The Gambia at a glance

2016-12-02 20:30
Yahya Jammeh. (File: AFP)

Yahya Jammeh. (File: AFP)

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Banjul - The west African nation of The Gambia is set for a rare handover of power after long-serving President Yahya Jammeh suffered a shock defeat at the polls.

Rights bodies and media watchdogs accuse Jammeh of cultivating a "pervasive climate of fear" during his 22 years in office and of crushing dissent against his regime.

Here is a look at the issues confronting The Gambia after its historic election on Thursday.

Peanuts and payments

The Gambia is on Africa's west coast and has been stable - though not prosperous - since Jammeh staged a bloodless coup in 1994.

The country is the smallest on mainland Africa, and occupies a narrow strip of land running in from the Atlantic coast along the Gambia River, surrounded on three sides by Senegal.

Its agricultural base is weak, and the main crop is peanuts. The economy is also supported by tourism and remittance payments by the large number of Gambians who have made it to Europe.

According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), Gambians are the largest group of migrants per capita crossing the Mediterranean to Italy.

In a country of just 1.99 million people, 60% of Gambians lived in poverty in 2014, UN data shows.

Per capita gross national income (GNI) fell to $460 in 2014, from a peak of $750 in 1993.

Cultivation of millet, maize and cassava helps to feed the population, along with fishing.

Former colony ditches Commonwealth

The Gambia was a British colony from 1888 until independence in 1965. It became a republic on April 24, 1970 when then prime minister Dawda Jawara, a veterinary surgeon by training, was appointed president.

Jawara was overthrown by Jammeh on July 22, 1994.

A new constitution was adopted in 1996, followed by a presidential election won by Jammeh, who also won elections in 2001, 2006 and 2011, increasing his majority each time.

A 2002 constitutional amendment permits unlimited presidential mandates.

In 2013, Jammeh said that the country would withdraw from the Commonwealth, which he called a "neo-colonial institution," and in 2014, he said that The Gambia would drop English as its official language.

Last year, he declared that the country was an Islamic republic that had broken free from its "colonial legacy".

Muslims account for about 90 percent of the population, with most of the rest said to be Christian or animist.

In October, The Gambia became the latest African nation to pull out of the International Criminal Court, which it accused of "persecuting" Africans.

Mystical cure for Aids

In early 2007, Jammeh claimed to have mystical powers which, along with a herbal remedy, allowed him to treat asthma and HIV/Aids.

After the UN envoy to Banjul commented on his claim to Britain's Sky News broadcaster, she was "given her marching orders because of irresponsible comments," the pro-government Daily Observer reported.

Jammeh has called homosexuals "ungodly, Satanic... vermins," and has threatened to slit the throats of men who wanted to marry other men, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

Homosexuality is illegal in The Gambia, and the crime of "aggravated homosexuality" carries a sentence of up to life imprisonment.

Read more on:    un  |  yahya jammeh  |  gambia  |  west africa

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