The Republic of the Gambia, commonly known as The Gambia, or Gambia, is a country in Western Africa. The Gambia is the smallest country on mainland Africa, bordered to the north, east, and south by Senegal, with a small coast on the Atlantic Ocean in the west.
Its borders roughly correspond to the path of the Gambia River, the nation’s namesake, which flows through the country’s center and empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Its size is almost 10,500 km² with an estimated population of 1,700,000.
On 18 February 1965, the Gambia was granted independence from the United Kingdom and joined The Commonwealth. Banjul is the Gambia’s capital, but the largest conurbation is Serekunda.
The Gambia shares historical roots with many other west African nations in the slave trade, which was key to the establishment of a colony on the Gambia river, first by the Portuguese and later by the British. Since gaining independence in 1965, the Gambia has enjoyed relative stability, with the exception of a brief period of military rule in 1994.
An agriculturally rich country, its economy is dominated by farming, fishing, and tourism. About a third of the population live below the international poverty line of US$1.25 a day.
Beginning about the 13th century CE, the Wolof, Malinke, and Fulani peoples settled in different parts of what is now The Gambia and established villages and then kingdoms in the region. European exploration began when the Portuguese sighted the Gambia River in 1455. In the 17th century, when Britain and France both settled in the area, the British Fort James, on an island about 20 mi (32 km) from the river’s mouth, was an important collection point for the slave trade. In 1783 the Treaty of Versailles reserved the Gambia River for Britain.
After the British abolished slavery in 1807, they built a fort at the mouth of the river to block the continuing slave trade. In 1889 The Gambia’s boundaries were agreed upon by Britain and France; the British declared a protectorate over the area in 1894. Independence was proclaimed in 1965, and The Gambia became a republic within the Commonwealth in 1970. It formed a limited confederation with Senegal in 1982, which was dissolved in 1989. During the 1990s the country faced political problems, but its biggest concern was its poor economy, which continued into the 21st century.
Gambians are known for their excellent music, as well as their dancing. Although the Gambia is the smallest country on mainland Africa, its culture is the product of very diverse influences. The national borders outline a narrow strip on either side of the River Gambia, a body of water that has played a vital part in the nation’s destiny and is known locally simply as “the River.” Without natural barriers, the Gambia has become home to most of the ethnic groups that are present throughout western Africa, especially those in Senegal.
Europeans also figure prominently in the nation’s history because the River Gambia is navigable deep into the continent, a geographic feature that made this area one of the most profitable sites for the slave trade from the 15th through the 17th centuries. (It also made it strategic to the halt of this trade once it was outlawed in the 19th century.) Some of this history was popularized in the Alex Haley book and TV series Roots which was set in the Gambia.
Despite attempts at diversification, The Gambia’s economy remains overwhelmingly dependent on the export of peanuts and their byproducts and the re-exporting of imported foreign goods to other African nations. About three quarters of the population is employed in agriculture. Rice, millet, sorghum, corn, and cassava are grown for subsistence, and cattle, sheep, and goats are raised. There is also a fishing industry. The main industrial activities center around the processing of agricultural products and some light manufacturing.
Tourism, which suffered following the 1994 military takeover, rebounded in the late 1990s. Besides peanut products, dried and smoked fish, cotton lint, palm kernels, and hides and skins are exported; foodstuffs, manufactures, fuel, machinery, and transportation equipment are imported. India, Great Britain, China, and Senegal are the country’s leading trading partners. The Gambia is one of the world’s poorest nations and relies heavily on foreign aid.