15 January 2015
- From the section Africa
The Gambia is one of Africa’s smallest countries and unlike many of its West African neighbours it has enjoyed long spells of stability since independence.
President Yahya Jammeh seized power in a bloodless coup in 1994 and has ruled with an iron fist ever since.
Stability has not translated into prosperity. Despite the presence of the Gambia river, which runs through the middle of the country, only one-sixth of the land is arable and poor soil quality has led to the predominance of one crop – peanuts.
This has made The Gambia heavily dependent on peanut exports – and a hostage to fluctuations in the production and world prices of the crop.
Consequently, the country relies on foreign aid to fill gaps in its balance of payments.
President Jammeh wants to turn The Gambia into an oil-producing state. He says this could usher in a “new future”. However, the country has yet to strike crude oil.
Tourism is an important source of foreign exchange, as is the money sent home by Gambians living abroad. Most visitors are drawn to the resorts that occupy a stretch of the Atlantic coast.
In 1994 The Gambia’s elected government was toppled in a military coup. The country returned to constitutional rule two years later when its military leader ran as a civilian and won a presidential election.
But the credibility of the poll was questioned by a group of Commonwealth ministers.
In 2013, President Jammeh announced The Gambia’s departure from the Commonwealth, dismissing it as a “neo-colonial” institution. Critics said the move was motivated by anger at foreign criticism of the country’s human rights record.