The Gambia

Gambia, Africa's smallest country, was once part of the Muslim, gold-trading Mali Empire, which flourished in West Africa from the 7th to the 15th Centries, until the Portuguese arrived in the region in 1455 and began slave trading. They bought cloth, beads, mirrors and liquor to sell which they exchanged for gold dust, hides, ivory and slaves. They built trading stations along the estuary of the River Gambia and on the banks of the Bintang Creek.

The Duke of Courland, a Latvian, was interested in the trade along The river Gambia. In 1651 the Duchy gained its first colony in Africa, St. Andrews Island up The Gambia River and established a fort there.  The main export goods were ivory, gold, furs, spices. Soon, in 1652, another colony was established in Tobago Island, British West Indies. Courland is the southern most province of modern day Latvia.

During the late 16th Centry the slave trade was taken over by the British who established trading posts on the Gambia River. They captured the fort in 1661 and the island bacame known as Fort James or James Island, after James Duke of York. This island is located west of Dog island up the River Gambia. The company used this fort as a trading base, first for gold and ivory then for slaves like Kunta Kinteh portrayed in the movie "ROOTS" (Pictured Left) on the North bank of the river from Fort James to Jufureh . The governor of James island forced all foreign (non-English) ships entering the River Gambia to pay taxes on their goods.Ships that tried to evade the taxes were fired upon with canons.

In 1695, Fort James was taken by the French after a battle with the English sailors. It was returned in 1697 and then captured again in 1702.

On the 25'th March 1807, the Royal accent was given to a bill which prescribed that from January 1'st 1808 all manners of dealing and trading of Slaves in Africa or in their transportation from Africa to any other place was to be utterly abolished, prohibited and declared to be unlawful and enacted penalties for dealing in slaves. The act was promptly enforced by the British Navy as soon as it came into operation. The majority of British slavers found it impossible to escape the vigilance of British cruisers and thought a few bold spirits endeavored for a few years to risk the possibility of capture, the increased penalties prescribed by an amending act of 1811 more or less effectively put an end to British speculation mal practices in Slave Trade. Having become a British colony in 1843, Gambia gained self-government in 1963 achieving full independence within the Commonwealth of Nations in 1965. A republic was declared in 1970 when an elected President replaced the British Monarch as the offical head of state.

Before the arrival of the Portuguese, there was no written history of West Africa. The historians were known as Griots who told the story their way. They relied mostly on memory to recite history of families, clans or tribes.

Local Issues

The Gambia is rarely in the news, it does not yield juicy sight bites of war, ethnic tension or political intrigue for the cameras of AP. Reuters or the BBC. The reality is that it's people, like others in Africa, Asia and South America, are far worse off than many in the international spotlight of the mass media.

The Gambia has a population of 1.7 million people, about a third of whom live below the poverty line of US $1.25 a day. Infant mortality is 68.84 per thousand co 18.35 per thousand in the Gaza Strip. Life expectancy is a mere 53.81 years (over 20% below the international average), compared with 73.42 in the Gaza Strip. When the rains do arrive, they bring with them the country's biggest killers: infectious waterborne diseases. Malaria, yellow fever, typhoid, bacterial and protozoal diarrhoea, and schistosomiasis are rife. Hepatitis A, meningococcal meningitis and rabies are common. All of these diseases have a very high risk of infection.

Prostitution and alcoholism are endemic. We estimate that in the towns there is an informal brothel/drinking house in every third street. The Gambia is a source, destination and transit point for international people trafficking. We have reliable reports from girls, police and army officials that girls as young as 13 are regularly brought to tourist areas from rural villages to find rich white boyfriends by their own grandparent’s. Infection is grossly under reported with little or no counselling and basic health advice being given to the few who do report to medical agencies.

Despite the fact that 43.6% of the population is under 14 years old, less than 2% of the country's GDP is spent on education. Adult literacy is only 40.1% of the population. State education is only partially funded from age 7 with virtually all infant and early primary education funded and organized by foreign charities like ours.