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Gambia, History

Sir Dawda, Yahya Jammeh, Mali Empire, Gambia River, Portuguese explorers

Stone circles, tools, and pottery found near Banjul indicate early occupation of the area; evidence of iron works dates from the 8th century ad. Numerous ethnic groups entered The Gambia after the 13th century. Chief among these were the Mandinka, Wolof, and Fulani peoples. Early states paid tribute to the Mali Empire; the different groups later created small riverine kingdoms. In 1455 Portuguese explorers entered the region and soon established trading stations along the river. These were supplanted in the 17th century by chartered companies from England and France. In 1816 the British purchased Banjul Island from the ruler of a local kingdom, and founded the town of Bathurst (now Banjul). Despite endemic wars, Britain resisted expansion into the upper river areas until the European race for African territory began. To protect its position, Britain then claimed the Gambia River. In an 1889 agreement with France, The Gambia’s present boundaries were established. The area became a British protectorate in 1894. In the following years, British administrators governed the population largely through local rulers, and Britain encouraged economic self-sufficiency.

After World War II (1939-1945) Britain belatedly began to develop The Gambia and to train some Africans for administrative posts. Political parties were formed in the 1950s and in 1960 nationwide elections were held. The Gambia became independent on February 18, 1965, with Sir Dawda K. Jawara as prime minister. In a 1970 national referendum Gambians voted to form a republic, and Jawara was elected president. He and his People’s Progressive Party (PPP) won the 1972 and 1977 elections. About 500 people were killed in a Libyan-backed coup attempt in 1981. The coup failed because of Senegalese intervention, and led to the creation of the confederation of Senegambia with President Abdou Diouf of Senegal as president and Jawara as vice president. The confederation resulted in closer economic cooperation, but never supplanted the political systems of the two nations. Jawara retained the presidency of The Gambia in the elections of 1982 and 1987. The confederation with Senegal collapsed in 1989, but a new friendship treaty was signed in 1991. Jawara was reelected as president of The Gambia in 1992. In July 1994 the military overthrew Jawara’s government and took control of the country.

The coup leaders formed a Provisional Ruling Council, led by Lieutenant (later Captain) Yahya Jammeh, suspended the constitution, and banned all political activity. Jammeh declared his intention to return the country to civilian rule, but proceeded to consolidate his position. Under international pressure to hold democratic elections, Jammeh oversaw the promulgation of a new constitution that virtually guaranteed him victory in September 1996 presidential elections through candidate age limits and financial restrictions on political parties. Jammeh disbanded the Provisional Ruling Council, retired from the army, declared himself a candidate for president, and restored political activity while prohibiting three major political parties (including the PPP) from participating in the elections. Jammeh won the elections, which were widely criticized for their unfairness. Jammeh was reelected president in October 2001.

Article key phrases:

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