The Gambia

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The Gambia's flag was adopted when the country became independent from Britain in 1965. The blue stripe represents the River Gambia which flows from east to west through the country. The red stands for the sun and the green for the land.


The Republic of The Gambia is the smallest country in mainland Africa. It consists of a narrow strip of land bordering the River Gambia. The Gambia is almost entirely enclosed by Senegal, except along the short Atlantic coastline. The land is low-lying. Near the sea, the land is flat and the soils are salty. The middle part of the river is bordered by terraces, called balm) faros, which are flooded after heavy rains. The upper river flows through a deep valley which the river has cut into a sandstone plateau.

CLIMATE The Gambia has hot and humid summers, but the winter temperatures (November to May) drop to around 61°F [16°C]. In winter, dry northeasterly winds blow over country. In the summer, moist southwesterlies bring rain, which is heaviest on the coast.

VEGETATION Mangrove swamps line the river banks from the coast through to the center of the country. But savanna used to cover most of the land until it was largely cleared for farming. The Gambia is rich in birdlife. Crocodiles and hippopotamuses live in the River Gambia.

HISTORY AND POLITICS Portuguese mariners reached The Gambia's coast in 1455 when the area was part of the large Mali Empire. In the 16th century, Portuguese and English slave traders operated in the area. English traders bought rights to trade on the River Gambia in 1588, and in 1664 the English established a settlement on an island in the river estuary. In 1765, the British founded a colony called Senegambia, which included parts of The Gambia and Senegal. In 1783, Britain handed this colony over to France. In 1816, Britain founded Bathurst (now Banjul) as a base for its anti-slavery operations. But control of inland areas was made difficult by wars between local Muslims and non-Muslims. In the 1860s and 1870s, Britain and France discussed the ex-change of The Gambia for some other French territory. But no agreement was reached and Britain made The Gambia a British colony in 1888. It remained under British rule until it achieved full independence in 1965. In 1970, The Gambia became a republic. But in July 1994, a military group overthrew the president, Sir Dawda Jawara, who fled into exile. Captain Yahya Jammeh, who took power, was elected president in 1996 and 2001.

One major political issue concerns relations between the English-speaking Gambians and their French-speaking Senegalese neighbors. In 1981, an attempted coup in The Gambia was defeated with the help of Senegalese troops. In 1982, The Gambia and Senegal set up a defense alliance, the Confederation of Senegambia. But this alliance was dissolved in 1989. 

ECONOMY Agriculture employs more than 80% of the people. The main food crops include cassava, millet, and sorghum, but groundnuts and groundnut products are the leading exports. Tourism is growing in importance.

The Gambia's rich birdlife was the subject of a set of 13 stamps issued in 1966, when the country's unit of currency was still the pound. The dalasi was not introduced until 1971. This stomp shows the red-throated bee-eater.