|General background: Gambia gained its independence
from the UK in 1965; it formed a short-lived federation
of Senegambia with Senegal between 1982 and 1989. In 1991
the two nations signed a friendship and cooperation treaty.
A military coup in 1994 overthrew the president and banned
political activity, but a new 1996 constitution and presidential
elections, followed by parliamentary balloting in 1997,
completed a nominal return to civilian rule. The country
undertook another round of presidential and legislative
elections in late 2001 and early 2002.
Area comparative: Slightly less than twice the
size of Delaware
Climate: Tropical; hot, rainy season (June to November);
cooler, dry season (November to May)
Flood plain of the Gambia river flanked by some low hills
Population: 1,455,842 (July 2002 est.)
Ethnic groups: African 99% (Mandinka 42%, Fula
18%, Wolof 16%, Jola 10%, Serahuli 9%, other 4%), non-African
Religions: Muslim 90%, Christian 9%, indigenous
Language: English (official), Mandinka, Wolof,
Fula, other indigenous vernaculars
Government type: Republic under multiparty democratic
Legal system: Based on a composite of English
common law, Koranic law, and customary law; accepts
compulsory ICJ jurisdiction, with reservations.
Economic overview: Gambia has no important mineral
or other natural resources and has a limited agricultural
base. About 75% of the population depends on crops and
livestock for its livelihood. Small-scale manufacturing
activity features the processing of peanuts, fish, and
hides. Reexport trade normally constitutes a major segment
of economic activity, but a 1999 government-imposed
preshipment inspection plan, and instability of the
Gambian dalasi (currency) have drawn some of the reexport
trade away from Banjul. The government's 1998 seizure
of the private peanut firm Alimenta eliminated the largest
purchaser of Gambian groundnuts; the following two marketing
seasons have seen substantially lower prices and sales.
A decline in tourism in 2000 has also held back growth.
Unemployment and underemployment rates are extremely
high. Shortrun economic progress remains highly dependent
on sustained bilateral and multilateral aid, on responsible
government economic management as forwarded by IMF technical
help and advice, and on expected growth in the construction
sector. Record crops undergirded sturdy growth in 2001.
Communication/Telephone system: Adequate; a packet
switched data network is available.
Places of interest: Gambia is largely defined
by its natural features - from the River Gambia, which
runs the length of the country, to the golden beaches
of its Atlantic Coast resorts - the country's greatest
draw lies in its people, their culture and the amiable
atmosphere of daily life.