Thinking Citizen Blog — The Gambia

Thinking Citizen Blog — Monday is Foreign Policy Day

Today’s Topic: The Gambia — the smallest country in mainland Africa, surrounded by Senegal, once a slave trade hub

The country tracks the meandering Gambia River from whose banks perhaps three million slaves were taken to transatlantic destinations during the 18th and 19th centuries. It was first a Portuguese then a British colony. It gained independence in 1965. Two prolonged dictatorships followed — under Dawda Jawara (1965–1994) and Yahya Jammeh (1994–2017). 78% of women in Gambia have suffered genital mutilation. Homosexuality is illegal and punishable with life imprisonment. One of the poorest countries in the world. The setting for Alex Haley’s “Roots.” Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.

GEOGRAPHY, DEMOGRAPHICS. ECONOMICS — half the size of Massachusetts

1. GEOGRAPHY: less than 5000 square miles, that is, about half the size of Massachusetts, twice that of Rhode Island, and about the same as Delaware. Its greatest width is 30 miles! The boundaries were set by an agreement between Britain and France in 1889. A popular myth for which there is no historical evidence is that “the distance of the borders from the Gambia River corresponds to the area that British naval cannon of the time could reach from the river’s channel.”

2. DEMOGRAPHY: 2.3 million up from 270,000 in 1950. 96% Muslim. Ethnic split: Madinka (34%), Fula (30%) Wolof (11%), Jola (8.5%). Fertility rate: 3.98 children per woman.

3. ECONOMICS: one of the poorest countries in the world, with a GDP nominal income per capita of $746 (compared to $1455 for Senegal, $2149 for Nigeria. $3358 for Cape Verde, $4736 for South Africa, and $6558 for Botswana). 70% of the population engaged in subsistence agriculture. Agriculture accounts for 30% of GDP. Peanut production 6.9% of GDP, livestock 5.3%, industry 8%, services 58%.

DAWDA JAWARA (1924–2019) — Prime Minister (1962–1970), President (1970–1994)

1. Born into a polygamous, Muslim family, descendants of aristocratic officials in the Malian Empire. Attended local Arabic schools where the focus was on memorizing the Koran.

2. Trained as a veterinary surgeon at the University of Glasgow and the University of Liverpool, became head of the Progressive People’s Party which won the 1962 elections and dominated politics in Gambia until 1994 based on appeals to rural voters against urban elites.

3. When a military coup was attempted in 1981, Jawara requested and received help from Senegal, suppressing the revolt. There was talk of the unification of of Gambia and Senegal and the first steps were taken (called the Senegambian Federation) but the Federation was dissolved in 1989.

YAHYA JAMMEH (1965 — ), President (1994–2017) — “a modern day Papa Doc Duvalier”

1. Of Muslim Jola ancestry and known for his dislike of the Madinka and hatred of homosexuals. “Homosexuality is anti-god, anti-human, and anti-civilization. Homosexuals are not welcome in the Gambia. If we catch you, you will regret why you are born.” He vowed personally to decapitate any gay person he found in Gambia.

2. One of four junior officers who organized the 1994 coup overthrowing Dawda Jawara.

3. When Jammeh refused to relinquish power after the 2016 election, the Senegalese army, backed by the United Nations and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), intervened and he resigned on January 21, 2017.

NB: Before and after his resignation, Jammeh has been the subject of multiple accusations including the killing of West African migrants. journalists. and students, multiple instances of rape of young women, and the siphoning off of funds from the state coffers for personal use.

FOOTNOTE — Alex Haley, Henry Louis Gates, Malcolm X

Alex Haley’s controversial best-selling book and TV series “Roots” was set in The Gambia. When Haley returned to his “ancestral village” of Juffure in 1977, he received a hero’s welcome. After Haley’s death, however, his friend the historian Henry Louis Gates would write: “Most of us feel it’s highly unlikely that Alex found the village whence his ancestors sprang. Roots is a work of the imagination rather than strict historical scholarship. It was an important event because it captured everyone’s imagination.” “Roots” won a Special Citation Pulitzer Prize in 1977 and was #1 on the New York Times Best Seller List for 22 weeks. The TV series was viewed by an estimated 130 million and 85% of American homes with televisions. Prior to “Roots.” Haley was famous as the co-author of the “Autobiography of Malcom X” — one of, if not the most influential book of the civil rights era.

Dawda Jawara

Yahya Jammeh

Senegambia Confederation

Jola people

Geography of the Gambia

Haley Visit Captivates Village Where ‘Roots’ Began (Published 1977)

The Autobiography of Malcolm X

5 crazy things about the Gambian dictator who just survived a coup attempt

Here is a link to the last three years of posts organized by theme:

PDF with headlines — Google Drive


Please share the coolest or most important thing you learned in the last week, month, or year related to foreign policy. Or, even better, the coolest or most important thing you learned in our life related to foreign policy.

This is your chance to make someone else’s day. And to consolidate in your memory something important you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply than otherwise about something dear to your heart. Continuity is the key to depth of thought. The prospect of imminent publication, like hanging and final exams, concentrates the mind. A useful life long habit.