The smallest country on mainland Africa, Gambia owes its small size and unique shape, snaking around the Gambia River, to the 18th century struggle between France and Britain for colonial supremacy in the area. The area was an important trading post and military centre for several centuries before it was first colonised by the Portuguese in the 16th century, and then subsequently by the French and then the British, who utilised it as their base in an otherwise French West Africa. It became a part of the ‘Slave Coast’ and several million slaves disembarked from the Gambian coast for the Americas.
The Gambia gained independence from Britain in 1965 and enjoyed many decades of relative stability and peace until a bloodless coup in 1994 in which current President Yahya Jammeh seized power. This coup was depicted and analysed in Coup D'etat by the Gambia National Army by Col. Samsudeen. Despite the stability of The Gambia’s recent history, the country has not enjoyed commensurate prosperity; most of the population live in impoverished conditions and the country is highly dependent on peanut exports.
The Gambia’s strategic location on the Western tip of Africa, and its lack of natural borders have meant it is a melting pot both ethnically and culturally, incorporating diverse ethnic groups from throughout West Africa. Its smorgasbord culture is a reflection of these diverse influences and has become renowned for the quality of its music, which has developed a following internationally. This culture is explored, along with that of Senegal, in the Gambia and Senegal Insight Guide and The Gambia and Senegal, both of which offer visitors a comprehensive introduction to the country. The history of the slave trade in The Gambia is dealt with in the TV series Roots. Phillis Wheatly was a slave born in The Gambia and transported to America, who went on to become the first black woman to publish a book; her works are available in the Collected Works of Phillis Wheatley.