192-Part Guide To The World: The Gambia


Official Name:The Republic of the Gambia.

Official Name:The Republic of the Gambia.

LocationOn the Atlantic coast of Africa, it is completely surrounded by Senegal - except for a short 80km (50 mile) coastline. The River Gambia runs the entire length of the country from Senegal in the extreme east to the river mouth on the coast.

Size11,300 square kilometres, which makes it even smaller than Belgium, and one of the smallest countries in Africa. From north to south it is at no point wider than 50km.

Population:The official estimate puts it at slightly more than a million.

LanguageOfficially English, but local languages include Mandinka (widely spoken throughout the country), Wolof (spoken in western areas), Jola (spoken by a nomadic people), and Serahule (spoken in the far east of the country).

National Dish The food is common to other parts of West Africa; traditional popular dishes include Benechin (rice cooked in a fish and vegetable sauce) and plasas (meat or fish cooked with vegetable leaves in palm oil and served with mashed cassava, locally known as foufou).

Best Monument Head for MacCarthy Square in the capital Banjul. Not only is it lined by 19th century colonial buildings, but it also contains a fountain "erected by public subscription" to commemorate the coronation of Britain's King George VI. In the interests of contemporary sensitivities, the fountain has since been converted to a drinks bar and is decorated with Coca-Cola signs.

Most Famous Citizen If anyone, possibly the current president, Yahya Jammeh, who in July 1994, as a young lieutenant, led a coup d'état - making his first public appearance wearing combat fatigues and dark sunglasses. In 1996, he announced a new constitution, held elections, and duly won them.

Best Moment In HistoryIn the decade after The Gambia's independence in 1965, two events occurred that enabled this poverty-stricken backwater to prosper. First the world price for groundnuts increased hugely, almost tripling the country's GNP; and then - with longer term significance - The Gambia became a significant tourist destination.

Worst Moment In History Possibly the establishment of Portuguese settlements in Brazil in 1530. From then onwards a colossal demand for labourers developed, which the Portuguese satisfied through the seizure of thousands of people from West Africa for use as slaves. From the mid-16th century, Britain joined the trade as well and it continued until well into the 19th century. Alex Haley, in his famous book, Roots, claimed to trace his origins back to a village in The Gambia.

Essential AccessoryA pair of binoculars could be useful. Gambia is a bird spotter's paradise, especially the Abuko Nature Reserve where over 270 species of bird have been recorded. Noteworthy are turacos, kingfishers and starlings. Tanji Bird Reserve, on the coast, is an important stopover for migrating birds, particularly waterfowl, which return in large numbers each winter from Europe.

What Not To DoDo not forget to include the The in the country's name. Being preceded by a definite article is a distinction belonging to only a very few countries in the world (Sudan, Ukraine, and Lebanon are other examples).

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