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The Republic of The Gambia is the smallest country in continental Africa. Generally known as The Gambia, the nation was named for the Gambia River, which meanders into the African interior, with the borders of the country following the course of the river and the river valley.

Except for an Atlantic coastal region, The Gambia is surrounded by Senegal. The two main roads through the country, North Bank Road and South Bank road, follow the path of the Gambia River on either side. Its largest cities, Brikama, Bakau, Banjul, Farafenni, Lamin, and Sukuta, are located near the coast, except for Farafenni, which is north of the river and about halfway between the country's eastern and western border.

The first people to settle along the Gambia River were the Jola, and indications are that the banks of the river have been inhabited for many thousands of years. As far back as 500 AD, there were towns and villages along the river, whose inhabitants practiced agriculture and used iron tools. Between the 400s and the 700s, the region was populated by the Serahule, whose descendants make up about 10% of the population of The Gambia today.

In the 1300s, the Mali Empire controlled a wide area of Africa that included The Gambia, and it was during this time that Islam was introduced to the region. By the early 1400s, however, the Mali Empire had dwindled, and no longer held control of The Gambia. In the mid-1400s, a group of Mandingo people had moved into the river valley from Sierra Leone, and soon dominated the region, bring strong Islamic beliefs with them.

Like much of West Africa, the first Europeans to insert themselves were the Portuguese, who came in 1455. On their first trip up the Gambia River, they were pushed back by angry local inhabitants before they had gone more than a few miles. The same group returned the following year, and made it about ten miles before being driven back. Although the Portuguese never established a settlement in any part of The Gambia, they monopolized trade along the West African coast through the 1500s.

Before long, the Portuguese had concentrated their trade efforts on the slave trade, enjoying a near monopoly on West African slave trading until the British joined them in the mid-1500s.

The Portuguese established an outpost for its slave trading activities on James Island, a small island on the Gambia River, which changed hands several times as other European powers vied for control of the slave trade and, by the 1650s, Portugal had been ousted by the French and the British. In 1651, the Germans built a fort on the island. They were ousted ten years later by the British, who were themselves often under attack from the French, from pirates, and from mainland African kings. With the construction of new forts near what is now Banjul, at the mouth of the river, Fort James had lost its significance, although it continued to serve as a slave collection point until the slave trade was abolished. The island is now known as Kunta Kinteh Island.

In 1765, The Gambia formed part of the British Colony of Senegambia. In 1783, most of the region was ceded to France, while The Gambia section was no longer a colony but was placed in the control of the Royal African Company, a British trading company that was mostly engaged in the slave trade. When Britain abolished the slave trade in 1807, they established a settlement called Bathurst, which later became Banjul, for the purpose of preventing slave-trading ships from entering the Gambia River.

The Gambia River Valley became a British Protectorate in 1820, becoming a crown colony in 1886, after which Britain and France formed the boundaries between the then French colony of Senegal and Gambia. Under British settlement, Gambia began producing peanuts, which were, until then, a South American crop. Today, peanut exports remain a significant part of the economy of The Gambia.

Gambians began clamoring for the right to rule themselves after World War II. Political parties were formed and, through peaceful means, Britain granted independence to The Gambia in 196, although the Queen remained as titular head of state. In 1970, The Republic of The Gambia was formed.

The first decade of independence was peaceful, but a coup was attempted in 1981, and a successful coup came about in 1994, which resulted in what most people described as a military dictatorship. There were elections, but opposition party leaders were jailed prior to the election. Another coup was attempted in 2006, which the government of The Gambia believes Senegal was complicit in, straining relations between the two countries. The current president, who was elected in 2016, has made some promising overtures toward a restoration of a democratic republic in The Gambia.

English is the country's official language, but the use of French and indigenous languages is widespread

 

 

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