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History of the Gambia

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Title: History of the Gambia  
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History of the Gambia

Map of Gambia

The modern-day Gambia was once part of the Mali and Songhai Empires.


  • Early history 1
  • Colonial competition 2
  • 20th century on 3
  • See also 4
  • Notes 5
  • External links 6

Early history

A map of James Island and Fort Gambia

It is possible that the Carthaginian explorer Hanno the Navigator sailed as far as the Gambia on an expedition in the sixth or fifth century BC.[1]

However, the first verfiable written accounts of the region come from records of Arab traders in the 9th and 10th centuries AD. In medieval times the area was dominated by the trans-Saharan trade. The Mali Empire, most renowned for the Mandinka ruler Mansa Kankan Musa, brought worldwide recognition to the region due to its enormous wealth, scholarship, and civility. The North African scholar and traveller Ibn Battuta visited the area in 1352 and said this about its inhabitants:

The negroes possess some admirable qualities. They are seldom unjust, and have a greater abhorrence of injustice than any other people. There is complete security in their country. Neither traveler nor inhabitant in it has anything to fear from robbers or men of violence.[2]

From the early 13th century, the Kouroukan Fouga, Mali's constitution, was the law of the land. The Songhai Empire, named after the Songhai people whose king assumed formal control of the Empire, came to dominate the region in the 16th century. As time went on the area began to suffer from continuous Moroccan and Portuguese invasion and looting. By the end of the 16th century, as the raids continued, the empire collapsed and was conquered and claimed by Portugal.

In 1588, the claimant to the Portuguese throne, Antonio, Prior of Crato, sold exclusive trade rights on the Gambia River to English merchants; this grant was confirmed by letters patent from Queen Elizabeth I. In 1618, King James I granted a charter to the Royal African Company for trade with the Gambia and the Gold Coast (now Ghana). Between 1651 and 1661 part of Gambia was (indirectly) a colony of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth; it was purchased by the Courlandish duke Jakub Kettler. At that time Courland, in modern-day Latvia, was a fiefdom of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Courlanders settled on James Island, which they called St. Andrews Island and used as a trade base from 1651 until its capture by the English in 1661.

Colonial competition

An 1880 stamp from Gambia

During the late 17th and throughout the 18th century, England and later Great Britain constantly struggled with France for political and commercial supremacy in the regions of the Senegal and Gambia Rivers. The 1783 Peace of Paris gave Great Britain possession of the Gambia, but the French retained a tiny enclave at Albreda on the north bank of the river, which was ceded to the British in 1857.

As many as three million slaves may have been taken from the region during the three centuries that the Atlantic slave trade operated. It is not known how many slaves were taken by Arab traders before and during the transatlantic slave trade. Most of those taken were sold to Europeans by other Africans; some were prisoners of intertribal wars; some were sold because of unpaid debts, while others were kidnapped. Slaves were initially sent to Europe to work as servants until the market for labour expanded in the West Indies and North America in the 18th century. In 1807, slave trading was abolished throughout the British Empire, and the British tried unsuccessfully to end the slave trade in the Gambia. They established the military post of Bathurst (now Banjul) in 1816. In the ensuing years, Bathurst was at times under the jurisdiction of the British Governor General in Sierra Leone. In 1888, the Gambia became a separate colonial entity.

An 1889 agreement with France established the present boundaries, and the Gambia became a British Crown Colony, divided for administrative purposes into the colony (city of Banjul and the surrounding area) and the protectorate (remainder of the territory).

20th century on

1881 map of Senegambia     

The Gambia received its own executive and legislative councils in 1901 and gradually progressed toward self-government. A 1906 ordinance abolished slavery.

During the Second World War, Gambian troops fought with the Allies in Burma. Banjul served as an air stop for the US Army Air Corps and a port of call for Allied naval convoys. US President Franklin D. Roosevelt stopped overnight in Banjul en route to and from the Casablanca Conference in 1943, marking the first visit to the African continent by an American president while in office.

After the Second World War, the pace of constitutional reform increased. Following general elections in 1962, full internal self-governance was granted in the following year. The Gambia achieved independence on 18 February 1965 as a constitutional monarchy within the Commonwealth. Shortly thereafter, the government held a referendum proposing that an elected president replace the Gambian monarch as head of state. The referendum failed to obtain the two-thirds majority required to amend the constitution, but the results received widespread attention abroad as testimony to the Gambia's observance of secret balloting, honest elections, and civil rights and liberties. On 24 April 1970, the Gambia became a republic within the Commonwealth, following a second referendum, with Prime Minister Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara as head of state.

Until a military coup in July 1994, the Gambia was led by President Jawara, who was re-elected five times. The relative stability of the Jawara era was first shattered by a coup attempt in 1981. The 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 people dead, Jawara, in London when the attack began, appealed to Senegal for help. Senegalese troops defeated the rebel force.

Arch 22 monument, a memorial of the 1994 coup

In the aftermath of the attempted coup, Senegal and the Gambia signed the 1982 Treaty of Confederation. The Senegambia Confederation came into existence; it aimed eventually to combine the armed forces of the two states and to unify their economies and currencies. The Gambia withdrew from the confederation in 1989.

In July 1994, Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh led a coup d'état that deposed the Jawara government. Between 1994 and 1996, Jammeh ruled as head of the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) and banned opposition political activity. The AFPRC announced a transition plan for a return to democratic civilian rule, establishing the Provisional Independent Electoral Commission (PIEC) in 1996 to conduct national elections. After a constitutional referendum in August, presidential and parliamentary elections were held. Jammeh was sworn into office as president on 6 November 1996. On 17 April 1997 the PIEC transformed into the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).

Jammeh won both the 2001 and 2006 elections. He was re-elected as president in 2011.

The People's Republic of China cut ties with the Gambia in 1995 after the latter established diplomatic links with the Republic of China.

The Gambia was elected to a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council from 1998 to 1999.

On 2 October 2013, the Gambian interior minister announced that the Gambia would leave the [3]

In December 2014, an attempted coup was launched to overthrow President Jammeh.[4]

See also


  1. ^ Harden, Donald (1971) [First published 1962]. The Phoenicians. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
  2. ^ Ibn Battuta: Travels in Asia and Africa 1325–1354 pg323-335
  3. ^ "UK regrets The Gambia's withdrawal from Commonwealth". BBC News. 3 October 2013. Retrieved 4 October 2013. 
  4. ^ Rice, Andrew (21 July 2015). "The reckless plot to overthrow Africa's most absurd dictator". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 July 2015. 

External links

  • Gambian History – 12 Sections
  • Background Note: The Gambia
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