The Gambia was once part of the Empire of Ghana and the Kingdom of the
Songhais. The first written accounts of the region come from records of
Arab traders in the 9th and 10th centuries A.D. Arab traders established
the trans-Saharan trade route for slaves, gold, and ivory. In the 15th
century, the Portuguese took over this trade using maritime routes. At
that time, The Gambia was part of the Kingdom of Mali.
In 1588, the claimant to the Portuguese throne, Antonio, Prior of Crato,
sold exclusive trade rights on The Gambia River to English merchants; this
grant was confirmed by letters patent from Queen Elizabeth I. In 1618,
King James I granted a charter to a British company for trade with The
Gambia and the Gold Coast (now Ghana).
During the late 17th century and throughout the 18th, England and France
struggled continuously for political and commercial supremacy in the regions
of the Senegal and Gambia Rivers. The 1783 Treaty of Versailles gave Great
Britain possession of The Gambia, but the French retained a tiny enclave
at Albreda on the north bank of the river, which was ceded to the United
Kingdom in 1857.
As many as 3 million slaves may have been taken from the region during
the three centuries that the transatlantic slave trade operated. It is
not known how many slaves were taken by Arab traders prior to and simultaneous
with the transatlantic slave trade. Most of those taken were sold to Europeans
by other Africans; some were prisoners of intertribal wars; some were sold
because of unpaid debts, while others were kidnapped. Slaves were initially
sent to Europe to work as servants until the market for labor expanded
in the West Indies and North America in the 18th century. In 1807, slave
trading was abolished throughout the British Empire, and the British tried
unsuccessfully to end the slave traffic in The Gambia. They established
the military post of Bathurst (now Banjul) in 1816. In the ensuing years,
Banjul was at times under the jurisdiction of the British governor general
in Sierra Leone. In 1888, The Gambia became a separate colonial entity.
An 1889 agreement with France established the present boundaries, and
The Gambia became a British Crown Colony, divided for administrative purposes
into the colony (city of Banjul and the surrounding area) and the protectorate
(remainder of the territory). The Gambia received its own executive and
legislative councils in 1901 and gradually progressed toward self-government.
A 1906 ordinance abolished slavery.
During World War II, Gambian troops fought with the Allies in Burma.
Banjul served as an air stop for the U.S. Army Air Corps and a port of
call for Allied naval convoys. U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt stopped
overnight in Banjul en route to and from the Casablanca Conference in 1943,
marking the first visit to the African Continent by an American president
while in office.
After World War II, the pace of constitutional reform quickened. Following
general elections in 1962, full internal self-government was granted in
1963. The Gambia achieved independence on February 18, 1965, as a constitutional
monarchy within the British Commonwealth. Shortly thereafter, the government
proposed conversion from a monarchy to a republic with an elected president
replacing the British monarch as chief of state. The proposal failed to
receive the two-thirds majority required to amend the constitution, but
the results won widespread attention abroad as testimony to The Gambia's
observance of secret balloting, honest elections, and civil rights and
liberties. On April 24, 1970, The Gambia became a republic following a
Until a military coup in July 1994, The Gambia was led by President
Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara, who was re-elected five times. The relative stability
of the Jawara era was first broken by a violent, unsuccessful coup attempt
in 1981. The coup was led by Kukoi Samba Sanyang, who, on two occasions,
had unsuccessfully sought election to parliament. After a week of violence
which left several hundred dead, President Jawara, in London when the attack
began, appealed to Senegal for help. Senegalese troops defeated the rebel
In the aftermath of the attempted coup, Senegal and The Gambia signed
the 1982 Treaty of Confederation. The result, the Senegambia Confederation,
aimed eventually to combine the armed forces of the two nations and to
unify economies and currencies. The Gambia withdrew from the confederation
In July 1994, the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) seized
power in a military coup d'etat, deposing the government of Sir Dawda Jawara.
Lieutenant Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh, chairman of the AFPRC, became head of state.
The AFPRC announced a transition plan for return to democratic civilian
government. The Provisional Independent Electoral Commission (PIEC) was
established in 1996 to conduct national elections. The transition process
included the compilation of a new electoral register, adoption of a new
constitution by referendum in August 1996, and presidential and legislative
elections in September 1996 and January 1997, respectively. Foreign observers
did not deem these elections free and fair. Retired Col. Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh
was sworn into office as President of the Republic of The Gambia in November
1996. The PIEC was transformed to the Independent Electoral Commission
(IEC) in 1997 and became responsible for registration of voters and conduct
of elections and referenda. In late 2001 and early 2002, The Gambia completed
a full cycle of presidential, legislative, and local elections, which foreign
observers deemed free, fair, and transparent, albeit with some shortcomings.
President Yahya Jammeh, who was re-elected, took the oath of office again
on December 21, 2001. The APRC maintained its strong majority in the National