The Gambia, officially the Republic of The Gambia, is a country in Western Africa. The Gambia is often referred to as ‘The Smiling Coast’. It is the smallest country within mainland Africa, and is surrounded by Senegal, except for its western coast on the Atlantic Ocean. The Gambia is situated on both sides of the lower reaches of the Gambia River, the nation’s namesake, which flows through the center of The Gambia and empties into the Atlantic Ocean. It has an area of 10,689 square kilometres (4,127 sq mi) with a population of 1,857,181 as of the April 2013 census. Banjul is the Gambian capital and the largest cities are Serekunda and Brikama.
The Gambia shares historical roots with many other West African nations in the slave trade, which was the key factor in the placing and keeping of a colony on the Gambia River, first by the Portuguese, during which era it was known as A Gâmbia. Later, on 25 May 1765, The Gambia was made a part of the British Empire when the government formally assumed control, establishing the Province of Senegambia. In 1965, The Gambia gained independence under the leadership of Dawda Jawara, who ruled until Yahya Jammeh seized power in a bloodless 1994 coup. Adama Barrow became The Gambia’s third president in January 2017, after defeating Jammeh in the December 2016 elections. Jammeh initially accepted the results, then refused to accept them, which triggered a constitutional crisis and military intervention by the Economic Community of West African States, resulting in his exile.
The Gambia’s economy is dominated by farming, fishing and, especially, tourism. In 2015, 48.6% of the population lived in poverty. In rural areas, poverty is even more widespread, at almost 70%.
Arab traders provided the first written accounts of the Gambia area in the ninth and tenth centuries. During the tenth century, Muslim merchants and scholars established communities in several West African commercial centers. Both groups established trans-Saharan trade routes, leading to a large export trade of local people as slaves, along with gold and ivory, as well as imports of manufactured goods.
By the 11th or 12th century, the rulers of kingdoms such as Takrur, a monarchy centered on the Senegal River just to the north, ancient Ghana and Gao had converted to Islam and had appointed to their courts Muslims who were literate in the Arabic language. At the beginning of the 14th century, most of what is today called The Gambia was part of the Mali Empire. The Portuguese reached this area by sea in the mid-15th century and began to dominate overseas trade.
In 1588, the claimant to the Portuguese throne, António, Prior of Crato, sold exclusive trade rights on the Gambia River to English merchants. Letters patent from Queen Elizabeth I confirmed the grant. In 1618, King James I of England granted a charter to an English company for trade with the Gambia and the Gold Coast (now Ghana). Between 1651 and 1661, some parts of the Gambia – St. Andrew’s Island in the Gambia River including Fort Jakob, and St. Mary Island (modern day Banjul) and Fort Jillifree – came under the rule of the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia, part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth now in modern-day Latvia, having been bought by Prince Jacob Kettler. The colonies were formally ceded to England in 1664.