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 kilometer 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. 90% of Gambians are Muslim.
Presidential elections on December 1, 2017 resulted in a political transition after the incumbent President Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh was defeated by Adama Barrow who garnered 43.3% of the vote over the 39.6% received by Jammeh. After initially accepting the election outcome, Jammeh then rejected the results a few days later, calling for a new election. Former President Jammeh led the country for 22 years after a military coup in 1994, followed by four presidential elections in 1996, 2001, 2006, and 2011.
For security reasons, Adama Barrow left the country for Dakar, Senegal, while ECOWAS mobilized military troops and gave an ultimatum to Jammeh calling for a transfer of power by the constitutional due date of January 19, 2017. Presidents Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz of Mauritania and Alpha Condé of Guinea negotiated Jammeh’s exile to Equatorial Guinea on January 21, 2017. Meanwhile, Adama Barrow was sworn in as President of The Gambia at the Gambian embassy in Dakar on January 19, 2017. He returned to Banjul a week later.
Parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held in March and April 2017 while municipal and local elections are set for April 2018. This will complete the current 2016-2018 electoral cycle. The Gambia is a presidential republic with a unicameral legislature.
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: Feb 13, 2017