SR article

The development of poverty

In this article, we will have a closer view on how poverty has been developed in The Gambia and zoom in on some important factors which play a role in this development.

The nature and distribution of poverty and its ultimate causes

The Gambia can be considered as a poor country, which is placed 168th on the human development index out of the 187 countries that participate in the United Nations Development Programme. Poverty is spread across the country, but mostly found in the rural, inland part of the country.

There are several causes for this extreme poverty. One of the most important causes is probably the lack of economic diversity. Almost 60 % (with higher percentages among poorer people) depends on agriculture. The crops that are being harvested are not very diverse; most people grow rice, groundnuts and some fruits and vegetables. When these prices for rice and groundnuts on the international market drop down or the harvest fails, this can be disastrous for the local farmers. The Gambian people also have to cope with the “hunger season”, which lasts approximately from July to September. In this period there is a lot of rain and no harvest. Families have stocked food in advance for this period, but the stocks tend to decline very rapidly, causing hunger for a lot of people [1].

The only part of the country which also thrives on tourism is the coast. Since especially young adults hope to find work at the coast, there is a lot of rural-coast migration, leaving young children and elderly people behind.

Physical geography

With only 11.300 km^2, The Gambia is the smallest country on the mainland of Africa. From the west to the east it covers a distance of 320 km and from north to south a distance ranging from 20 to 50 km. The country is located along the Gambia River. It is said that the borders where placed by firing cannonballs from a ship in the river, explaining the odd shape of the country.

Along the river rice and groundnuts are grown. The sea and the Gambia River also supply the people with a great variety of fish. Catfish and Tilapia are most caught in the river.  

In 2014 The Gambia had a total of almost 2 million inhabitants and an annual population growth of 3.2%. The density was 188.6 people per square kilometre (in comparison, The Netherlands has a density of 408 p/km^2). Considering approximately 360.000 people live in the Greater Banjul Area (around the capital), the rural areas are sparsely populated.

The roads in The Gambia are not very well maintained. Out of the 4000 km of road in The Gambia, only 750 is paved, which makes travelling, especially inland, very slow. There are two main roads, one north of the Gambia River and one south. The northern road is quite reasonable, while the southern road is in a very bad shape with lots of potholes. The best roads are found in the coastal area near the Gambian capital Banjul.

The main diseases The Gambia has to cope with are malaria, diarrhoea, respiratory infections and malnutrition. Diarrhoea and respiratory infections are mostly caused by the lack of clean drinking water and bad sanitation. Malaria is caused by infected mosquitos and malnutrition has a strong connection with the hunger season. [2][3][4][5][6]

Government policies and capacity to invest in infrastructure

As said, the roads in The Gambia are not maintained well. The Ministry of Works, Construction and Infrastructure has the goal to develop and maintain the road infrastructure in The Gambia, to enhance economic and social development.  There are also policies for improving air transport and maritime transport.  The problem is that there is not a lot of money to spend, because The Gambia is a poor country, and so there is no ability to invest a lot in these policies [7].

Governance patterns and failures, civil rights and corruption

Since 1965, the Gambia has organized elections every five years. The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) has dominated the Gambian politics up until the coup in 1994. There was never a serious opposition party to ever challenge the position of the PPP. From 1994, the PPP was banned from the elections until 2001. Since then, there are 4 different parties participating in the elections, but the current president Jammeh has always won the elections. The voting was regarded as free and fair, but criticism started in 2006 when an opposition candidate was arrested. Afterwards Jammeh said: “I will develop the areas that vote for me, but if you don’t vote for me, don’t expect anything.”

Short after this, plans for a coup were uncovered, and a lot of army officials were arrested.  If there really was a coup planned or the president made it up for his own purposes has never been proofed. In 2009, again eight prominent Gambians were arrested and found guilty of treason for planning a coup.

The elections in 2011 were characterized as not free, fair and transparent. Jammeh was elected for another five year term.  In2014, there was another failed coup attempt, this time by American-Gambian citizens, including some US military veterans. On 11 December 2015, the president declared The Gambia to be an Islamic republic. [8][9][10]

Cultural barriers

The Gambia is a country with several ethnic groups like the Mandinka, the Wolof, the Fula and many more, of which the Mandinka and the Wolof are the largest. All ethnic groups have their own language. However, these ethnic groups do not live separated from each other but they are mixed to a large extent and live in harmony. This is even so much that The Gambia is also seen as a melting pot of West-African ethnic groups. This causes a mixing between cultures, which is leading to a movement towards a national Gambian culture at the moment. Only the Wolof and the Mandinka have in a somewhat more specific living area. The Wolof lives mostly around the capital Banjul while the Mandinka live more in the inner lands.

According to the law, men and women are completely equal in The Gambia. The department of Health, Social Welfare and Women’s Affairs is heavily funded, women and men working in the formal sector get equally paid and women are allowed to participate in the government. Although the Vice-President is a woman, they are still poorly represented with only one woman in the Gambian parliament. Most women work in the agricultural sector as day-to-day farmers and not in the formal sector. In 2005, about 78 percent of the women have been subjected to female genital mutilation. Traditionally, women are subordinate to men and men tend to control their wives and daughters. On the other hand, there is a growing women’s movement in The Gambia. [11][12][13]


The part of Senegal Southern of The Gambia, called the Casamance, has an armed resistance against the Senegalese government. They are mostly targeting military installations and personnel. Furthermore, the borders are easy to pass so Senegalese refugees flee to The Gambia from this region. In 2011, this number was estimated on 11000 people. Also, partly due to these open borders, there is a growing threat of terrorism by al-Qa’ida. Until now, The Gambia has been spared of these. [14][15][16]

The countries to where The Gambia exports the most products are China, Mali, India and Guinea. The countries from where The Gambia imports the most products are China, Brazil, Senegal and India. The Gambia exported $214 million in 2014 and imported $1.14 billion. The export mostly exists of artificial woven fabric, nuts and rough wood. The import products are mainly cotton, rice, sugar and oil. [17]

Historical backgrounds

The Gambia has been under British power from the 15th century. The British Empire and France have been fighting over Senegal and Gambia over the ages. In 1889 the present boundaries were established with an agreement between the British Empire and France. From that time, The Gambia was a separate colony. In 1901 The Gambia received an executive and legislative council. The constitutional reform only continued half a century later, after World War II. In 1962 there were general elections, and in 1965 The Gambia became an independent constitutional monarchy with Elizabeth II as the Queen.

In 1970, The Gambia became a republic, but remained part of the Commonwealth of Nations.  Sir Dawda Kaibara Jawara became the Prime Minister. He was re-elected five times. In 1981, there was an attempted coup by the Socialist and Revolutionary Labour Party (SRLP), which led to a weaker economy and more allegations of corruption. The Prime Minister asked military aid from Senegal, which defeated the rebel force. 500 to 800 people were killed during the coup and the weeks after that.

There was a successful coup in 1994, by Lieutenant Yahya Jammeh, the chairman of the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC). He became head of state, and today he still is. He wanted to turn The Gambia in a democratic civilian government. In 2001 and 2002, there were presidential, legislative and local elections. Foreign observers judged the elections as free, fair and transparent. Yahya Jemmeh was elected to continue as president.

In 2013, The Gambia announced that the country would leave the Commonwealth of Nations with immediate effect, because of the neo-colonial character of the institution. [18]


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