Gambia is a western African country, situated on the Atlantic coast and is entirely surrounded by the neighbouring country, Senegal. It is a long narrow strip of land, 25 to 50 km wide, that surrounds the Gambia River. The Portuguese who first explored the country named it after the river known as ‘The River Gambia.’ The Portuguese thus named it ‘The Gambia.’ [In Portuguese). So when Britain took over, they maintained that name. A year to the attainment of independence in 1964, the then Prime Minister officially sought the consent of the Permanent Committee on geographical names based in the UK to keep the official title of ‘The Gambia.’
The land is flat and is dominated by the river, which is navigable throughout the length of the country- The Gambia River flows across a plateau of Miocene-Pliocene sandstone consisting of compacted sediment composed predominantly of quartz grains formed from about 23.7 to 1.6 Million Years ago. In the east, narrow valleys are separated by broad interfluves or flattish hills. In the west, lower and smaller sand hills alternate with depressions filled in with sand to form a flat plain. This peculiar shape and size of the country are the result of territorial compromises made during the 19th Century by Great Britain, which controlled the lower Gambia River, and France, which ruled the neighbouring colony of Senegal. Periodic talks in the 20th Century to unite The Gambia and Senegal led to the short-lived Senegambia confederation (1982–89).
It is one of Africa’s most densely populated countries. A few towns are located upriver, but most Gambians live in rural villages. The major ethnic groups are similar to those in Senegal and consist of the majority Malinke and also include Wolof, Fulani (Fulbe), Diola (Jola), and Soninke peoples. The Gambian economy is heavily dependent on peanut (groundnut) production and export.
The country is known for the beaches along its small Atlantic coastline. The capital, Banjul (called Bathurst until 1973), is situated where the Gambia River flows into the Atlantic Ocean.
English is the official language, but the most frequently spoken languages are generally of the Atlantic branch of the Niger-Congo family. Mandinka and Wolof constitute the lingua; 'Francas' of the country, and other languages spoken include Pulaar (a widely spoken language in West Africa), Serer and Soninke. Some Muslim clerics are literate in Arabic. The population being overwhelmingly Muslim. There are a small number of Christians—predominantly, Roman Catholic—and some adherents of traditional beliefs.
The population growth rate and infant mortality rate in The Gambia are among the highest in western Africa. The population is young, with about two-thirds under age 30. Life expectancy is comparable to the regional average but lower than that of the world. Over the years, conflict in other western African countries led to an influx of refugees into Gambia, most notably those fleeing from fighting in Senegal’s Casamance region as well as those who fled from civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Gambian agriculture can be described as a classic monoculture; peanuts (groundnuts) are the most valuable agricultural commodity. Land is cleared by the slash-and-burn technique, but farmers practice conservation. Most land is held in common by the villagers. There is a sharp division of labour, with men involved in planting, cultivating, and harvesting cash crops while women cultivate subsistence crops such as cassava, yams, eggplant, tomatoes, rice, and lentils. There are citrus orchards in the western area near Banjul. Agriculture plays a key role in The Gambian economy, with nearly three quarters of the labour force employed in the sector. Cash crops are dominated by groundnuts, The Gambia's main merchandise export (excluding re-exports). The Government has progressively liberalized commercialization of all major crops, though a system of minimum guaranteed prices, supported by a donor-financed stabilization fund, operates in the groundnut subsector. The focus of agriculture policy has shifted to: Research and teaching of crop techniques and the development of seed variety; the provision of extension services; and the encouragement of rural and micro-credit programmes. Subsector-specific financing schemes for the acquisition of inputs have also been developed. Fisheries also constitute a relatively large proportion of total exports, this has raised major concerns regarding; the possible overfishing of the; Demersal species.