A Brief History of The Gambia

By Tim Lambert

The early Gambia

By about 500 AD a sophisticated culture existed in the Gambia, which was able to build stone circles. Shortly afterward trade across the Sahara with the Arabs began and it later flourished. As a result of the trade powerful states were built in western Africa. In the 13th century, the Empire of Mali grew up in the region. However, it went into decline in the 15th century and a people called the Mandinka migrated to the Gambia River.

Meanwhile, in the 15th century, the Portuguese began to sail along the coast of Africa. By 1500 they had built settlements on the Gambia River and slaves and gold were being sent from there to Portugal. In return, the Portuguese gave the Africans guns and cloth. However by the early 17th century the English, Dutch, and French were also trading in West Africa, and by the 1650s the Dutch had been ousted. For 150 years afterward the Europeans made huge profits by transporting African slaves across the Atlantic.

However, it was finally the British who took control of Gambia. Britain abolished the slave trade in 1807 but the settlers in the Gambia made profits by growing peanuts.

The Gambia became a British protectorate in 1820 and a colony in 1886 (after the Europeans divided up Africa among themselves). However, the British government was unenthusiastic about the Gambia as it contained little wealth and was surrounded by French territory (Senegal). There was little attempt to develop the colony of Gambia or to build infrastructure in it.

The modern Gambia

Finally in the early 1960s parts of Africa became independent. The Gambia became independent in 1965 with David Jawara as its first prime minister and for the first 10 years of independence, the Gambia was a prosperous country. The price of groundnuts was high and tourists flocked to the country. Unfortunately in the late 1970s, the price of groundnuts fell and there were 2 attempted coups in the Gambia in 1980 and 1981. Jawara survived both and he won elections in 1982, 1987, and 1992.

However, the price of groundnuts fell further in the late 1980s and discontent grew in the Gambia. Finally, in 1994 Jawara was ousted in a coup and Yahya Jammeh became ruler of the Gambia.

In 1996 a new constitution was introduced in the Gambia and Jammeh won a presidential election. Jammeh won a second presidential election in 2001. In 2013 the Gambia left the Commonwealth. Then in December 2016, Adama Barrow was elected president of the Gambia.

Today the Gambia is still a poor country but the economy is growing steadily. Tourism in the Gambia is thriving. Today the Gambia is developing rapidly. In 2023 the population of Gambia was 2.5 million.

Last Revised 2024