failed coup was led by Kukoi Samba Sanyang,
who, on two occasions, had unsuccessfully sought election to parliament.
After a week of violence, which left several hundred dead, Jawara,
in London when the attack began, appealed to Senegal for help.
Senegalese troops defeated the rebel force.
In the aftermath of the attempted coup, Senegal and The Gambia
signed the 1982 Treaty of Confederation. The result, the Senegambia
Confederation, aimed eventually to combine the armed forces of
the two nations and unify economies and currencies. The Gambia
withdrew from the confederation in 1989.
A protest by soldiers over late salaries in July 1994 turned into
a coup d'etat, led by a young lieutenant, Yahya
Jammeh, who appeared in public wearing combat fatigues and
dark sunglasses - a look that did little to endear him to the
international community. A new military government
was formed, and Jammeh announced that he would remain in power
at least until 1998. After suffering the fiscal repercussions
of the British Foreign Office's advice to British tourists to
avoid the country, Jammeh decided
to switch tack and announced that elections would be held in 1996.
A new constitution was introduced,
ushering in the Second Republic, and Jammeh was the winner of
the election (though the election was disputed by some).
Jammeh brought some degree of stability to the country. Tourism
was back in a big way, and the Gambian infrastructure improved,
as evidenced by the modern Banjul
International Airport and new roads. Expectations among Gambians
are high, though it proved difficult for the government to implement
all of its promises.
There was civil unrest in Banjul
and Brikama in early 2000 as Gambian
security forces were put on full alert following violence in the
streets of the capital, Banjul. According to Amnesty at least
14 people were killed as a student demonstration called to protest
against police brutality degenerated into a pitched battle between
demonstrators and police forces. Schools and colleges were temporarily
closed and riot police patrolled the streets. More recently things
have calmed down.
President Jammeh had also spent
large sums on public works projects: renovating the airport
and building hospitals, roads, a TV station,
new schools and a huge monument to his revolution on Independence
Drive in Banjul.
• Recent Political Events:
In October 2001, President Jammeh
defeated human-rights lawyer Oussainou Darboe and won a second
five-year term. The National Assembly elections were held in January,
2002 and was boycotted by the UDP opposition party. As a result
therefore, the APRC won all but three of the 15 constituencies
contested and also their candidates went unopposed in the rest
of the 33 constituencies.
In April 2006 the regime was unsettled by a coup attempt, following
which 27 people were arrested and the former chief of staff of
the army was accused of being behind the attempted coup.
Preparations for elections were controversial and the independence
of the Independent Electoral Commission was called into question
by the dismissal of its last 3 Chairmen by the President. The
opposition coalition (the National Alliance for Democracy and
Development), which had undertaken to field a single candidate
against Jammeh, split in February 2006. This weakened the ability
of the opposition to launch an effective challenge to Jammeh in
the one-round election, which was held on 22 September 2006. In
the event, 3 candidates were accepted: President Jammeh, Halifah
Salah of the National Alliance for Democracy and Development and
Ousainou Darboe of the United Democratic Party. President Jammeh
won the elections on September 22 with 66% of the vote to Darboe's
27%. Legislative elections were held on 27 January 2007. The ruling
APRC re-enforced its overwhelming dominance of the political scene,
winning 37 of the 43 elected seats, with a voter turn out of 41%.
On 2 October 2013, the Government's interior minister announced
on state TV that The Gambia would leave the Commonwealth of Nations
with immediate effect.
On the 1st December 2016 the presidential election took place
in which Jammeh lost to Amadou Barrow of the coalition. The incumbent
conceded and said he would hand over power and leave office in
On the evening of 9th December 2017 the president rejected the
election result on national television and called for a fresh
election. He claimed there were voting irregularities with the
electoral process which prompted his decision.
Jammeh was eventually persuaded to step down on the 21st January
2017. He departed on the same day to Guinea Conakry and into exile
in Equitorial Guinea. He was succeeded by Adama Barrow who was
inauguarted in the Gambian Embassy in Dakar on the 19th January