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The Republic of The Gambia - Introduction

The Gambia is a tiny former British colony in West Africa that occupies a narrow sliver of land surrounded by French-speaking Senegal. The Gambia, which occupies a narrow strip of land on either side of the Gambia River, is the smallest country on the African mainland. With an area of 10,689 square kilometres and a population of 1.9 million (2013), it is also among the continent's most densely-populated. The Gambia's official language is English. The country's capital, Banjul, is located on St Mary's Island, near the mouth of the Gambia River. The Gambia's economy is dominated by agriculture, fisheries and tourism. The Gambia is a member of the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States.

The name "Gambia" may be derived from the Mandinka term Kambra/Kambaa, meaning river. It is often said that "The Gambia River is the Gambia and the Gambia is the river Gambia". It has also been suggested that the Gambia River's name originated from the Portuguese word cambio, meaning 'exchange,' or, in this context, 'trade'. In English, The Gambia is one of only two countries whose self-standing short name begins with the definite article "The" (the other is The Bahamas).

Roots, Alex Haley’s book and subsequent TV series, traced the life of an African-American family that originated from a Gambian slave. Millions have read the story of the young African boy named Kunte Kinte, who in the late 1700s was kidnapped from his homeland and brought to the United States as a slave. Haley follows Kunte Kinte's family line over the next seven generations, creating a moving historical novel spanning 200 years.

President Jammeh says he can also cure asthma. He made his announcement to a gathering of foreign diplomats in January 2007. "I can treat asthma and HIV/Aids... Within three days the person should be tested again and I can tell you that he/she will be negative," he said in a statement. "I am not a witch doctor and in fact you cannot have a witch doctor. You are either a witch or a doctor."

The Gambia Armed Forces is made up of infantry battalions in the Gambia National Guard (GNG) (which comprises the State Guard, Special Forces, and the Guards Battalion), Gambia National Army (GNA) and the navy which are under the Department of State for Defence, Banjul. Responsibilities for internal security and law enforcement rest with the Gambian police / gendarme force under the Inspector General of Police and the Ministry of Interior. The Gambian Police Force (GPF) is responsible for investigating most crimes. The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency of The Gambia (NDLEAG) enforces drug laws. The Gambian Armed Forces would be called to assist in maintaining law and order in any region when there is a deteriorating security situation beyond the control of the police.

There are reports of crime against tourists, including the theft of passports, theft of valuables from hotel rooms and theft from vehicles. Pickpockets are active in crowded market areas and on ferries in The Gambia, as well as along the beaches in tourist resort areas. Tourists have been mugged while walking alone along beaches at night. Take particular care when visiting isolated villages and markets. Both male and female visitors should be particularly cautious of young men locally known as 'bumsters'. Bumsters approach tourists, particularly on beaches, to offer help as a local guide, sell goods or simply have a conversation. Politely decline any advances, making sure not to offend. Bumsters often also use romance in the hope of gaining money and other assistance, or in the hope of departing The Gambia through marriage to a Westerner. Travellers should be polite but firm in turning down unwanted assistance or attempts at conversation.

Commercial and internet fraud is prevalent and often originates in West African countries. Victims have been deceived by hoax business proposals and defrauded. Those who travel to the originating country have had their lives endangered. Some victims have been killed. Criminals have been known to seek details of 'safe' bank accounts overseas under the pretence of transferring large sums of money (as a donation or for a percentage of the amount involved). They may also provide fake cashier cheques for 'urgent' shipments of large quantities of goods, request sizeable fees for a fake government contract and extort money from individuals they have convinced to travel to Africa for a business opportunity.

Bogus internet friendship, dating and marriage schemes are operating from some African countries. These scams typically result from connections made through internet dating schemes or chat rooms. Once a virtual friendship develops, the foreign citizen may be asked by their friend or prospective marriage partner to send money to supposedly enable travel to Australia. In some cases the relationship is terminated with very little chance that any funds can be recovered. In other cases, foreigners may be lured to Africa to meet their friend or prospective marriage partner and can become victims of crime including kidnapping, assault and robbery.

Medical facilities in The Gambia are very limited. Most doctors and hospitals will expect immediate cash payment for medical care. Health facilities are very limited and are considered inadequate for most serious conditions. Local facilities often suffer from unsanitary conditions, outdated equipment, and shortages of supplies/medications. There is a shortage of adequately trained physicians and other qualified medical personnel. Emergency assistance is limited. Some hospitals have ambulance services, but these are limited, unreliable, are mostly a transport to the facility, and do not arrive with medically-trained personnel onboard. Psychiatric services and medications are very limited. Many prescription drugs may be purchased locally, but the drugs are often counterfeit and not easily discernable from the genuine drugs.

Malaria is endemic throughout the year in The Gambia. Dengue fever also occurs in the region. We encourage you to consider taking medication against malaria and to take measures to avoid mosquito bites, including using insect repellent at all times, wearing long loose-fitting and light coloured clothing and ensuring your accommodation is mosquito proof. Water-borne, food-borne, parasitic and other infectious diseases (including HIV/AIDS, cholera, typhoid, hepatitis, leptospirosis, meningitis, tuberculosis and rabies) are prevalent with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time. The Gambia is listed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as endemic for yellow fever. Yellow fever is a potentially fatal viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes, which is preventable by vaccination. Diarrheal illness is very common among travelers even in large cities and luxury accommodations.

Driving can be dangerous due to the bad condition of roads, unsafe driving practices, poorly maintained vehicles, insufficient street lighting, and pedestrians, especially when driving at night and outside urban areas. Some local taxis are not roadworthy. Travel on river craft, including ferries and wooden pirogues, is dangerous as they can be overloaded and lack necessary lifesaving equipment.

Although main roads are paved in the greater Banjul area, many are potholed and poorly lit. Some drivers in the Banjul area do not use vehicle lights at night, and many habitually drive with high beams on. Most roads outside the Banjul area are unlit and unpaved. Livestock and pedestrians pose road hazards throughout the country, including in the greater Banjul area.

Drivers in The Gambia are aggressive, unpredictable, and untrained. Poor traffic markers, limited street lights, poor road conditions (major flooding during the rainy season), and pedestrians walking along the road are normal. In the rainy season (June-October), many roads may become impassable or the travel lane becomes very narrow, often shared with oncoming traffic. Extreme caution should be taken when travelling on unknown roads during the rainy season, as roadside assistance is not easily located. Taxis and buses are often in poor working condition, often have faulty brake lights, and make sudden maneuvers without signaling. Road conditions outside of Banjul can be even more dangerous.

Government convoys pose serious risks to drivers and pedestrians. Government convoys frequently travel at high speeds and often in either or both lanes of traffic, including in the oncoming traffic lane and do not always use sirens to announce their presence.

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Page last modified: 03-12-2016 20:04:36 ZULU