The Gambia became independent from the UK in
1965. The country's first leader was Dawda Jawara. After
a coup attempt in 1981, the country formed a
confederation with Senegal, Senegambia, but it fell
apart after seven years. Jawara was overthrown in a
military coup in 1994 and Gambia was ruled for many
years by dome leader Yahya Jammeh. Civilian rule and
multi-party democracy were reintroduced, but the
president soon showed his authoritarian and whimsical
sides. In 2016, he unexpectedly lost the presidential
election to opposition candidate Adama Barrow.
At independence, Jawara became prime minister, while
the British monarch remained head of state. When the
Gambia turned into a republic after a 1970 referendum,
Jawara became president. He was the leader of the
dominant People's Progress Party (PPP).
List of most commonly used acronyms containing Gambia. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.
The Gambia was one of Africa's few stable democracies
during the 1970s and 1980s, with free elections and
relatively good respect for human rights. The opposition
was weak and Jawara and PPP won all elections by a large
majority. However, the government was often accused of
corruption and inefficiency.
When President Jawara was overseas in July 1981, a
group within the small semi-military field force made an
armed coup attempt along with some radical political
groupings. The Gambia then had no army and the
insurgency was fought with the help of soldiers from
neighboring Senegal. At least a thousand people are
believed to have lost their lives during the week the
Jammeh takes power in a coup
As a result of the coup attempt, the Senegambia
Confederation was formed in 1982. The countries would
remain independent states but coordinate foreign policy,
defense and parts of the economy. With the help of
Senegalese military, Gambia built up a defense force.
Senegal wanted to move forward with the integration but
the Gambians slowed down and in 1989 the Confederation
The PPP won for the sixth time in a row in the 1992
elections, albeit with a slightly less overwhelming
majority than before. Jawara was re-elected president
with nearly 60 percent of the vote.
In July 1994, however, the nearly three decades of
democratic tradition in the Gambia was broken. Jawara
was overthrown by a group of young soldiers led by
Lieutenant Yahya Jammeh. It was a quick and bloody
bargain; no reports were found of dead or injured and
Jawara was allowed to leave the country. The coup makers
motivated their takeover of power by saying that the old
regime was corrupt and immoral and had neither built a
hospital nor a university during his 30 years in power.
Behind the coup there was a growing dissatisfaction with
delayed wages and poor conditions within the army.
The Gambia was now ruled by a military council and a
provisional government, with Jammeh as head of state and
government. All political parties were banned and
freedom of the press was restricted. Politicians and
journalists were jailed at times, often without trial.
There was information about torture of political
prisoners and of citizens being harassed by the security
Return to civilian government
A return to civilian rule within four years was
promised, but after protests both within the country and
from abroad, the military council was forced to expedite
The major donors of the United States, the United
Kingdom, the EU and Japan condemned the coup and several
of them withheld their aid. The country's economy went
into a deep crisis when the important tourism was also
hit by a sharp decline in 1994-1955, after the UK and
Sweden, among others, warned their citizens to travel to
the Gambia. The country managed to cope with the worst
crisis with the help of increased assistance from, among
others, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Taiwan.
The coup leader Jammeh left the army in 1996 to be
able to stand in the presidential election that would
mean a return to civilian rule. However, the three
largest parties from the time before the coup were
banned from running in the upcoming elections, as was
former President Jawara and all former ministers.
Yahya Jammeh won the presidential election with 56
percent of the vote. International observers, however,
expressed doubts about the credibility of the election.
The election to the National Assembly in January 1997
was held under more equitable conditions. But Jammeh's
party the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and
Reconstruction (APRC) had superior resources and took
home 33 of the 45 mandates.
The president quickly became popular by investing in
education, health, roads and a national TV channel. At
the same time, his government was repeatedly criticized
by human rights organizations for violations of freedom
of expression and association. Opposition politicians
and journalists were arrested and imprisoned for
periods. Torture occurred in the detention center.
Between 1994 and 2000, six coup attempts were reported
to have been revealed. Many people were arrested,
suspected of interference. In some cases, it may have
been a pretext for approaching political opponents.
Weak and divided opposition
In the October 2001 presidential elections, the
parties that had been banned in 1994 were allowed to
stand. This time too, there were disturbances and
accusations of cheating. Jammeh won by almost 53 percent
of the vote. Several of the leading opposition parties
boycotted the parliamentary elections in January 2002,
which led to the APRC taking almost all of its seats.
In early 2005, five opposition parties merged in an
effort to strengthen their position ahead of the
presidential election the following year. The National
Alliance for Democracy and Development (NADD) was
successful in filling parliamentary elections during the
year. But four alliance members were suspended from
their parliamentary positions when accused of violating
the law during a current mandate in violation of the
law. Three opposition leaders were arrested at the end
of 2005, accused of devastating activities. However, the
prosecution against them is dropped.
In March 2006, authorities claimed that about 20
officers had been arrested, suspected of planning a coup
attempt. Five of them were reported to have escaped
after a month. In August, three people were sentenced to
20 years of labor camp for lying behind the coup
attempt, while one was released. The person designated
as the principal had managed to escape the country. Ten
others were sentenced to ten years in prison.
Critical election victory
The split of the opposition became clear when two
parties left the NADD even before the September 2006
presidential election. The three parties remaining in
the NADD chose Halifa Sallah as their candidate.
Before the election, the authorities made several
interventions against the media. Moreover, most of the
opposition-friendly media had been forced to strike
again. Jammeh won with 67 percent of the vote against 27
percent for Darboe and 6 percent for Sallah. The
opposition accused the government side of extensive
The election to the National Assembly in January 2007
gave APRC 42 of the 48 electable seats. NADD then
continued to split and eventually became its own party.
In early 2007, President Jammeh caused international
uproar when he claimed he could cure AIDS with the help
of herbs and bananas. In February, UN envoy Fadzai
Gwaradzimba was ordered to leave the country after
questioning Jammeh's claim.
Jammeh made new startling statements. He said he
could cure even high blood pressure with a single dose
of herbs and threatened to chop the heads of all gays in
the country. Death threats were also targeted at
"everyone" who was trying to "destabilize the country"
and especially human rights activists. When the
president felt that witchcraft threatened the country,
ordinary villagers suffered persecution. At the
beginning of 2009, information came out that
government-loyal militia in the company of
witch-deportees removed 100 people in the Foni Kansala
district. They were held in camps where they were forced
to drink hallucinogenic brews. Several had kidney damage
and some were reported to have died. Others fled their
homes to avoid being trapped.
Jammeh carried out repeated furnishings in his
government. Several dome plans were reported to have
been revealed. In rounds, journalists, opposition
leaders, former ministers and several high-ranking
defense and security services were arrested. Eight of
them were sentenced in July 2010 to death for
involvement in an alleged coup attempt in 2009.
Jammeh devoted himself to collecting titles and
wanted to be called both academic and religious leaders.
He announced in 2010 that he would be titled: His
Excellency's President, Professor Alhaji Doctor Yahya
Abdul-Azziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh.
Jammeh wins the 2011 presidential election
The November 2011 presidential election was held
after a ten-day official election. Jammeh's
counter-candidates complained that it was too short a
time for them to have a chance to reach out to voters.
This may have contributed to Jammeh receiving 72 percent
of the vote. His main challenger UDP's Ousainou Darboe
received 17 percent while UF's Hamat Bah, received 11
Election observers from the African Union (AU) and
the Islamic Cooperation Organization (OIC) reported some
problems but still approved the election. The West
African cooperation organization Ecowas, on the other
hand, refrained from sending observers at all, saying
that there was no prerequisite for a democratic
election. Ecowas pointed to tough state control of the
media as well as threats and harassment against
opposition politicians and voters.
In early 2012, former Minister of Information Amadou
Scatred Janneh (who was also a US citizen) was sentenced
to life imprisonment for treason. At the same time,
three people were sentenced to six years in prison for
the same crime. They were said to have planned a coup
and in addition made themselves guilty of sharing
t-shirts with the text: “Coalition for change. End of
dictatorship now ”.
The coup attempt is turned down
The opposition tried to postpone the elections to the
National Assembly in March 2012, citing irregularities
by the regime. When the electoral authority refused, six
opposition parties decided to boycott. This led to the
ruling party taking home 43 of 48 eligible seats.
In October 2013, the government announced that the
Gambia would leave the Commonwealth with immediate
effect. The reason stated was that the country could not
imagine being a member of a "neo-colonial organization".
According to media sources, the exit could have been
linked to the Commonwealth's proposal that the Gambia
should appoint a commission to protect human rights,
media freedom and drive the fight against corruption.
On December 30, 2014, a group of armed men attacked
the Presidential Palace when President Jammeh was
abroad. The coup makers were regime-critical Gambians,
who went into exile, who entered the country via
Senegal, and dissatisfied soldiers on the spot in The
Gambia. Regimental forces defeated the coup attempt and
four coup makers were killed.
Jammeh exclaims the Islamic Republic of Gambia
At the end of 2015, President Jammeh declared that
Gambia should be an "Islamic State" (see Calendar). The
country's official name would now be the Islamic
Republic of Gambia. The decision violated the country's
constitution, which stipulates that Gambia is a secular
According to several analysts, Jammeh in this way
tried to approach rich Arab countries in the hope of
gaining new financial support. The Gambia was in need
since the EU decided to withhold its aid because of the
democratic shortcomings in the country. In addition,
Gambia's decision to terminate diplomatic relations with
Taiwan in 2013 had a financial breakdown. After Muammar
Gaddafi's fall in Libya 2011, no money came from there
either. Another theory was that the decision to make
Gambia an Islamic state was an attempt to counter sex
tourism in the country (see Social conditions).
Shift of power
In April 2016, the opposition party UDP staged a
protest demanding political reform and Jammeh's
departure. The police intervened against the protesters
with harsh methods and 10 people were arrested. A new
demonstration was held after one of the activists had
died in prison, which led to the arrest of UDP leader
Darboe. He was sentenced in July of that year to three
years in prison, and was therefore unable to take part
in the presidential election at the end of the year.
Several other opposition politicians were also
Prior to the December 2, 2016 presidential election,
most of the opposition managed to unite behind a single
candidate, the political newcomer businessman Adama
Barrow. A third candidate, Mamma Kandeh, who had
previously belonged to the ruling party, also
participated, but was accused of standing alone to
undermine the opposition's chances of winning the
Few, though, thought Barrow could win, but he did. It
was a great surprise when Jammeh quickly admitted that
he had lost the election and congratulated the winner.
When the election results were first presented, Barrow
seemed to have won by a clear margin, but a
recalculation of the votes showed that it was only about
19,000 votes. Now Jammeh changed his foot and demanded
that the whole election be redone. Prior to the
oscillation, the president had promoted at least 49
On December 13, soldiers entered the Electoral
Commission headquarters. Barrow feared for his life, but
maintained that he would take over the presidential post
on January 19 when Jammeh's term expired. Several
groups, unions, law and student organizations became
involved in his cause. By first admitting that he had
lost the election, Jammeh aroused the hopes of many
Gambians for an end to the dictatorship, which made it
harder for them to accept his later behavior than if he
had cheated on the victory.
In January 2017, Jammeh announced an emergency permit
for 90 days. This was subsequently approved by
Parliament, which also extended his mandate for one
month. Tensions in the country rose. On January 19,
Barrow swore the Presidential Order at the Gambia
Embassy in Senegal, and the following day the Ecowas
countries joined the Gambia. Only after that did Jammeh
give up and go into exile in Equatorial Guinea. He was
later charged with emptying the Treasury of the
equivalent of $ 11 million.
On January 26, Barrow returned to Gambia from
Senegal. The expectations of him making changes were
high. He noted early on that Jammeh's decision to
declare Gambia an Islamic state no longer applied.