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 small in size, 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. 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, who originally took office in a bloodless coup in 1994, 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 its sub-region has been marked by recurring instability and conflict.
The country has had relatively strong economic performance in recent years with average annual real gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 6.2% during 2008-2010. But it has since dropped to 5.3% in 2012 and 4.8% in 2013. For 2014, real GDP growth is projected at -1% versus an initial projection of 6.7%, due to contractions in crop production as a result of delayed rains and contractions in tourism due to the Ebola scare (although there are no reported cases in The Gambia). The Gambia benefitted from considerable multilateral debt relief after reaching the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Completion Point in December 2007, with total debt outstanding as a ratio to GDP declining from 143.2% in 2006 (pre-HIPC) to 55.1% in 2008; although it has increased significantly again in the interim to 83% in 2013 and is projected to exceed 90% in 2014. Effects of the global financial crisis of 2008 were tempered by good agricultural outputs in the same period, and by increased tourism revenue.
As a small, open economy, however, the country remains highly vulnerable to external shocks given its relatively undiversified economic base. It faces three main challenges:
- Restoring growth and macroeconomic stability. This will require diversification of the economy and an improved private sector investment climate.
- Improving service delivery, through effective civil service reform including improved management capacity for strategic planning, performance measurement, and institutional coordination, collaboration and dialogue.
- Improving transparency and accountability in public financial management and public procurement. In particular, improving the demand side of public financial management by disseminating information to the public and creating a culture of accountability and citizen participation.
Overall poverty rates declined from 58% in 2003 to 48.4% in 2010, and education coverage and quality improved. Progress was made in the areas of public sector, economic and fiscal management, civil service and justice reform, 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 is facing serious challenges in achieving most of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). According to the World Development Indicators database, the poverty reduction goal 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. Progress towards all other MDGs is off-target. The MDGs related to primary school completion rates (even though considerable progress has been made), infant and child mortality, measles vaccination and births not attended by skilled staff are seriously off-target, and will not be reached any time soon if current policies are continued and donor support is maintained at current levels.
Last Updated: Nov 24, 2014