Five things to know about the Gambia

Gambians take to the streets to demand President Yahya Jammeh's exit. (Getty)

Gambians take to the streets to demand President Yahya Jammeh's exit. (Getty)

The Gambia has been plunged into political turmoil since President Yahya Jammeh disputed his rival Adama Barrow’s election victory.

With just days to go before the planned inauguration, Jammeh declared a state of emergency.

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

Bloodless coup 
The Gambia, the smallest country on mainland Africa, was a British colony from 1888 until independence in 1965.

It became a republic in 1970, when the then prime minister Dawda Jawara was appointed president.

In a bloodless coup in 1994, Jammeh overthrew Jawara.

‘Climate of fear’ 
Rights groups accuse Jammeh of cultivating a “climate of fear” and of going all-out to crush dissent.

Repression and poverty have driven many Gambians to risk their lives at sea in search of a better life in Europe.

With a population of less than two million, the Gambia’s migrants are the largest group per capita crossing the Mediterranean to Italy, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Widespread poverty
Some 60% of Gambians live in poverty, UN data shows, with a third of those living on less than $1.25 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 number of Gambians who have made it to Europe.

Per capita gross national income (GNI) fell to $460 in 2014, from $750 in 1993.

Islamic republic 
In 2013, Jammeh said that the country would withdraw from the Commonwealth, which he called a “neo-colonial institution”, and in 2014, he said that the Gambia would drop English as its official language.

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

Muslims account for about 90% of the population, with Christians and animists making up the rest.

In October 2016, the Gambia became the latest African nation to pull out of the International Criminal Court, which it accused of “persecuting” Africans.

Mystical cure for AIDS
In early 2007, Jammeh claimed to have mystical powers which, along with a herbal remedy, allowed him to treat asthma and HIV/AIDS.

After the UN envoy to Banjul commented on his claim to Britain’s Sky News broadcaster, she was “given her marching orders because of irresponsible comments,” the pro-government Daily Observer reported.

Jammeh has called homosexuals “ungodly, Satanic… vermins,” and has threatened to slit the throats of men who wanted to marry other men, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

Homosexuality is illegal in the Gambia, and the crime of “aggravated homosexuality” carries a sentence of up to life imprisonment. – Agence France-Presse

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