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 2 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 relative political stability and peace Gambia enjoyed during the first decade of the 21st century has been shaken by a range of negative developments in recent years. Most of these developments are related to human rights violations that sparked condemnations within and outside the country. Lately, political tensions have increased noticeably ahead of the upcoming elections.
Gambians go to the polls on December 1, 2016 to elect the President of the Republic. This will be followed by National Assembly elections in March/April 2017 and municipal/local elections in April 2018 to complete the current electoral cycle, 2016-2018. Pre-election tension started with demonstrations in April 2016 triggered by demands for electoral and political reforms. These demands resulted from the July 2015 amendment of the Electoral Act without broad-based consultations, especially with key political stakeholders including the opposition political parties. The April demonstrations resulted in the arrest, trial and detention of a number of protestors. Thirty people, mainly from the opposition United Democratic Party (UDP), have been convicted and sentenced to three years in prison.
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. Real GDP growth stagnated at 0.9% in 2014, and while government estimates projected a rebound in 2015 to 4.7%, underlying economic data, such as tourist arrivals, trade data, private credit growth, and agricultural production, indicate the outcome was much more muted, if not a contraction. A widening fiscal deficit, ad hoc monetary policy shifts, and Central Bank financing of the deficit has caused the macro to continue to weaken in 2016, and is expected to dampen growth and private investment. Between 2013 and 2016, real per capita GDP is estimated to have fallen by 20%, suggesting an increase in poverty levels. A household survey from 2015 is currently under analysis and should shed further light of the effects of the recent growth volatility on poverty reduction. 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.
The macro framework continues to be characterized by high debt, crowding out public and private investment and creating significant risks of debt distress. The Gambia has moderate external public debt (59% of GDP in 2015) held primarily in long-dated maturities at concessional rates, but it has substantial, high-cost, short-term domestic debt, currently estimated at 46% GDP. This indebtedness is also undermining the stability of the domestic financial sector. Total debt exceeded 100% of GDP in 2014 and 2015 up from 84% in 2013. Interest payments are forecast to rise to close to 50% of government revenues in 2016 from 40% in 2015.
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 lifting of currency controls since January 2016 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 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: Oct 04, 2016