Gambia, also known as The Gambia, is a long and narrow country. A nation in West Africa, The Gambia is formally known as the Republic of The Gambia. It is the smallest nation on African soil and, with the exception of its western shore on the Atlantic Ocean, is encircled by Senegal. The country is believed to get its name from either one of two sources – the Mandinka term Kambra/Kambaa, meaning Gambia River, or from Gamba, a type of calabash that is hit when a Serer elder dies. Upon their independence, the country officially became The Gambia, and by the time it became a republic a few years afterward, the official name became the Republic of the Gambia.
Despite being a small country, Gambia has a very interesting history, and it is even more interesting to see how this history affects various parts of the country’s identity. For the sake of this article, we will examine the history of the country and how it influenced choosing a flag, as well as the meaning and symbolism behind the flag chosen.
Characteristics of Gambia
As mentioned earlier, Gambia is a relatively small country. The country has an area of 10,689 square kilometers (4,127 sq mi), with a population of almost two million people. Territorial agreements signed in the 19th century between France, which administered the neighboring province of Senegal, and Great Britain, which controlled the lower Gambia River, are the reasons for the country’s unusual shape and size. The Gambia is the smallest non-island nation in Africa. Additionally, it has one of Africa’s densest populations. Although a few towns exist upriver, the majority of Gambians reside in small rural communities.
Despite its size, Gambia is still a multi-ethnic country. The Fula, Jola, Mandinka, Serahule, and Wolof are among its largest ethnic groups. The country is so special in the sense that no area of The Gambia is predominated by a single ethnic group. Due to their close proximity, the tribes began to share many cultural characteristics, which sparked a drive toward the development of a Gambian national identity. The two primary ethnic groups are Wolof and Mandinka. Most Wolof people reside in Banjul, the nation’s capital. The Mandinka make up the country’s largest ethnic group.
Since English is the nation’s official language, people of all ethnic groups frequently speak it. Additionally, each ethnic group speaks its own language. The Gambia is regarded as a melting pot of West African ethnic groups due to the relative harmony among ethnic groups. Apart from being multi-ethnic, the country is also multi-religious. The majority of its people are Muslims. The non-Muslim populations are either traditionalists or Christians, with most of them being Roman Catholic.
History of Gambia
Oral traditions have been used to some extent to preserve Gambian history before the introduction of Europeans. Its history is inextricably entwined with that of neighboring Senegal because The Gambia and Senegal were not officially separated until the late 20th century; prior to that, the area was frequently referred to as Senegambia. The Portuguese, who were the first Europeans to settle in the Gambia River regions, built commercial posts in the late 1400s but abandoned them a century later. In the following two centuries, trade opportunities lured trading corporations from England, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Courland to western Africa.
France and England fought for supremacy in Senegambia during the 18th century, and no trades were made during that time. The situation changed in 1816 when the British reestablished a station from which the British navy could regulate the slave trade. Following that, The Gambia was governed as a region of British West Africa between 1821 and 1843. Up until 1866, it was a separate colony with a separate governor. After that, power was returned to the governor-general in Freetown, Sierra Leone, where it remained until 1889.
Political parties took a while to emerge, but by 1960, many of them were clamoring for independence. On February 18, 1965, The Gambia gained its independence as a constitutional monarchy within the Commonwealth, with Elizabeth II as the head of state. A second referendum resulted in The Gambia becoming a republic on April 24, 1970, under the Commonwealth. Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara took over the executive position of president, combining the roles of head of state and head of government. Following the assistance of Senegalese soldiers to thwart a coup attempt in 1981, the leaders of both nations established the Senegambia confederation. Each state was to maintain its independence of action in the majority of cases under this plan, but economic and military resources were to be combined. However, the confederation was dissolved in 1989.
History and Symbolism of the Flag of The Gambia
The Gambia’s flag, which was adopted in 1965, has three horizontal stripes of red, blue, and green that are divided by two slender white lines. The Gambia’s flag was designed by accountant Louis Thomasi. He ensured to design the flag in such a way that did not show any political influences or bias so that it could represent the nation as a whole. This fact makes the flag of The Gambia one of the few national flags in Africa that is not derived from the flag of an existing political party or movement.
The flag’s colors have regional, political, and cultural connotations. The blue represents the Gambia River, which is the country’s most prominent geographical feature and where it gets its name. The red represents the sun, given the country’s proximity to the Equator and the savanna. The capital of The Gambia, Banjul, experiences more than 3,000 hours of sunshine annually due to its proximity to the equator. The green depicts the forest and the agricultural products on which the Gambian people are highly dependent, both for export and for domestic consumption, while the thin white lines stand for harmony and peace.
How Did Colonization Affect the Flag of The Gambia?
The British blue ensign was the first flag flown in the area in 1888. The Union Jack was displayed on the flag’s upper left side, and the African Colonies’ coat of arms was displayed on the flag’s lower right side, both on a dark blue background. The emblem at the time was an elephant on a miniature representation of the map of Africa. The country continued to use this flag until its independence in 1965.
The Gambia’s flag is notable not only for its distinctive design but also because it is one of the few in Africa that does not feature the primary colors of the nation’s dominant political party. Even after forming a confederation with Senegal, the two countries did not share a flag, and The Gambia continued using its own flag.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/titoOnz
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- World Atlas, Available here: https://www.worldatlas.com/flags/gambia
- Flags World, Available here: https://flagsworld.org/gambia-flag.html
- The flager, Available here: https://theflager.com/gambia-flag/