History & Background
Gambia, officially Republique of the Gambia, is an independent republic of western Africa and one of the smallest independent countries on the continent. It achieved its independence from Great Britain in 1965. Geographically, it is a narrow enclave that extends about 15 to 30 miles along the Gambia River and is almost completely surrounded by Senegal, a fact that forced a short-lived merger between the two nations between 1982 and 1989. There was a military coup in 1994, but a new constitution created in 1996 followed by parliamentary balloting in 1997 helped the nation to return nominally to civilian rule. The Gambia accepted a seat on the UN Security Council during 1998 to 1999, effectively ending their period of isolation.
The population (based on a July 2000 estimate) is 1,367,124 people and includes diverse ethnic groups that are 99 percent African heritage and 1 percent non-African. The most populous group is the Mandinka (42 percent), followed by the Fula (18 percent), Wolof (16 percent), Jola (10 percent), and others (14 percent). The official language is English, but each of the diverse ethnic groups also speaks their own language. The most popular are Mandinka, Wolof, and Fulu.