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Map of Gambia

The modern-day Gambia was once part of the Ghana, Mali and Songhai Empires.

Contents

Early history

A map of James Island and Fort Gambia

The first written accounts of the region come from records of Arab traders in the 9th and 10th centuries AD. In medieval times the area was dominated by the trans-Saharan trade. The reign of the Mali Empire, most renowned for the Mandinka ruler Mansa Kankan Musa, brought world wide recognition to the region due to its enormous wealth, scholarship, and civility. The North African scholar and traveler Ibn Battuta visited the area in 1352 AD and said this about its inhabitants:

The negroes possess some admirable qualities. They are seldom unjust, and have a greater abhorrence of injustice than any other people. There is complete security in their country. Neither traveler nor inhabitant in it has anything to fear from robbers or men of violence.[1]

Since the early 13th century, the Kouroukan Fouga, Mali's constitution, was the law of the land. The Songhai Empire, named after the Soninke people whose king assumed official control of the Empire, came to dominate the region in the 16th century. As time went on the area began to suffer from continuous Moroccan and Portuguese invasion and looting. By the end of the 16th century, as the raids continued, the empire collapsed and was conquered and claimed by Portugal.

In 1588, the claimant to the Portuguese throne, Antonio, Prior of Crato, sold exclusive trade rights on The Gambia River to English merchants; this grant was confirmed by letters patent from Queen Elizabeth I. In 1618, King James I granted a charter to a British company for trade with The Gambia and the Gold Coast (now Ghana). Between 1651 and 1661 part of Gambia was (indirectly) a colony of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth; it was purchased by the Courlandish duke Jakub Kettler. At that time Courland, in modern-day Latvia, was a fiefdom of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Courlanders settled on James Island, which they called St. Andrews Island and used as a trade base from 1651 until its capture by the English in 1661.

Colonial competition

An 1880 stamp from Gambia

During the late 17th and throughout the 18th century, England and France constantly struggled for political and commercial supremacy in the regions of the Senegal and Gambia Rivers. The 1783 Treaty of Paris gave Great Britain possession of The Gambia, but the French retained a tiny enclave at Albreda on the north bank of the river, which was ceded to the United Kingdom in 1857.

As many as 3 million slaves may have been taken from the region during the three centuries that the transatlantic slave trade operated. It is not known how many slaves were taken by Arab traders prior to and simultaneous with the transatlantic slave trade. Most of those taken were sold to Europeans by other Africans; some were prisoners of intertribal wars; some were sold because of unpaid debts, while others were kidnapped. Slaves were initially sent to Europe to work as servants until the market for labor expanded in the West Indies and North America in the 18th century. In 1807, slave trading was abolished throughout the British Empire, and the British tried unsuccessfully to end the slave trade in The Gambia. They established the military post of Bathurst (now Banjul) in 1816. In the ensuing years, Banjul was at times under the jurisdiction of the British Governor General in Sierra Leone. In 1888, The Gambia became a separate colonial entity.

An 1889 agreement with France established the present boundaries, and The Gambia became a British Crown Colony, divided for administrative purposes into the colony (city of Banjul and the surrounding area) and the protectorate (remainder of the territory).

Twentieth century on

1881 map of Senegambia     Full resolution

The Gambia received its own executive and legislative councils in 1901 and gradually progressed toward self-government. A 1906 ordinance abolished slavery.

During World War II, Gambian troops fought with the Allies in Burma. Banjul served as an air stop for the U.S. Army Air Corps and a port of call for Allied naval convoys. U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt stopped overnight in Banjul en route to and from the Casablanca Conference in 1943, marking the first visit to the African Continent by an American president while in office.

After WWII, the pace of constitutional reform increased. Following general elections in 1962, full internal self-governance was granted in the following year. The Gambia achieved independence on February 18, 1965 as a constitutional monarchy within the Commonwealth. Shortly thereafter, the government held a referendum proposing that an elected president replace the Gambian monarch as head of state. The referendum failed to receive the two-thirds majority required to amend the constitution, but the results won widespread attention abroad as testimony to The Gambia's observance of secret balloting, honest elections, and civil rights and liberties. On April 24, 1970, The Gambia became a republic within the Commonwealth, following a second referendum, with Prime Minister Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara, as head of state.

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

Arch 22 monument, a memorial of the 1994 coup

In the aftermath of the attempted coup, Senegal and The Gambia signed the 1982 Treaty of Confederation. The Senegambia Confederation came into existence; it aimed eventually to combine the armed forces of the two states and to unify their economies and currencies. The Gambia withdrew from the confederation in 1989.

In July 1994, Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh led a coup d'état that deposed the Jawara government. Between 1994 and 1996, Jammeh ruled as head of the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) and banned opposition political activity. The AFPRC announced a transition plan for a return to democratic civilian rule, establishing the Provisional Independent Electoral Commission (PIEC) in 1996 to conduct national elections. After a constitutional referendum (in August), presidential and parliamentary elections were held. Jammeh was sworn into office as president on November 6, 1996. The following year, the PIEC transformed into the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) on April 17.

Jammeh has won both the 2001 and 2006 elections. He is up for re-election in 2011.

China cut ties with The Gambia in 1995 after the latter recognized Taiwan as an independent state.

The Gambia accepted a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council from 1998 to 1999.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Ibn Battuta: Travels in Asia and Africa 1325-1354 pg323-335

External links

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