The Gambia is the smallest country on the African mainland. It stretches 450 km along the Gambia River. Its 11,285 sq. km area is surrounded by Senegal, except for a 60 km Atlantic Ocean front. Although the smallest country on the African continent, The Gambia harbors a wealth of land, coastal, marine and wetland habitats and species of local, national, regional and global significance, making it an attractive tourist destination. Due to its unique geographic location, it is also a hub for trade in the region.
The country has a population of 1.8 million, with a fairly high average rate of growth of 2.8% per year over the last decade. With 177 people per square kilometer, The Gambia is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa. Most of the population (57%) is concentrated around urban and peri-urban centers. The main languages are English, Mandinka, Wolof, Jola and Fula, and 90% of Gambians are Muslim.
The Gambia is a presidential republic with a unicameral legislature. The incumbent President Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh was re-elected for a fourth term, with 72% of the vote, on November 24, 2011. Parliamentary elections took place on March 29, 2012, with the President’s party (the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction, or APRC) maintaining its sizeable majority. The Gambia has maintained a reputation of relative stability and peace, although there was an attempted coup d’état in The Gambia in December 2014. Overall the situation has been calm since then, and presidential elections are scheduled for late 2016.
The Gambia is a small economy that relies primarily on tourism, agriculture and remittances inflows, and is vulnerable to external shocks, as illustrated most recently by the West Africa Ebola crisis and the poor harvest in 2014. From 2010 through 2014, real GDP growth averaged 2.7% and shrank by an average of 0.5% in per capita terms, in part reflecting a severe drought that contributed to a 4.3% contraction in GDP in 2011. The combined effects of the decline in agricultural production during the 2014/2015 harvest due to poor rains in 2014, and a sharp decline in tourist arrivals during the 2014/2015 tourist season due to the 2014 Ebola outbreak in neighboring countries, have adversely affected the key drivers of growth in 2014 and 2015. Nevertheless, initial official projections indicate real GDP expanded by 4.7% in 2015 from 0.9% in 2014, led by a rebound in the tourism sector in particular. However, the concurrent surge in outmigration in 2014 and 2015 suggests increased macroeconomic fragility aside from pull factors, and the official initial figures may not fully capture the extent of the negative impacts on the real economy.
Fiscal strains have mounted substantially in recent years, largely due to fiscal slippages that have led to a significant build-up of public sector debt. The fiscal deficit averaged 11% as a share of GDP from 2013 through 2015, contributing to a rise in public sector debt to 108% of GDP in 2015 from 83.3% in 2013. Heavy reliance on costly domestic markets has contributed to rising debt. Interest payments increased from 25% of revenues in 2013 to 40% in 2015, and are projected to reach nearly 50% in 2016. Contingent liabilities that reached 5% of GDP in 2014 are also a contributing factor.
Exchange rate policies that sharply overvalued the Gambian Dalasi have also contributed to financial strains and balance of payments imbalances. Central Bank official foreign reserves have declined significantly, with the periodic imposition of currency controls since 2013 and overvaluation against the US dollar as high as 30% over pre-peg, market-determined rates. The controls have constrained the availability of foreign exchange, discouraged private investment, and strained the capacity of the authorities to service public sector debt. The lifting of currency controls since January 2106 should facilitate a rebuilding of reserves over time, however, there are other administrative current controls in place that could pose ongoing challenges, including shipment controls on US dollars, Pound-Sterling and Euros.
The Gambia was reclassified as a fragile state in 2014, which mainly reflects deterioration in the macroeconomic policy framework in recent years that could have contributed to an upswing in Gambian asylum seekers. In 2015, more than 12,000 Gambians sought asylum to Europe.
The key long-term development challenges facing The Gambia are related to its undiversified economy, small internal market, limited access to resources, lack of skills necessary to build effective institutions, high population growth, lack of private sector job creation, and high rate of outmigration.
Overall poverty rates declined from 58% in 2003 to 48.4% in 2010, and education coverage and quality improved. Progress was made in the public sector, economic and fiscal management, civil service and justice reform, and anti-corruption and public procurement reform. Recent data show modest developments in health, notably on HIV/AIDS prevalence (which remains stable) and maternal mortality (which declined considerably). The government is committed to consolidating these achievements while creating space for continued funding of poverty reduction programs.
The Gambia faced serious challenges in achieving most of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). According to the World Development Indicators database, the poverty reduction MDG at the poverty line of $1.25 has been achieved. In terms of human development, the country has achieved the MDGs related to gender parity in primary and secondary education, and to improved access to water sources. All other MDGs were not achieved.
Last Updated: Apr 05, 2016