The Gambia

Population    1.8 million

 

Geography

The Gambia is the smallest country on continental Africa. This tiny nation in West Africa is surrounded almost entirely by Senegal, except for to the west, where it meets the Atlantic Ocean. The country is divided essentially right down the middle by the River Gambia, which divides the north and south and does not have any bridge built across it. Crossing the river can seem a bit daunting and is definitely one headache for anyone wishing to explore both sides, or to travel from Banjul, the capital that is on the south bank, to Dakar, the much larger capital city of Senegal, which is north of The Gambia.

The country is flat throughout, with no mountains or really hilly areas at all. This does not mean, however, that the country is short on beauty, with the ocean and the riverbanks adding sometimes breathtaking scenery to the country. This is a country to visit if you enjoy the water, particularly if you enjoy a simple beach vacation or a leisurely cruise up a river. The Baobab trees that line both the river and the beach, in some areas, are the epitome of The Gambia and are truly a site to be seen.

People/Groups

The Gambian population is comprised of eight different ethnic groups (tribes): (i) the Mandinkas (Mandingos), who constitute approximately 42% of the overall population; (ii) the Fulanis, who constitute approximately 18% of the overall population;  (iii) the Wolofs, who constitute approximately 16% of the overall population; (iv) the Jolas, who constitute approximately 10% of the overall population; (v) the Serahule, who constitute approximately 9% of the overall population; (vi) the Akus, who are predominately Christian; (vii) the Serer; and (viii) the Tukulor. The last three ethnic groups combined constitute approximately 4% of the overall population, with the remaining 1% being from non-African decent, which is primarily comprised of individuals from a Lebanese decent.  

Religiously, The Gambia is overwhelmingly Muslim, with 90% of the population practicing Islam (predominately Sunni Islam). Approximately 8% of the population is Christian, from various denominations, and the remaining 2% is said to follow traditional African beliefs.

Finally, it is important to point out that 44% of the population is under the age of 15 and approximately 63% of the population is under the age of 25.

 

Language

Each ethnic group in The Gambia has its own language, all of which are predominately unwritten languages. That said, English has remained the official language since the country was colonized by the British. Language is, in many cases, a noticeable hurdle to promoting unity or carrying out effective programming for development, as the majority of members of certain tribes may not be able to communicate with those from other tribes and outside of the Banjul area, few people speak English.

Political Landscape

The political landscape of The Gambia cannot be ignored, even if you are visiting the country on a short holiday. The country is currently under the rule of an authoritarian government. The President, Yahya Jammeh, took control via coup in 1994 and has become increasingly aggressive in his rule of the country over the last few years. This is not something of concern to the person just looking for a vacation get away, as his aggressive rule does not include any restriction on tourists, however, Dunia Unificada, in its mission of promoting conscious tourism, would encourage individuals travelling to The Gambia to educate themselves on the current political situation there and we will be publishing regular stories and news on the situation.

The most recent updates to be aware of include recent protests that ended in a number of the most prominent leaders of the opposition party being arrested and one dying in custody. These arrests came after a day of peaceful protests against the President, as elections are upcoming in December 2016. The police and security forces used abusive force against the protestors, in an effort to get them to disperse and, in so doing, injured a significant number of protestors and ultimately killed one of  the leaders of the protest. Those arrested have now been sentenced, in a trial that threatens the rule of law, as it had no legal basis, to three years in prison. Many international organizations and a number of foreign governments, including the United States, have criticized these arrests and the resulting sentences and have demanded the immediate release of the protestors. As there are still a number of months until the presidential election, this remains an ongoing situation and we will update as any developments occur.

Art (Top Artistic Products)

As a tourist in The Gambia, you will be consistently bombarded with a request to buy something. There are also a notable number of craft markets, which you are most certainly going to run into at some point. While there is definitely a fair share of cheap items for sale, there are also a number of incredibly talented artists and some really unique products worth considering.

 

Our top picks include:

 

Fabric

The Gambia’s markets are full of stall after stall of colorful wax fabrics, with an unlimited number of designs and prints, some beautiful and some crazy, but all worth taking  look at. Pick yourself up one that you love and have it delivered to a local tailor who can stich you something amazing to remember your trip by, often in a few days.

 

Jewelry

There are some very talented bead workers that have put together some truly beautiful pieces of jewelry and you can find some real gems hidden in various stalls.

 

Carved Items

You should not leave The Gambia without a carved hippo! The shiny wooden carved hippos are a true Gambian gem and come in all sizes, from miniature to large enough to sit a child. Have a look, they are truly adorable!

 

Leather

There are some very talented leather makers in The Gambia, particularly of unique leather bags. One of the most popular and most beautiful is  a leather bag with fabric stitched in, which combines the talent of the leather maker with the beauty of the local fabric, for a really cute accessory.

 

Holidays

The Gambia loves to have days off work! Well, at least the President likes to order days off work. The country strictly follows Islamic holidays and also gives off a number of Christian holidays, including Christmas, Good Friday and Easter.

Out of religious respect, we highly recommend anyone who will not be fasting in observance of Ramadan, to not travel to The Gambia during this holy month. The dates on which this month fall will change every year, so be sure to look up the official dates in advance. If you are not fasting, enjoying an extravagant holiday, or even going to restaurants (which do stay open during the month), you will be served and waited on accordingly, but you will be seen as disrespectful, so we advise avoiding it all together.

Aside from religious holidays, the President thoroughly enjoys celebrating himself, so the date on which he came to power, July 22, and his birthday, May 25, are often celebrated by a number of days off and various private festivities. These are not huge public events worth seeing, but you should be aware of the dates and that more than normal may be closed during that time.

December is a great time to visit the country, as its huge diaspora population often returns in droves and the bars and clubs and town is much more bustling than usual. Additionally, in The Gambia it is more important (aside from keeping in mind Ramadan)  to plan your trip during the “dry season,” as the rainy months (usually between June and October) are incredibly muggy and overall just not that enjoyable.

Universities

One of President Jammeh’s big claims to fame is his opening of the University of The Gambia, the country’s only public university and only official university. This young university leaves much for the imagination and has a long way to go before it is able to compete with other schools in the region, but it is a step in the right direction towards improving higher education in the country.

Literacy             51%      

 

Products (Imports/Exports)

The small size of The Gambia, both in population and land, makes it a country highly reliable on imports and one that is not well-known for its exports. The country’s economy has struggled tremendously, particularly in recent years and its lack of any substantial resources is one of the leading reasons why. Taking this into consideration, the following are the top exports and imports of The Gambia:

Top Exports:

  • Artificial Filament Yarn Woven Fabric

  • Coconuts

  • Brazil Nuts

  • Cashew Nuts

  • Rough Wood

  • Scrap Iron

  • Top Imports:

  • Light Pure Woven Cotton

  • Rice

  • Raw Sugar

  • Palm Oil

  • Refined Petroleum