Very little archaeological work has been done in Gambia.
In Western Africa, evidence of the finding of such old stone
tools as in East Africa has not been accepted (compare
Olduvai Gorge), and materials found on the slopes of the
Gambia River have recently been reclassified as Neolithic.
However, finds of paleolithic artifacts have been made in
gravel from the upper Gambia river. Manufacture of
microlithic tools from Late Stone Age is known from nearby
areas of Senegal. The Senegambian region may have been the
site of early domestication of the African rice. The
introduction of the Iron Age seems to have been delayed by
the middle of the first millennium AD.
From the 13th century to the end of the 14th century, the
present Gambia was part of the Mali kingdom. See abbreviationfinder for geography, history, society, politics, and economy of Gambia. In 1455, the
Portuguese discovered the Gambia River, and soon traders,
gold miners and slave hunters arrived in the lower Gambia.
However, in 1588, the Portuguese handed over the commercial
rights to English merchants. During the 17th and 18th
centuries, the British tried to develop trade relations in
the area, but ended up in repeated conflicts with the
French, who had established themselves on the north side of
the Gambia River at Albreda in 1681, opposite the British
Fort James. It was not until 1783 that the British secured
the rights to the Gambia River, and France was granted the
The town of Bathurst (now Banjul), founded in 1816 at the
outlet of the Gambia River, became a British naval base, and
from this it was checked that slaves were not shipped via
the river since Britain banned the export of forced labor.
Traders who established themselves in the city started an
extensive export of peanuts. The city became subordinate to
the British colony of Sierra Leone in 1821. The French
enclave of Albreda eventually became British in 1857, but a
number of territorial changes took place during the period
1823–53. During the 1870s, the British tried several times
to exchange Gambia for French possessions in French West
Africa, but opposition from both Gambia's own residents as
well as British traders and politicians prevented the
exchange. French expansion in Senegal restricted the British
territorial rights in the Gambia, and in an agreement in
1889, the British could secure only a narrow strip of land
along the Gambia River shores. The Gambia became British
protectorate in 1894 and was separated from Sierra Leone.
In 1906 slavery was abolished, and the Gambia experienced
a period of peace. From 1948 political parties arose in the
colony, which became autonomous in 1960. The Gambia gained
full independence on February 18, 1965, and in April 1970
the country was declared a republic. Gambia's first
president became Dawda Kairaba Jawara. A coup attempt in
August 1981 was defeated with the help of Senegal. In 1982,
Senegal and the Gambia joined the Senegambia State
Federation, which was dissolved in 1989. It was replaced by
a friendship and cooperation agreement in January 1991.
During Jawara's twenty-four-year term as president,
Gambia came to be regarded as a successful liberal democracy
in Africa. It had multi-party systems, elected parliament,
independent courts, free press and a police force that was
there to help the public rather than oppress it. African
human rights and democracy organizations were located in
On July 22, 1994, Lieutenant (later Colonel) Yahya Jammeh
led a military coup that forced Jawara into exile. The coup
was motivated by the earlier regime being corrupt. The
Gambia leadership was taken over by a provisional military
council headed by Jammeh. The previous government was
dissolved, the constitution was repealed, all political
parties were banned and the press was carefully monitored.
The death penalty, which had been abolished under Jawara's
regime, was reintroduced. Jawara was indicted in his absence
for embezzlement of state funds, and his assets in the
Gambia were confiscated. Immediately after the coup, Gambia
was ruled solely by military, but since then several changes
have occurred in the regime's composition and from 1995 a
majority of the ministers have been civilian.
In 1996, a new constitution was adopted, and it was
decided that presidential elections should be held that
year. In August, political parties were again allowed, with
the exception of the three who dominated during Jawara's
time. At the same time, Jammeh issued a decree prohibiting
holders of high political posts from holding public service
for the past 30 years. After a short election campaign,
Jammeh was elected president, having previously requested
leave from the army. However, the election procedure was
called into question, and several people were killed and
injured in unrest before the election. However, the
parliamentary elections that were held in January 1997 were
considered to have been successful and resulted in an
overwhelming victory for Jammeh's Alliance for Patriotic
Reorientation and Reconstruction (APRC) party .
In 2001 the restrictions for the old parties were lifted,
but some individuals, including Jawara, were still banned
from political activities. However, Jawara was later
pardoned by Jammeh and was able to return to Gambia in 2002.
A new presidential election was held in October 2001 and
preceded by clashes between military and opposition
supporters. Despite a series of opposition parties casting
veteran Ousainou Darboe as joint presidential candidate,
Jammeh won by close to 53 percent of the vote. Immediately
after the election, security forces seized up to 60
opposition politicians, most of whom were, however, released
after a short time, partly as a result of pressure from
foreign human rights groups. The situation remained tense
and the parliamentary elections in January 2002 were
boycotted by most opposition parties.
Jammeh's regime has been shaken several times by
corruption revelations. In October 2003, a campaign against
corruption was launched, which led to the arrest of several
people with high government services. Independent media
reporting on misconduct have often been shut down on the
regime's orders and the responsible editors have been
arrested. In 2004, one of Gambia's most famous journalists
was murdered, The Point's editor-in-chief Deyda Hydara, who
criticized a new media law according to which upsetting
reporting can be punishable by up to three years in prison.
Also in the 2006 presidential election, Jammeh was
challenged primarily by the United Democratic Party (UDP)
Darboe. However, Jammeh was re-elected with just over 67
percent of the vote against Darboe's just under 27 percent.
The election itself was judged by international observers to
be correct, but it was pointed out that events prior to the
election could have affected the outcome. Among other
things, most opposition-friendly media were forced to close.
In the parliamentary election the following year, only about
42 percent of registered voters voted. APRC again won an
overwhelming victory and received 42 seats.
The 2011 presidential election was judged in advance by
the West African collaborative organization ECOWAS.
Conditions for a democratic election were not considered to
exist in a country where the media was largely controlled by
the state and opposition and voters were under threat. The
result of the election, where Darboe again came second, was
that Jammeh was re-elected with 71.5 percent of the vote.
Over time, President Jammeh began to act increasingly
eccentric. He wanted to be titled his Excellency President
Sheikh Professor Alhaji Doctor Yahya Abdul-Azziz Jemus
Junkung Jammeh Naasiru Deen, claimed to be able to cure HIV
/ AIDS, among other things, and arrested hundreds of people
accused of being "witches". Chiefs loyal to the president
have run a campaign to crown him king. His rule became
increasingly authoritarian and political opponents and human
rights activists were harassed.
A peaceful change of power seemed possible after the
presidential election held in December 2016. Jammeh then
lost to opposition candidate Adama Barrow, who got 43
percent of the vote against Jammeh's 40 percent. To the
surprise of many, Jammeh, who then ruled the country for 22
years, admitted defeat. Jammeh, however, soon withdrew from
his earlier statements and instead of accepting the defeat,
he demanded that the Supreme Court annul the election.
Jammeh's term of office expired on January 18, 2017. Under
the threat of military intervention from battle-ready and
numerically superior ECOWAS forces, he finally gave up
January 21 and went into exile in Equatorial Guinea. Two
days earlier, Barrow swore the presidency at the Gambia
Embassy in Senegal.