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The Gambia, a country on the western coast of Africa, fronting the Atlantic Ocean. Senegal encloses the country on the other three sides. Straddling the Gambia River, the country extends eastward for about 320 km (200 mi) from the Atlantic Ocean. At its widest, this narrow country measures only about 50 km (30 mi) across.

The Gambia, also called Gambia, is the smallest country on the African mainland. Among African countries, only the Seychelles, a group of islands off the eastern coast, cover a smaller area. The port city of Banjul is the capital of The Gambia, but Serrekunda is the largest city.

The Gambia is a largely agricultural country, and its people are poor. Peanuts, the main crop, are grown largely for export. Tourism also helps the economy. Beaches along the Atlantic coast draw visitors to The Gambia, as does the rich bird life along the Gambia River.

The Gambia became a British colony during the 1800s. It gained its independence in 1965. Following independence, The Gambia was regarded by Westerners as a stable democracy until a bloodless military coup in 1994 removed its president. Yahya Jammeh, the military leader who became president after the coup, was subsequently reelected.

Government

Until the military took over The Gambia’s government in a bloodless coup in 1994, the country was governed by a 1970 constitution. A new constitution was approved by public referendum in 1996 during the presidency of military leader Yahya Jammeh. It took effect in 1997. Under this constitution a popularly elected president serves as head of state for a five-year term. The president may serve an unlimited number of terms. The country’s legislative body is the unicameral National Assembly. Forty-eight of the legislature’s 53 members are popularly elected to five-year terms; the other 5 are appointed by the president.

The judicial system consists of a supreme court with unlimited jurisdiction, an appeal court, and subordinate magistrate and divisional courts. Civil actions between Muslim citizens are handled by special Muslim courts that follow Islamic Sharia law. Minor civil and criminal cases are tried in group tribunals.

Sources

Gambia, The

Koslow, Philip. Senegambia: Land of the Lion. Chelsea House, 1996. Political growth, economic and artistic development, and the decline and rebirth of West African communities along the Senegal and Gambia rivers from the 12th to the 20th century. For young adult readers.

McPherson, Malcolm F., and, Steven C. Radelet. Economic Recovery in The Gambia: Insights for Adjustment in Sub-Saharan Africa. Harvard University Press, 1996. How Gambia recovered from an economic collapse in the mid-1980s to become a model for other African countries intent on reform.

Zimmerman, Robert. The Gambia. Children's Press, 1994. Introduction to the history, geography, and people of Gambia; for younger readers.

Contributors

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