Ancient to Present-Day:
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.
first known written record about The Gambia 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
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, 'trade').
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
The 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 area.
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.
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
the 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.
Britain 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)
With 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 neighbouring Senegal.
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 time.
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 referendum.
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
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
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 2017.