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Oct 13, 2018 | Gambia

Five things to know about The Gambia

Gambia: Socio-economic data.  By Gal ROMA, Laurence CHU, John SAEKI (AFP)
Gambia: Socio-economic data. By Gal ROMA, Laurence CHU, John SAEKI (AFP)

The Gambia on Monday launches a truth and reconciliation commission into the era of former president Yahya Jammeh, who ruled with an iron fist for 22 years.

Here are five things to know about the small West African nation.

Colonialism and a coup

The Gambia is the smallest country on mainland Africa, narrowly straddling the river that gives it its name. It has a tiny coastline on the Atlantic but is otherwise surrounded by Senegal.

The Gambia was a British colony from 1888 until independence in 1965, becoming a republic in 1970, when then prime minister Dawda Jawara was appointed president.

Jawara was overthrown in a bloodless coup in 1994 by Jammeh, who ruled until he lost elections in December 2016 to opposition leader Adama Barrow.

Jammeh fled to Equatorial Guinea the following month after other countries in the region intervened, politically and then militarily.

Abuse and graft

Jammeh's reign was associated with massive abuse of human rights, ranging from torture to disappearances, entrenched corruption and grinding poverty.

In 2013, Jammeh said The Gambia would withdraw from the "neo-colonial" Commonwealth and in 2014 announced plans to drop English as The Gambia's official language.

In December 2015 he declared that the predominantly Muslim country, which had a history of religious tolerance, was an Islamic republic that had broken free from its "colonial legacy".

Poverty and migration

Some 60 percent of Gambians live in poverty, UN data shows, with a third of those living on less than $1.25 (1.2 euros) a day.

The Gambia's agricultural base is weak, and the main crop is peanuts. The economy is also supported by tourism and remittance payments by the large Gambian diaspora in Europe.

Per capita gross national income (GNI) fell to $430 in 2016, from $750 in 1993.

Repression and poverty have driven many Gambians to seek a better life in Europe.

With a population of less than two million, Gambians are among the largest groups, per capita, seeking to crossing the Mediterranean to Italy, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

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