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Wassu Stone CirclesThere are signs that among the first people to settle in The Gambia were the Jola. The banks of The River Gambia have been inhabited continuously for many thousands of years. There are indeed pottery fragments that have been found and have been dated to about 5,500 year old. There is some historical evidence that some of the ancient peoples of Europe were in continuous  contact with the West Africa region.

The first known written record about The Gambia is a notation in the writings of Hanno, the Carthaginian, of his voyage down the west coast of Africa in about BC 470. These links came to an end with the decline of the Roman Empire and the rise and the subsequent expansion of Islam from North Africa.

As far back as AD 500, towns and villages based on agriculture and the knowledge of iron were scattered across West Africa. As we move into first millennium, trade and commercial activities increased substantially between the areas north and south of the Sahara. It is assumed that between the 5th and 8th centuries most of the Senegambian area was populated by the tribe of the  Serahule, and their descendants represent about 9% of today's Gambian population.

In the 14th century, the (Manding) Mali Empire of Mali - established by Mandinka, Sundiata Keita, leader of the Malinké people - encompassed the areas from the edge of the Sahara to the forests of the south in what is now Liberia & Sierra Leone. From East to West, it covered all the regions between Takedda beyond the Niger Buckle covering Senegambia on the Atlantic Ocean. This vast empire controlled nearly all the trans-Saharan trade, and contact with the rulers of the Arab states to the north led the Mali rulers to embrace Islam with great enthusiasm.

Though the rise of the Mali empire was swift its decline was slow. By the beginning of the 15th century, the empire had lost its hegemony  over the affairs of the Western Sudan and had been reduced into the small area of Kangaba, where it had first originated. By the middle of the 15th century a group of Mandingos drifted into the area of the Gambia River basin and with them came Islam.

The first Europeans to reach the river were the Portuguese in 1455. Captains Luiz de Cadamosto and Antoniotti Usodimare traveled a few kilometres upstream before being repulsed by the angry local inhabitants. In 1456 the same group returned and this time managed to travel 20 miles up-river and came across what was later re-named James Island. It is said they had named the island St. Andrews Island after a sailor who had passed away and was buried there. The name was later changed by European colonialists.

In the early 15th century, Prince Henry of Portugal began instructing navigators to sail along the west coast of Africa, trying to circumvent the Arab and Muslim domination of the trans-Saharan gold trade, which by that time was at the centerpiece of Portugal's public  finances. Although the Portuguese didn't establish a settlement, they continued to monopolise trade along the West African coast throughout the 16th century. In their trading posts, salt, ostrich feathers, iron, pots and pans, firearms and gunpowder were exchanged for ivory, ebony, beeswax, gold and slaves. (It's been suggested that the Gambia River's name originated from the Portuguese word cambio, meaning 'exchange,' or, in this context, 'trade').

By the 1600s the large agricultural and commercial estates owned by Portuguese, in Brazil, needed more labour, which the Portuguese began to transport from West Africa. Although slavery had existed in Africa for many centuries, the Portuguese developed the trade on a large scale and had a virtual monopoly on it until the mid-16th century, when Britain joined the trade. The success of Portuguese exploration encouraged other Europeans to enter The Gambia River and trade with the local inhabitants. James Island which was to become the main settlement of the Europeans, frequently changed ownership. Thus from the Portuguese, its ownership switched to the Duke of Courland, the Dutch and finally the British. By the 1650s, Portugal had been largely ousted by the French and British.

The first European settlement in Gambia was made by Baltic Germans, who built a fort on James Island in 1651. Ten years later, they were ousted by the British, who were themselves ever under threat from French ships, pirates and the mainland African kings. Fort James lost its strategic appeal with the construction of new forts at Barra and Bathurst (now Banjul) at the mouth of the Gambia River, which were better placed to control the movement of ships, though Fort James continued to serve as a slave collection point until the trade was abolished.

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The first British traders in the Gambia came in 1587. They began to explore the river in 1618. They eventually got control of St. Andrew's Island 1661. It was renamed James Island after the Duke of York, later King James II, a name it has retained to this day. Trading companies were set up and they tried to control the trade of the river. The companies, such as the Companies of Merchant trading in West Africa, The Royal Adventurers and the Royal African Company traded and controlled the area. By the mid-seventeenth century, the slave trade had over-shadowed all other trade. The British and French competed for the control of the trade of the area.

In 1765, the forts and settlements were vested in the British Crown and for eighteen years what is now The Gambia, formed part of the British Colony of Senegambia, with headquarters in St. Louis at the mouth of the river Senegal. However in 1783, the greater part of the Senegambia region was handed to France. The Gambia section ceased to be a British colony and was again placed under the charge of the African Company.

With the British abolition of the Slave Trade in their settlements in 1807, they tried to look for a suitable location in The Gambia from where they would be able to monitor the river and stop ships from entering and leaving with slaves. Alexander Grant, sent out from Goree for this purpose, found the fort at James Island to be too far inland and in ruins. He therefore entered into a treaty with the Chief of Kombo in April, 1816 for the cessation of the detached sand bank known as St. Mary's Island. Originally called Banjulo by the Portuguese, Grant named the new settlement, Bathurst after the Colonial Secretary of the time Lord Bathurst.


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Barra PointBritain declared the Gambia River a British Protectorate in 1820 and for many years ruled it from its administrative base in Sierra Leone. In 1886, Gambia became a crown colony, and the following year France and Britain drew the boundaries between Senegal (by then a French colony) and Gambia.

SlaveryWith the slave trade at an end, the British were forced to come up with a new source of wealth to support the fledgling protectorate, which led to the planting of groundnuts. The groundnuts or peanuts are originally South American, were they were grown by Indian communities. (It was introduced to West-Africa (first the Senegambia area) by the Portuguese in the 16th century. Here it spread quickly, though faster in the interior of Africa than along the coast). The harvested nuts are crushed to make oil, which is exported to Europe for use in food manufacture. In the 1950s, Gambia's groundnut production was beefed up as a way to increase export earnings and make the country that much more self-supportive, and today groundnuts remain the chief crop of both Gambia and neighbouring Senegal.

The desire of the people of The Gambia to rule themselves gradually developed after the World War II. Political parties were formed in the colony and some later extended to the Protectorate. On the 18th of February 1965, The Gambia gained political independence from Britain. Although Britain's Queen Elizabeth II remained as titular head of state. It was strongly felt that The Gambia would not be able to stand on her own and there were talks of forming a federation with Senegal. But this did not materialise at the time.

Around the same time, two events occurred that enabled the tiny nation to survive and even prosper. For a decade after independence, the world price for groundnuts increased significantly, raising the country's GNP almost threefold. The second event had an even more resounding effect - Gambia became a significant tourist destination.

On April 24, 1970, The Gambia became a republic following a majority-approved referendum.

Until a military coup in July 1994, The Gambia was led by President Dawda Kairaba Jawara, who was re-elected five times. The relative stability of the Jawara era was broken first in a violent coup attempt in 1981. The failed 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, Jawara, in London when the attack began, appealed to Senegal for help. Senegalese troops defeated the rebel force.

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 unify economies and currencies. The Gambia withdrew from the confederation in 1989.

A protest by soldiers over late salaries in July 1994 turned into a coup d'etat, led by a young lieutenant, Yahya Jammeh, who appeared in public wearing combat fatigues and dark sunglasses - a look that did little to endear him to the international community. A new military government was formed, and Jammeh announced that he would remain in power at least until 1998. After suffering the fiscal repercussions of the British Foreign Office's advice to British tourists to avoid the country, Jammeh decided to switch tack and announced that elections would be held in 1996. A new constitution was introduced, ushering in the Second Republic, and Jammeh was the winner of the election (though the election was disputed by some).

Jammeh remains in power and has brought some degree of stability to the country. Tourism is back in a big way, and the Gambian infrastructure is improving, as evidenced by the modern Banjul International Airport and new roads. Expectations among Gambians are high, though it may prove difficult for the government to implement all of its promises.

There was civil unrest in Banjul and Brikama in early 2000 as Gambian security forces were put on full alert following violence in the streets of the capital, Banjul. According to Amnesty at least 14 people were killed as a student demonstration called to protest against police brutality degenerated into a pitched battle between demonstrators and police forces. Schools and colleges were temporarily closed and riot police patrolled the streets. More recently things have calmed down.

President Jammeh has also spent large sums on public works projects: renovating the airport and building hospitals, roads, a TV station, new schools and a huge monument to his revolution on Independence Drive in Banjul.

• Recent Political Events:
In October 2001, President Jammeh defeated human-rights lawyer Oussainou Darboe and won a second five-year term. The National Assembly elections were held in January, 2002 and was boycotted by the UDP opposition party. As a result therefore, the APRC won all but three of the 15 constituencies contested and also their candidates went unopposed in the rest of the 33 constituencies.

In April 2006 the regime was unsettled by a coup attempt, following which 27 people were arrested and the former chief of staff of the army was accused of being behind the attempted coup.

Preparations for elections were controversial and the independence of the Independent Electoral Commission was called into question by the dismissal of its last 3 Chairmen by the President. The opposition coalition (the National Alliance for Democracy and Development), which had undertaken to field a single candidate against Jammeh, split in February 2006. This weakened the ability of the opposition to launch an effective challenge to Jammeh in the one-round election, which was held on 22 September 2006. In the event, 3 candidates were accepted: President Jammeh, Halifah Salah of the National Alliance for Democracy and Development and Ousainou Darboe of the United Democratic Party. President Jammeh won the elections on September 22 with 66% of the vote to Darboe's 27%. Legislative elections were held on 27 January 2007. The ruling APRC re-enforced its overwhelming dominance of the political scene, winning 37 of the 43 elected seats, with a voter turn out of 41%.

On 2 October 2013, the Government's interior minister announced on state TV that The Gambia would leave the Commonwealth of Nations with immediate effect.







 
   









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