The online environment has markedly improved in The Gambia since 2017, when President Adama Barrow succeeded Yahya Jammeh, who had ruled for more than two decades and consistently violated political rights and civil liberties. Gambians now take to the internet to express views on many sensitive issues. Harassment of internet users for their online activity has declined, though arrests of online journalists and users who criticize or insult the president still occur. The Barrow administration’s crackdown on the Three Years Jotna (TYJ) protest movement in 2020 raised fears of a return to Jammeh-era repression, but social media has nevertheless been widely used for campaigning during subsequent electoral periods. The government has enacted several plans aimed at improving internet access and affordability in recent years, but frequent disruptions in service due to cable damage or vandalism, as well as a ransomware attack that affected data stored by the central bank in November 2022, illustrate the continuing challenges for The Gambia’s internet users.
Jammeh came to power in a military coup in 1994 and was succeeded by Barrow, who secured a surprise victory in the 2016 election. Respect for fundamental freedoms, including the rights to free assembly, association, and expression, initially improved under the Barrow administration, but the administration has faced criticism for continued corruption. Among other ongoing concerns, LGBT+ people face severe discrimination and violence against women remains a serious problem.
- Political parties took to social media to campaign and mobilize supporters ahead of The Gambia’s 2023 mayoral and local government elections (see B8).
- A campaign manager for the opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) was detained for nine days over comments he made in a TikTok video that was filmed by party supporters ahead of the 2023 local elections (see C3).
- Cyberattacks on the central bank exposed weaknesses in The Gambia’s cybersecurity preparedness (see C8).
|Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections?||2.002 6.006|
By the beginning of 2023, approximately 67 per cent of the Gambian population remained offline. DataReportal’s Digital 2023 report places The Gambia’s internet penetration rate at 33 percent as of February 2023.1 DataReportal, citing data from Ookla, also reported that Gambian internet users saw median fixed-line internet download speeds of 6.4 megabits per second (Mbps), a 0.79 Mbps decrease from a year before.2 The Gambia ranked 170th out of 179 countries for fixed broadband internet download and upload speeds as of April 2023.3
The government has pursued a number of initiatives to improve internet access. In late June 2019, the Gambia Telecommunications Company (Gamtel), in collaboration with Chinese technology firm Huawei, launched the National Broadband Network (NBN) initiative to improve internet speed and access across the country.4 In 2020, the government approved a national broadband policy which aimed to ensure that “almost 100 percent” of homes have affordable access to high-speed internet connectivity by 2024.5
There are approximately 2.86 million mobile connections in The Gambia, representing 104.6 percent of the total population as of January 2023,6 though one individual may have more than one subscription and not all phone plans include data use.7 Most Gambians who access the internet do so via mobile devices.8
The government launched the country’s first internet exchange point (IXP) in 2014 to boost the speed and security of internet services across the country, though the IXP runs slowly.9
During the coverage period, at least ten different incidents of cuts to fiber-optic cables resulted in internet disruptions throughout The Gambia.10 Most of the cuts were caused by activities surrounding an ongoing road construction project in the greater Banjul Area, while a few were caused by incidents of vandalism.11 These incidents increase operational expenditures and reduce the revenue margins of internet service providers (ISPs).12
During the previous coverage period, The Gambia experienced several internet disruptions attributed to technical problems. In line with a broadband policy approved in January 2021, which aimed to find an “alternative backup” to the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) cable, 13 Gamtel announced that it would use two international gateways operated by a Senegalese provider.14 However, in January 2022, when traffic was rerouted while the ACE cable was undergoing repairs, the backup gateways failed; Gamtel blamed the failure on faulty equipment. This resulted in a nationwide internet blackout lasting more than eight hours.15 Gamtel further experienced periodic network disruptions due to vandalism and construction-related mishaps.16
The Gambia also experienced several internet disruptions earlier, in 2021, most of which were blamed on technical problems with the ACE cable.17 Between January and February of that year, the country saw at least four nationwide disruptions, each lasting between two and eight hours.18 The Gambian telecommunications regulator, the information and communication technologies (ICT) ministry, and service providers blamed these disruptions on fishing activities.19
In June 2020, the government validated a series of policy documents as part of the “ICT for Development Policy 2018–2028,” which aims to increase internet access across the country and bolster the ICT sector by 2024.20 The government secured European Union (EU) funding to support this project.21
- 1”Digital 2023: The Gambia,” DataReportal, February 13, 2023, https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2023-gambia.
- 2”Digital 2023: The Gambia,” DataReportal, February 13, 2023, https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2023-gambia.
- 3Ookla, “The Gambia Median Country Speeds,” Speedtest Global Index, accessed April 2023, https://www.speedtest.net/global-index/the-gambia#fixed.
- 4“Gambia National Broadband Network launched,” The Point, June 27, 2019, https://web.archive.org/web/20190731213339/https://thepoint.gm/africa/g….
- 5“The Gambia National Broadband Policy, 2020-2024,” Ministry of Information and Communications Infrastructure, https://mocde.gov.gm/sites/default/files/2021-05/BROADBAND%20POLICY%202…
- 6“Digital 2023: The Gambia,” DataReportal, February 13, 2023, https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2023-gambia
- 7World Bank Group, “Fixed broadband subscriptions (per 100 people) – The Gambia (2020), https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/IT.NET.BBND.P2?locations=GM
- 8“Digital Development Dashboard: Gambia,” International Telecommunication Union, accessed April 2023, https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Dashboards/Pages/Digital-Develo….
- 9African Union, “AU Launches Internet Exchange Point in Gambia: ‘Contributing to a faster, secure and affordable internet in Africa’,” July 17, 2014, https://au.int/en/newsevents/27273/au-launches-internet-exchange-point-….
- 10GAMTEL (@Gamtel), “PRESS RELEASE!” Twitter, January 27, 2023, https://twitter.com/Gamtel/status/1618978921005068288?s=20.
- 11GAMTEL (@Gamtel), “PUBLIC NOTICE GAMTEL hereby inform the general public and our esteem customers that the Fibre infrastructure at Brusubi Turntable has been cut due to the ongoing road construction.” Twitter, October 4, 2022, https://twitter.com/Gamtel/status/1577421343292653568?s=20.
- 12‘PURA Hosts Fiber Cuts Forum to Strategies Progress,” Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, accessed April 2023, https://pura.gm/pura-hosts-fiber-cuts-forum-to-strategies-progress/.
- 13Department of Information Services Gambia-DOIS, “New National Broadband Policy: Gambia to have alternative backup to ACE Cable by the end of 2021, and at least 75% of homes to have affordable access to high speed internet connectivity by 2022. Source: Cabinet Meeting, Jan 21st 2021,” Facebook, January 21, 2021, https://www.facebook.com/111764656987984/posts/new-national-broadband-p….
- 14David Belson, Tom Paseka, and Joao Tome, “How The Gambia lost access to the Internet for more than 8 hours,” Cloudflare, January 5, 2021, https://blog.cloudflare.com/the-gambia-without-internet/.
- 15David Belson, Tom Paseka, and Joao Tome, “How The Gambia lost access to the Internet for more than 8 hours,” Cloudflare, January 5, 2021, https://blog.cloudflare.com/the-gambia-without-internet/.
- 16GAMTEL (@Gamtel), “PRESS RELEASE Gambia Telecommunications Company Limited ( GAMTEL) wishes to bring to the notice of the general public that unscrupulous person with malice and criminal intent are vandalizing the company's FIBRE OPTIC CABLES. 1/4” Twitter, March 26, 2022, https://twitter.com/Gamtel/status/1507657490682494979; GAMTEL (@Gamtel), “Update on Internet interruption around GBA. Our team are working to normalized the links that was disrupted due to road construction. The link was restored, however engineer are doing random testing and continues monitoring. Thank you for your patience and understanding.” Twitter, February 16, 2022, https://twitter.com/Gamtel/status/1493864881384210432.
- 17“Gambia says its ACE cable connecting the country to the world is down,” Freedom Newspaper, January 2, 2021, https://www.freedomnewspaper.com/2021/01/02/gambia-says-its-ace-cable-c…; Arfang M.S. Camara, “Gamtel reveals cause of internet outage,” The Point, February 5, 2021, https://thepoint.gm/africa/gambia/headlines/gamtel-reveals-cause-of-int….
- 18Yusef Taylor, “The Gambia’s Internet Shuts Down for over 14 hours on First Day of 2021,” Gainako, January 2, 2021, https://gainako.com/the-gambias-internet-shuts-down-for-over-14-hours-o…; Demba Kandeh (@D_Kandeh), “The Gambia experienced the second internet outage in 2021 and it is still January. Internet connection no longer a luxury, it is a necessity. Disruptions should be treated as national emergency. #KeepItOn everyone. #Gambiam,” Twitter, January 28, 2021, https://twitter.com/D_Kandeh/status/1354796973182869504; “President Barrow MISSES ECOWAS summit, triggered by internet outage,” The Fatu Network, February 3, 2021, https://fatunetwork.net/president-barrow-misses-ecowas-summit-triggered…; Mamour M. Mbenga, “Gambia Hit With A General Internet Blackout For 12 Hours,” The Chronicle, February 9, 2021, https://www.chronicle.gm/gambia-hit-with-a-general-internet-blackout-fo…; “IODA Signals for Gambia,” CAIDA IODA, January 1, 2021 to January 31, 2021, https://ioda.caida.org/ioda/dashboard#view=inspect&entity=country/GM&la…; “IODA Signals for Gambia,” CAIDA IODA, February 1, 2021 to February 28, 2021, https://ioda.caida.org/ioda/dashboard#view=inspect&entity=country/GM&la….
- 19“Pura explains frequent fibre cuts and plans to explore securing second fibre cable and extra backup facilities,” Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, accessed February 27, 2022, https://pura.gm/pura-explains-frequent-fibre-cuts-and-plans-to-explore-…
- 20Ministry of Information and Communication Infrastructure - MOICI, “The Ministry of Information and Communication Infrastructure held the first of a series of virtual Validation Workshops of the Pillars of the ICT for Development Policy 2018-2028,” Facebook, June 30, 2020, https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1379908258872191&id=3….
- 21“Digitalising The Gambia – Technical assistance to strengthen the ICT sector,” October 9, 2020 https://ec.europa.eu/trustfundforafrica/region/sahel-lake-chad/gambia/d…
|Is access to the internet prohibitively expensive or beyond the reach of certain segments of the population for geographical, social, or other reasons?||1.001 3.003|
High cost remains a primary hindrance to internet access in The Gambia, where 48.6 percent of individuals live in poverty according to 2015 World Bank data.1 High prices for internet services are attributed to the high costs of accessing and building internet infrastructure in The Gambia, as well as the high taxes imposed on ISPs.2 High levels of poverty and food insecurity limit access to the internet.3
The introduction of third- and fourth-generation (3G and 4G) mobile networks has made the internet more accessible, albeit for a small subset of the population who can afford data packages. The IXP introduced in 2014 (see A1) aimed to make internet services more affordable, but it remains unclear whether the IXP succeeded in doing so. ISPs generally sell data bundles. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, there have been few monthly unlimited access packages available. Generally, prices range from 8 Gambian dalasi (15 cents) for 20 megabytes (MB) to 1,620 dalasi ($31) for 13 gigabytes (GB) of data.4
Limited access to telecommunications services in The Gambia is compounded by a significant urban-rural divide, as well as by occasional interruptions to the power supply. In general, rural areas suffer from poor or virtually nonexistent infrastructure, a lack of affordable electricity, and frequent power cuts.5 In addition, network coverage of rural areas has not been an investment priority for most service providers.6 Poverty levels are higher in the rural areas of The Gambia, with approximately 64 percent of impoverished Gambians residing in these areas as of 2016, further exacerbating the rural-urban divide in terms of ability to afford access to internet services.7 The government has identified “closing the digital divide” as a goal of the NBN (see A1), though as of June 2023, no progress towards this goal had been noted.8 In March 2020, the government launched its Digital Terrestrial Transmission (DTT) infrastructure project, which aims to ensure The Gambia’s analog-to-digital transition.9 DTT is expected to foster an increase in internet access by freeing up some of the valuable spectrum currently used for analogue television broadcasting for the provision of mobile broadband services. This project had not yet been completed as of 2022.10
In May 2019, the government announced the introduction of a new tax on GSM (global system for mobile communication) operators across the country.11 Reports indicate that the levy, which took effect that June, has raised millions of dalasi for the government.12
- 1World Bank Data “Gambia,” accessed August 1, 2023, http://data.worldbank.org/country/gambia-the.
- 2Madi Ceesay, “High Cost of Internet Services Triggers Misery in The Gambia”, The Daily News, May 11, 2021, https://dailynewsgm.com/high-cost-of-internet-services-triggers-misery-….
- 3Kebba Jeffrang, “Big Growth, Big Price: The High Cost of Internet in The Gambia,” The Chronicle, March 28, 2019, https://www.chronicle.gm/big-growth-big-price-the-high-cost-of-internet….
- 4Africell, “Africell Services” https://www.africell.gm/main-services/#Offers; Gamcel,“#Gamcel Data Diyaringho,” Facebook, March 19, 2021, https://www.facebook.com/gamcellgm/photos/a.10155103676731991/101574053…; Internet Packages, “Gambia Internet Packages & Data Plan of 2021” https://internetpkg.com/gambia-internet-packages/.
- 5The World Bank, “World Bank Boosts Energy Supply to Support Regional Trade and Integration in West African Countries,” April 29, 2015, http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2015/04/29/world-bank-en….
- 6Interviews by Freedom House with several customers of the national GSM operator, GAMCEL, April 2016.
- 7Sanna Manjang, “Poverty in the Gambia,” Gambia Bureau of Statistics, November 16, 2017, https://www.gbosdata.org/data-stories/population-and-demography/poverty….
- 8Henry Lancaster, “Gambia – Telecoms, Mobile and Broadband”, BuddeComm, May 26, 2015, https://www.budde.com.au/Research/Gambia-Telecoms-Mobile-and-Broadband-….
- 9Ministry of Information and communication Infrastructure, “Gambia launches first phase of the DTT infrastructure,” March 5, 2020, http://www.moici.gov.gm/gambia-launches-first-phase-dtt-infrastructure.
- 10UNESCO Office Dakar and Regional Bureau for Education in Africa, “Assessment of media development in the Gambia: based on UNESCO's Media Development Indicators,’ UNESCO, 2022, 49, https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000383608.
- 11The Gambia Public Utilities Regulatory Authority – PURA, “Public Notice: Introduction of New Sports Levy in The Gambia,” Facebook, May 16, 2019, https://www.facebook.com/PURAGAMBIA/posts/2277609819165977.
- 12“Youth And Sports Get D113.3m … another D120M from sports levy”, The Standard, December 12, 2019, https://standard.gm/youth-and-sports-get-d113-3m-another-d120m-from-spo…; “NSC meets Sports Associations, assess Covid-19 pandemic effect”, The Standard, July 10, 2020, https://standard.gm/nsc-meets-sports-associations-assess-covid-19-pande…
|Does the government exercise technical or legal control over internet infrastructure for the purposes of restricting connectivity?||5.005 6.006|
Score Change: The score improved from 4 to 5 because of the increased role of the private sector in managing the international internet gateway in recent years.
Although The Gambia’s connection to the ACE cable and the Serrekunda IXP (SIXP) is primarily managed by private sector actors, the government retains ownership and control over the country’s national fiber backbone, which enables it to restrict access to the internet and mobile phone services with little to no oversight or transparency. However, the current post-Jammeh government has not used these capabilities.
There were several brief nationwide connectivity interruptions in January 2020, January and February 2021, and January 2022 attributed to technical problems with undersea cables and backup internet gateways (see A1). The 2020 interruptions also overlapped with mass protests calling for President Barrow’s resignation, prompting speculation of government interference with internet connectivity.1
The Gambia’s international internet gateway is controlled by the Gambia Submarine Cable Company (GSC), a public-private partnership that is majority owned by the private sector.2 Private sector members of the GSC were granted licenses to use the international data gateway in 2013.3 However, state-owned and operated Gamtel owns and manages The Gambia’s two fiber-optic cable networks, the ECOWAS Wide Area Network (ECOWAN) and the NBN that run across the country. ECOWAN is currently used by six operators, while the newer NBN is used exclusively by Gamtel. Netpage is the only ISP with its own fiber network. A moratorium on additional fiber infrastructure adopted by the ministry of information and communications infrastructure (MOICI) in 2018 has prevented other operators from building out their own networks.4
The Barrow administration has expressed willingness to further liberalize the sector.5 The government was reportedly in talks with Google to connect The Gambia to a second undersea cable, the company’s Equiano network. Private sector operators have simultaneously led negotiations with operators in Senegal to explore a possible terrestrial back-up network to improve service and decrease costs, as the country’s current terrestrial international gateway is controlled by Gamtel.6
The authorities last placed restrictions on connectivity on the eve of the 2016 presidential election. Ahead of the polls, authorities ordered ISPs to shut down internet services,7 international calls, and short-message service (SMS) access across the country for over 48 hours.8
- 1Freedom House consultant interviews, February 2020
- 2World Bank, “Digital Economy Diagnostic: The Gambia,” World Bank Group, accessed August 2023, https://thedocs.worldbank.org/en/doc/1f7221545bf1b7c89b850dd85cb409b0-0….
- 3Michael Malakata, “Gambia opens up international gateway for data,” PC Advisor, May 23, 2013, https://www.techadvisor.co.uk/feature/network-wifi/gambia-opens-up-inte….
- 4World Bank, “Digital Economy Diagnostic: The Gambia,” World Bank Group, accessed August 2023, https://thedocs.worldbank.org/en/doc/1f7221545bf1b7c89b850dd85cb409b0-0….
- 5Consultant Interview with Senior ICT Policy Advisor, Ministry Information and Communication Infrastructure (MoICI), at GRTS Building, Kanifing, February 2021.
- 6World Bank, “Digital Economy Diagnostic: The Gambia,” World Bank Group, accessed August 2023, https://thedocs.worldbank.org/en/doc/1f7221545bf1b7c89b850dd85cb409b0-0….
- 7Sidi Sanneh, “Gambia's Information Minister orders shut-down of the internet as protests against Jammeh spread,” April 16, 2016, https://sidisanneh.blogspot.nl/2016/04/gambias-information-minister-ord….
- 8Freedom House consultant interviews, February 2017; Ruth Maclean and Emma Graham-Harrison, “The Gambia bans international calls and internet as voters go to polls,” The Guardian, December 1, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/dec/01/the-gambia-bans-internati….
|Are there legal, regulatory, or economic obstacles that restrict the diversity of service providers?||4.004 6.006|
The Gambia’s ICT market is relatively small. There are at least four ISPs: state-owned Gamtel and privately owned QuantumNet, Netpage, and Airtip.1 The country has four mobile service providers: Gamcel, a Gamtel subsidiary, and the privately owned Qcell, Africell, and Comium.2 In January 2022, the government also issued a license to a new mobile service provider, Giraffe Telecom; there are few available reports on the new provider.3
According to The Gambia’s telecommunications regulator, the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA), there are 2.7 million active mobile subscribers in the country. Of this total, Africell is by far the largest mobile service provider, controlling over 62 percent of the market as of December 2020.4 QCell represents another 28 percent of the market, with Gamtel and Comium each holding another 5 percent.5 All mobile service providers offer second-generation (2G), 3G, and in some places, 4G data service.
Gamtel dominates the fixed-line broadband market in The Gambia with 5,005 of the 10,570 total broadband connections as of 2020.6 Other fixed-line broadband providers include Netpage, Comium, Qcell, Africell, Unique, INET, and DK Telecom.7
The Barrow administration has pledged to improve the regulatory environment and liberalize the telecommunications sector; while its approach represents a reprieve from the highly restrictive environment that characterized the Jammeh era, progress has been slow. As in many other sectors, businesses still must contend with inefficient bureaucracies coupled with nepotistic and preferential practices by government officials.8 Registration for ISPs and mobile service providers remains an onerous and expensive process.9
Internet cafés, which are much less common than in the past, contend with regulatory obstacles. Moreover, Gamtel has reduced funding to the internet cafés and telecenter hubs it operates.10
- 1Access Gambia, “Information Technology in Gambia,” Access Gambia, accessed August 8, 2014, http://www.accessgambia.com/information/information-ict.html.
- 2Henry Lancaster, “Gambia – Telecoms, Mobile and Broadband,” BuddeComm, May 26, 2015, https://www.budde.com.au/Research/Gambia-Telecoms-Mobile-and-Broadband-….
- 3Michael Malakata, “Gambia’s government issues fifth mobile operator licence,” ITWeb, January 14, 2022, https://itweb.africa/content/LPwQ5Ml6JAWvNgkj.
- 4“Overview of Mobile Network Operators,” Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, accessed September 14, 2023, https://pura.gm/ict/sub-sectors/mobile-network-operators/.
- 5“Overview of Mobile Network Operators,” Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, accessed September 14, 2023, https://pura.gm/ict/sub-sectors/mobile-network-operators/.
- 6BuddeComme, ‘Gambia Telecoms Market Report Telecoms, Mobile and Broadband - Statistics and Analyses,” February 2023, 59, https://www.budde.com.au/Research/Gambia-Telecoms-Mobile-and-Broadband-….
- 7BuddeComme, ‘Gambia Telecoms Market Report Telecoms, Mobile and Broadband - Statistics and Analyses,” February 2023, 59, https://www.budde.com.au/Research/Gambia-Telecoms-Mobile-and-Broadband-….
- 8Interviews by Freedom House consultant, January 2017.
- 9For example, when Qcell, one of the leading GSM companies in country, was forced to suspend its mobile money service known as QPOWER in 2013, it reportedly gifted two new cars to Gambian President Yahya Jammeh for his birthday, which led to a subsequent resumption of the QPOWER service; Modou S. Joof, “QPOWER service is back,” Front Page International, June 14, 2013, https://frontpageinternational.wordpress.com/2013/06/14/qpower-service-….
- 10Interviews by Freedom House Consultant, April 2017.
|Do national regulatory bodies that oversee service providers and digital technology fail to operate in a free, fair, and independent manner?||1.001 4.004|
Serious concerns persist regarding the independence and efficacy of PURA, The Gambia’s telecommunications regulator. The telecommunications sector is regulated under the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority Act 2001, which established PURA in 2004 to regulate the activities of telecommunications providers and other public utilities.1 However, PURA is largely an advisory body, and both its board of governors and managing director are appointed by the president on the recommendation of the minister of finance and economic affairs (MOFEA), in effect undermining the body’s independence.2
Although PURA is mandated to regulate telecommunications providers, it also receives policy guidance from MOICI, and decisions about issuing telecom licenses and spectrum allocation are often in MOICI’s hands. In 2018, MOICI, against PURA’s advice, adopted a moratorium on fiber network rollout (see A3). MOICI’s double role in setting ICT policy and ICT regulation could enable greater state and political interference in the telecommunications sector.3
In a rare move, PURA fined Gamcel for manipulating international voice termination rates in September 2020 and recommended that the ICT ministry suspend Gamcel’s license. 4 In October 2021, PURA and the ICT ministry suspended Comium because it failed to pay overdue licensing fees.5 Later that month, a court lifted the suspension after Comium had settled most of its outstanding dues.6
Following colluding behavior among members of the GSC, PURA introduced a pricing model for access to the ACE undersea cable through the international gateway, which facilitated the entry of several new ISPs. However, some smaller ISPs have still reported facing challenges in accessing ACE cable capacity.7
During the coverage period, PURA announced that operators engaged in unethical marketing practices, such as sending unsolicited messages to subscribers without obtaining prior consent, could be fined up to 50,000 dalasi ($786). This decision was reached after PURA received several complaints from subscribers.8
In May 2021, Yusupha Jobe was appointed PURA’s director general after Jobe’s predecessor died. Jobe is reportedly Finance Minister Mamburay Njie’s cousin, raising concerns of nepotism.9 Sources at the regulatory body said the entire department of legal affairs had resigned as of December 2020 in protest against favoritism, nepotism, and government interference.10
PURA regulates not only telecommunications but also media licensing and content, sewage, electricity, and petroleum.11 Observers and some PURA officials believe this mandate is untenable and stretches the authority’s limited resources. Ultimately, decisions on telecommunications are in the hands of the ICT minister.12 Despite persistent calls for reform, the Barrow administration has not signaled any intent to reform PURA. Though PURA’s mandate includes regulating media content, the Media Council of The Gambia (MCG), an industry self-regulatory body, was established in 2018 and is hearing cases (see B3).
- 1“PURA Act,” Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA), accessed September 29, 2019, http://www.pura.gm/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Pura-Act-2001.pdf.
- 2“PURA Organizational Structure,” Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA), http://www.pura.gm/organizational-structure.
- 3World Bank, “Digital Economy Diagnostic: The Gambia,” World Bank Group, accessed August 2023, https://thedocs.worldbank.org/en/doc/1f7221545bf1b7c89b850dd85cb409b0-0….
- 4“PURA fines Gamcel, urges minister to suspend its gateway licence,” The Standard, September 25, 2020, https://standard.gm/pura-fines-gamcel-urges-minister-to-suspend-its-gat….
- 5The Voice, “Pura updates public on comium suspension,” October 7, 2021, https://www.voicegambia.com/2021/10/07/pura-updates-public-on-comium-su….
- 6CommsUpdate, “High Court supports Comium in suspension dispute” November 4, 2021, https://www.commsupdate.com/articles/2021/11/04/high-court-supports-com….
- 7World Bank, “Digital Economy Diagnostic: The Gambia,” World Bank Group, accessed August 2023, https://thedocs.worldbank.org/en/doc/1f7221545bf1b7c89b850dd85cb409b0-0….
- 8“PURA Announces ‘Do-Not-Disturb’ Guideline To Restrict Unsolicited Messages,” Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA), August 2022, https://pura.gm/pura-announces-do-not-disturb-guideline-to-restrict-uns….
- 9“Letter to the Editor: Finance Minister Mamburay Njie has lobbied for his cousin Yusupha Jobe to be appointed PURA Director General!,” Freedom Newspaper, May 21, 2021, https://perma.cc/8WU2-CLR6; “Organizational Structure,” Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, accessed August 19, 2021, https://www.pura.gm/organizational-structure/; @PURAGM, “PURA DG PASSES AWAY The Board and Management of Public Utilities Regulatory Authority(PURA) of The Gambia regrets to inform the public that its Director General Momodou B. Jallow has passed away. This sad news occurred today Tuesday 30th March, 2021 in the U.S of America.,” Twitter, March 30, 2021, https://twitter.com/PURAGM/status/1376933794738020358.
- 10Interviews by Freedom House consultant with regulatory officials, February 2021
- 11Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA), http://www.pura.gm/.
- 12Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA), “PURA: Overview”, http://www.pura.gm/overview-of-mandate/.
|Does the state block or filter, or compel service providers to block or filter, internet content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards?||6.006 6.006|
There have been no reports of blocking or filtering of websites or apps under the Barrow administration.
Over 20 sites were blocked under the former administration,1 most of them independent news and opposition websites that were known for criticism of the government2 and were operated from abroad by exiled Gambian activists and journalists. All blocked websites and apps, including those containing pornographic material, became accessible when Barrow assumed office in January 2017.3
Social media platforms and communications apps were unrestricted during the coverage period but were frequently targeted under the previous administration. Apps were last restricted in August 2016, when the authorities blocked popular communications platforms WhatsApp, Viber, IMO, and Skype.4 Analysts believed the blocks came in response to the growing reliance on WhatsApp group messaging among opposition groups and candidates in advance of the 2016 presidential election.5
- 1Interviews by Freedom House consultant, January 2017.
- 2Baboucarr Ceesay, “Gambia: Government’s internet phobia and censorship,” Africa Review, March 29, 2014, https://web.archive.org/web/20171123161754/africareview.com/News/Gambia….
- 3Abdur Rahman Alfa Shaban, “Gambia lifts whatsapp restriction as Jammeh exits,” Africa News, January 21, 2017, http://www.africanews.com/2017/01/21/gambia-lifts-whatsapp-restriction-….
- 4Muhammed S. Bah, “Are social networking applications blocked?” Foroyaa, August 23, 2016, http://allafrica.com/stories/201608240945.html.
- 5Sanna Camara, “Gambia: Social Media Overwhelms a 20-Year Dictator,” World Policy Journal, December 9, 2016, http://worldpolicy.org/2016/12/09/gambia-social-media-overwhelms-a-20-y….
|Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, administrative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards?||2.002 4.004|
While forced content deletion does not occur systematically, activists and journalists have reported receiving informal requests from senior government officials for content removal, including on the public broadcaster.1
No Gambian content was removed from Facebook or Google products at the government’s request during the coverage period.2
In January 2020, the government suspended two private radio stations, Home Digital FM and King FM, along with their online services, on charges of incendiary messages and inciting violence,3 and arrested four affiliated individuals (see C3). Both radio stations reported on protests calling for President Barrow’s resignation (see B8).4 The government permitted the stations to reopen one month later following mediation led by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).5
- 1Interviews with Freedom House consultant, March 2019; Interviews with Gambia Radio & Television Service journalists, April 2021.
- 2“Requests by the numbers: Gambia,” Google Transparency Report, accessed Feb 28, 2023, https://transparencyreport.google.com/government-removals/government-re…; “Gambia,” Facebook Transparency Center, accessed Feb 28, 2023, https://transparency.fb.com/data/content-restrictions/country/GM/; “Twitter Transparency Center,” Twitter, accessed Feb 28, 2023, https://transparency.twitter.com/.
- 3“The Gambia Government Bans ‘Operation 3-Years Jotna’ with Immediate Effect,” Foroyaa, January 27, 2020, https://web.archive.org/web/20200128154047/https://foroyaa.gm/the-gambi….
- 4“Gambian radio journalists arrested, outlets shut down over protest coverage,” Committee to Protect Journalists, January 31, 2020, https://cpj.org/2020/01/gambian-radio-journalists-arrested-outlets-shut… ; “Two radio stations shut down, 4 journalists arrested in Gambia,” Pana Press, January 27, 2020, https://www.panapress.com/Two-radio-stations-shut-down-4-j-a_630625153-….
- 5“Gov’t drops charges against journalists, opens 2 radio stations”, The Point, February 26, 2020, http://archive.thepoint.gm/africa/gambia/article/govt-drops-charges-aga….
|Do restrictions on the internet and digital content lack transparency, proportionality to the stated aims, or an independent appeals process?||2.002 4.004|
Though online content is not systematically restricted in The Gambia, Gamtel remains state-controlled and has retained the ability to restrict access to internet content without oversight. There is no process through which site administrators can appeal content-restriction decisions.1
Experts believe that the former government blocked specific internet protocol (IP) addresses and domain names at the internet gateway level.2 According to former officials, the Jammeh administration intentionally avoided issuing written orders for website blockings and internet shutdowns to maintain a degree of plausible deniability.3
The MCG, a self-regulatory body tasked with arbitrating complaints about media reports, began adjudicating proceedings in May 2020.4 The MCG has successfully arbitrated eleven cases, eight of which relate to online content, as of July 2023.5 The MCG was established by the Gambia Press Union (GPU) in December 2018 to regulate the media industry, including complaints about content, without relying on state intervention. The MCG’s formation is a result of collaborative efforts between government and civil society actors working for media reform under the Barrow administration.6
- 1Freedom House consultant interviews, February 2019.
- 2Interviews by Freedom House consultant, February 2017.
- 3Interviews by Freedom House consultant, March 2017.
- 4Jeffang, Kebba, “A Self-Regulatory Body to Hold Gambian Journalists to Account Commences Work”, The Chronicle, June 1, 2020, https://www.chronicle.gm/a-self-regulatory-body-to-hold-gambian-ethics-….
- 5Interview with Secretary-General, Media Council of The Gambia in Fajara, July 2023.
- 6Junkung Jorbarteh, “Address on the State of The Media Council”, June 4, 2020, https://www.gunjuronline.com/post/address-on-the-state-of-the-media-cou….
|Do online journalists, commentators, and ordinary users practice self-censorship?||3.003 4.004|
Activists, journalists, bloggers, and ordinary internet users have posted content more openly since the 2017 political transition, and a number of independent journalists have reemerged after decades of severe self-censorship or exile.1 According to the GPU, self-censorship is not as prevalent as it was under the Jammeh administration.2
However, some topics, including female genital mutilation (FGM) and issues affecting LGBT+ people, are still considered by many to be taboo and are often discussed online only by pseudonymous users. Social media has seen a proliferation of hate speech in recent years.
Some local activists, particularly Jammeh sympathizers, also post critical content anonymously to evade potential legal repercussions or other offline retaliation.3 A handful of detentions under the Barrow administration has reinforced citizens’ unease with speaking freely online (see C3).4
- 1Interviews with editors by Freedom House consultant, February 2016.
- 2Interview conducted by Freedom House consultant, September 2022.
- 3Interviews by Freedom House consultant, March 2017.
- 4Amnesty International, “Gambia 2017/2018”, February 22, 2018, https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/africa/gambia/report-gambia/.
|Are online sources of information controlled or manipulated by the government or other powerful actors to advance a particular political interest?||2.002 4.004|
The current government seeks to promote its image through a variety of well-resourced press and public-relations offices, but there is no evidence it proactively employs progovernment trolls or bots, or otherwise seeks to covertly manipulate the information landscape.
The National People’s Party (NPP) of President Barrow sponsors several media outlets with online presences,1 and Barrow has complained that other media outlets are biased against him. NPP officials have also sought to manipulate government announcements to reflect favorably on the party. For example, between November 2020 and May 2021, NPP operatives targeted various ministries to share communication projects that present Barrow’s success stories. These stories were later published by the party’s social media.2
The Barrow administration has also appointed information officers across almost all government ministries with the objective of disseminating information to the public.3 Interviews with senior government officials, who remained anonymous, indicate that the information officers are tasked with framing the government more positively in the media, particularly in state-owned media outlets. Such positive portrayals of the government by information officers were also used as part of a larger strategy to bolster President Barrow’s successful 2021 reelection bid.4 Many of these information officers are former journalists, including some who were critical of the government.
FactCheck Gambia, an independent online fact-checking platform, was launched to counter disinformation and misinformation and covered statements around the December 2021 presidential elections and the COVID-19 pandemic, among other issues.5
- 1@NPPTELEVISION, Facebook, accessed August 19, 2021, https://www.facebook.com/NPPTELEVISION/; @BarrowMediaEmpowerment, Facebook, accessed August 19, 2021, https://www.facebook.com/BarrowMediaEmpowerment/.
- 2Interview with procurement officials, the Quadrangle, Banjul, April 2021.
- 3Interview with senior information officer at Ministry of Information and Communication Infrastructure, May 2020.
- 4Interview with senior policy officials and former officials at the Office of the President, Banjul, February and May 2020.
- 5UNESCO-supported fact checking platform launched in The Gambia, accessed January 14, 2022, https://en.unesco.org/news/unesco-supported-fact-checking-platform-laun…; FactCheck Gambia, “ELECTION 2021: Fact-checking Gambia’s first-ever Presidential Debate” December 1, 2021, https://factcheckgambia.org/election-2021-fact-checking-gambias-first-e….
|Are there economic or regulatory constraints that negatively affect users’ ability to publish content online?||2.002 3.003|
Small media businesses, especially online platforms, have expanded in recent years and have a growing impact on the media landscape.1 Such operations are supported in part by advertising from government and private businesses; some programs offered by these online outlets, such as news and current events coverage, conferences, and talk shows, are similarly sponsored. Under the previous administration, private businesses avoided advertising with critical outlets for fear of government reprisal.2 Despite the change in government, economic sustainability for independent online media outlets remains a serious challenge. Online media outlets also have yet to benefit from funding provided by major technology companies.3
The government’s position on net neutrality provisions, which would ensure that ISPs treat internet traffic equally, remains unclear.
- 1Gambia Press Union, “Gambia Press Union Activity Report 2015-2018”, September 13, 2018, http://www.gambiapressunion.org/publication/gambia-press-union-activity….
- 2Interviews with Industry experts by Freedom House consultant, January 2016.
- 3Interview with Modou Joof, Secretary General- Gambia Press Union, February 22, 2023; “Google News Initiative,” Google, accessed September 2023, https://newsinitiative.withgoogle.com/.
|Does the online information landscape lack diversity and reliability?||3.003 4.004|
The online information landscape has become increasingly pluralistic as the highly restrictive environment for bloggers and internet users that existed during the Jammeh era has eased. Online outlets and platforms including Kerr Fatou, the Fatou Network, Gambia Talents Promotion, and Eye Africa TV provide useful and diverse information to Gambians both within and outside the country.1
- 1Freedom House consultant interviews with PURA, March 2019.
|Do conditions impede users’ ability to mobilize, form communities, and campaign, particularly on political and social issues?||4.004 6.006|
Mobilization platforms and websites are freely available. While a January 2020 ban on an anti-Barrow protest movement has slowed online mobilization, online campaigning has occurred in several recent elections.
During the 2021 presidential campaign period, several opposition candidates benefited from online crowdfunding events and diaspora fundraisers.1 Political parties also used WhatsApp to send messages to rural communities who were typically excluded from online campaigning efforts.2 Under the “Digital inclusion: Not without our rural women” effort, one organization encouraged women living in rural areas to participate in the campaign by sharing the political opinions via WhatsApp voice recordings.3
Online mobilizing also took place ahead of the April 2022 National Assembly elections. One organization’s “Not Too Young to Run” Campaign, for example, succeeded in getting some young Gambians to run for, and in some cases win, parliamentary seats.4 Social media campaigns also played a role in local and mayoral elections in May 2023, as the UPD and other political parties used social media platforms to mobilize supporters ahead of the polls.5
In January 2020, the government banned the TYJ movement, which mobilized protesters calling for Barrow’s resignation after he reneged on a campaign promise to resign that month. The ban stated that no individual or entity should conduct any form of business with the organization and its members. Security forces arrested at least 137 protesters during the crackdown, including prominent journalists and movement leaders.6 Protesters promoted the use of the #ThreeYearsJotna hashtag online in 2020, though its use declined after the movement was banned.7 The attorney general discontinued the prosecution of the movement’s leaders in May 2021.8
- 1Westminster Foundation for Democracy, “Final Report Thematic Election Expert Observation Mission The Gambia Presidential Elections 2021,” 7, https://www.wfd.org/sites/default/files/2022-01/TEEOM%20Gambia%20-%20Fi….
- 2Ibid, 14.
- 3APC, “Enabling digital inclusion for the most vulnerable in 2020”, Jokkolabs Banjul enabled digital inclusion for rural women in Gambia https://www.apc.org/en/news/enabling-digital-inclusion-most-vulnerable-….
- 4The Point, “Activista Gambia calls on young elected MPs to fulfill campaign promises”, April 28, 2022 https://thepoint.gm/africa/gambia/national-news/activista-gambia-calls-….
- 5“Learning Lessons From The Results Of The Gambian Elections,” The Alkamba Times, May 21, 2023, https://alkambatimes.com/learning-lessons-from-the-results-of-the-gambi….
- 6“The Gambia Government Bans ‘Operation 3-Years Jotna’ with Immediate Effect,” Foroyaa, January 27, 2020, https://web.archive.org/web/20200128154047/https://foroyaa.gm/the-gambi…; Jason Burke, “Outcry over crackdown in the Gambia as president refuses to quit”, The Guardian, January 28, 2020 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jan/28/outcry-over-crackdown-in-….
- 7#threeyearsjotna, Twitter, https://twitter.com/hashtag/threeyearsjotna.
- 8Sankulleh Gibril Janko, “3 Years Jotna doesn't trust AG's withdrawal charges,” The Point, May 5, 2021, https://thepoint.gm/africa/gambia/headlines/3-years-jotna-doesnt-trust-….
|Do the constitution or other laws fail to protect rights such as freedom of expression, access to information, and press freedom, including on the internet, and are they enforced by a judiciary that lacks independence?||3.003 6.006|
The 1997 constitution guarantees freedom of speech and of the press, though fundamental freedoms were severely restricted in practice under former president Jammeh, who once stated that he would “not compromise or sacrifice the peace, security, stability, dignity, and the well-being of Gambians for the sake of freedom of expression.”1
The Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) released a constitutional draft in March 2020.2 The draft enshrined freedom of expression, media freedom, and access to information as fundamental human rights, following strong public support for protections of fundamental rights and freedoms.3 Ultimately, it did not receive a necessary two-thirds majority in the parliament over a disagreement about term limits for President Barrow.4 Mediation efforts between Barrow and the opposition for a compromise on the draft were unsuccessful.5 After his reelection in December 2021, President Barrow promised to introduce a new constitution with term limits.6 As of April 2023, no formal pronouncements on introducing a new constitution have been made.7
In August 2021, President Barrow signed the Access to Information Act, after it was passed by the National Assembly in July 2021.8 The legislation, which guarantees the right to information and is understood as an improvement in government transparency, was drafted by a civil society–led coalition.9 Civil society has also provided training on access to information for government information officers aimed at preparing them for the implementation of the legislation.10
In February 2020, the Supreme Court ruled against an executive order revoking the nomination of a lawmaker by the president, signaling a degree of judicial independence.11 Previously, the Supreme Court has deferred to executive authority, as with a decision on criminal sedition that privileged the president over other officials (see C2).
- 1Baboucarr Senghore, “President Jammeh meets with the Independent Press,” The Point, March 17, 2011, http://thepoint.gm/africa/gambia/article/president-jammeh-meets-with-th….
- 2“Final Draft Constitution Released”, The Gambia Times, March 31, 2020 https://www.thegambiatimes.com/the-final-draft-constitution-for-the-thi…
- 3Draft Constitution 2020, Chapter VI, Part II, sections: 46-48. https://crc220.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/CRC-FINAL-DRAFT-CONSTITUT…) ; Freedom House consultants interviews with GPU, March 2019.
- 4Satang Nabaneh, ‘Attempts at Constitutional Reform in The Gambia: Whither the Draft Constitution?’ IACL-AIDC Blog, September 29, 2020, https://blog-iacl-aidc.org/2020-posts/2020/9/29/attempts-at-constitutio…; Abdoulaye Saine, “Shed No Tears for the Failed Draft Constitution,” The Chronicle, September 27, 2020, https://www.chronicle.gm/shed-no-tears-for-the-failed-draft-constitutio….
- 5Adama Makasuba, “Mediation talks on draft constitution in Abuja end without any agreement” Gambiana, February 25, 2021, https://gambiana.com/mediation-talks-on-draft-constitution-in-abuja-end….
- 6Adama Makasuba, “Barrow to push for term limits and bring back draft constitution,” Gambiana, December 8, 2021, https://gambiana.com/barrow-to-push-for-term-limits-and-bring-back-draf….
- 7Salieu Taal and Siddharth Sijoria, ‘Gambia Constitutional Building Process – A Second Bite at that Cherry,’ CLA News, April 13, 2023, https://www.commonwealthlawyers.com/cla/gambia-constitutional-building-….
- 8“Barrows signs Access to Information Bill into law,” The Point, August 27, 2021, https://thepoint.gm/africa/gambia/headlines/barrows-signs-access-to-inf…; “Gambia Press Union Welcomes the Passing of Access to Information Bill 2021,” AFEX, July 2, 2021, https://www.africafex.org/access-to-information/gambia-press-union-welc….
- 9Kebba AF Touray, “Gambia: ‘Access to Information Bill Seeks to Enforce Right to Information' Justice Minister”, Foroyaa, December 18, 2019, https://allafrica.com/stories/201912190279.html; Bakary Ceesay, “Gambia: Cabinet Approves Freedom Of Information Bill, Removes All Gender Discriminatory Laws”, Pan African Visions, November 18, 2019, https://panafricanvisions.com/2019/11/gambia-cabinet-approves-freedom-o….
- 10Gambia Press Union (@gmpressunion), “Twenty five Government Information Officers are being trained by @gmpressunion on access to information with support from @ndigambia, @NDI aimed at supporting the implementation of the Gambia’s Access to Information Act, 2021,” Twitter, March 2, 2023, https://twitter.com/gmpressunion/status/1631276357727420417.
- 11Momodou Jawo, “Barrow loses, Supreme Court rules in favour of Ya Kumba Jaiteh”, The Point, January 29, 2020, http://thepoint.gm/africa/gambia/article/barrow-loses-supreme-court-rul….
|Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards?||1.001 4.004|
While some of the worst Jammeh-era restrictions have been overturned by courts, several restrictive media laws remain on the books, with some being recently upheld.
The criminal code prescribes a two-year prison term for the publication or reproduction of false information which could cause “fear and alarm to the public peace.”1 In May 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that the provisions were consistent with the constitutional provisions on freedom of expression.2
Comments by President Barrow in August 2021 raised concerns that the government may pass new laws to restrict speech, including online speech, during or after the December 2021 presidential election. In a meeting with civil society groups, Barrow reportedly said he would seek to limit political activities after winning the election. In a subsequent statement clarifying that the government would not limit political activities, a spokesperson noted that “the president hopes to eventually come up with legislation to bring a lasting solution to the abuse and insults innocent citizens are subjected to daily on social media platforms.”3
The Supreme Court’s definition of sedition was overruled by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court in February 2018, which held that the offenses of sedition in the criminal code, as well as the Supreme Court’s definition, violated the right to free expression under international law.4 The ECOWAS Court also held that the provisions on defamation and false news had “a chilling effect that may unduly restrict the exercise of freedom of expression of journalists” and ordered The Gambia to amend its laws to conform with international law.5
In a landmark May 2018 decision, the Supreme Court declared parts of the infamous Information and Communication Act 2013 (ICA) unconstitutional, including provisions on criminal defamation. It also invalidated sections that had criminalized use of the internet to criticize, impersonate, or spread false news about public officials.6 However, in the same ruling, the court upheld criminal code sections prohibiting “false publication and broadcasting.”7 While the definition of sedition was narrowed, sedition against “the person of the president” and “administration of justice” remains a crime. The previous definition of sedition had included the entire government of The Gambia.8
The new Criminal Offenses Bill, which purports to replace the existing criminal code, deletes the provisions on sedition and false news from the legal framework in The Gambia.9 However, it retains provisions on false publication and broadcasting that the GPU has described as potentially harmful to the work of journalists and media workers, including those working for digital platforms.10 The bill is under consideration in parliamentary committee as of April 2023.11
- 1Criminal Code, Section 59, LawHub Gambia, https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5a7c2ca18a02c7a46149331c/t/5f025….
- 2Gambia Press Union, others v The Attorney General SC Civil Suit No: 1/2014 https://www.lawhubgambia.com/sc-1-2014,
- 3Buba Gagigo, “Upon Victory on 4th December, Barrow Assures To Instruct IGP To Deny Permits For Political Activities,” Kerr Fatou, accessed August 19, 2021, http://www.kerr-fatou.com/upon-victory-on-4th-december-barrow-assures-t…; “Barrow has no intention of banning political activity – Gov’t spokesman,” The Standard, August 18, 2021, https://standard.gm/barrow-has-no-intention-of-banning-political-activi….
- 4“Federation of African Journalists (FAJ) and others v. The Gambia,” Global Freedom of Expression, Columbia University, February 13, 2018, https://globalfreedomofexpression.columbia.edu/cases/federation-african….
- 5“Federation of African Journalists (FAJ) and others v. The Gambia,” Global Freedom of Expression, Columbia University, February 13, 2018, https://globalfreedomofexpression.columbia.edu/cases/federation-african….
- 6Demba Kandeh, “New Internet Law in The Gambia Puts Gag on Government Criticism,” Global Voices, July 12 2013, https://globalvoices.org/2013/07/12/new-internet-law-in-the-gambia-puts….
- 7“A mixed result as the Supreme Court delivers judgment in important constitutional challenges to free speech laws,” MLDI, May 16, 2018, https://web.archive.org/web/20190626041614/https://www.mediadefence.org….
- 8“Supreme Court declares sedition constitutional, struck out defamation,” The Standard, May 10, 2018, https://standard.gm/supreme-court-declares-sedition-constitutional-stru….
- 9“Criminal Offenses Bill, 2019” The Gambia Times, 2019, https://thegambiatimes.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Gambia-DRAFT-CRIM….
- 10“GPU presents position paper on the Criminal Offences Bill 2022,” Gambiana, February 14, 2023, https://gambiana.com/gpu-presents-position-paper-on-the-criminal-offenc….
- 11The Gambia National Assembly bill tracker, accessed September 2023, https://www.assembly.gm/?page_id=709.
|Are individuals penalized for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards?||4.004 6.006|
Under the previous administration, arrests and prosecutions of journalists and others for their online activities were common, with users frequently prosecuted on “false information” charges under the ICA. Despite improvements under the Barrow administration, dubious prosecutions over online activity have continued.
In May 2023, a magistrates’ court issued an arrest warrant for Mariama Cham, who was accused of releasing a social media audio uttering abusive words with the intent of inciting hatred against President Barrow.1 Actions and words spoken with the intent of inciting hatred against the president can attract a fine of up to 250,000 dalasi ($3,930) or a prison sentence of not less than one year, or both.2
On December 21, 2022, the campaign manager for the opposition UDP, Momodou Sabally, was arrested in connection with a TikTok video in which he is alleged to have said that the UDP would take power from the Barrow government before the local government elections.3 The police also asked UDP TikTok users who had recorded the video of Sabally that led to his arrest to come in for questioning.4 Sabally was released from detention on December 30, 2022.5
In July 2022, Gainako Online editor in chief Yusef Taylor was arrested after he went to a police station to report on the detention of two members of a medical charity that was involved in a land dispute with the government. Taylor was charged with “obstructing a police officer in the execution of his duty” and detained for four hours before being released.6
In February 2021, TYJ leader Yankuba Darboe was arrested and charged with sedition for criticizing President Barrow and the judiciary in relation to the trials against TYJ leaders (see B8). Darboe’s comments were shared in a video that was posted to UDP social media sites,7 which appeared to motivate the arrest. Darboe was apparently detained for less than a day before being released on bail; charges were dropped shortly after.8
In late January 2020, the government shut down two private radio stations, Home Digital FM and King FM, along with their online services (see B2); two journalists and two technicians, both of them working at King FM, were arrested. Both radio stations covered the protests demanding President Barrow’s resignation. Pa Modou Bojang of Home Digital FM was detained for three days and was charged with incitement before he was released on bail. Gibbi Jallow, a reporter and general manager at King FM, was detained for the same period, and was charged with inciting violence.9 The technicians were released without charge. After the NHRC intervened, the charges against the journalists were dropped in February 2020.10
- 1“Arrest Warrant For Woman Accused Of Inciting Hatred Against President,” The Standard, May 31, 2023, https://standard.gm/arrest-warrant-for-woman-accused-of-inciting-hatred….
- 2Criminal Code, Articles 51 and 52, LawHub Gambia, https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5a7c2ca18a02c7a46149331c/t/5f025….
- 3“UDP Demands The Immediate Release Of Its Campaign Manager,” Kerr Fatou, December 22, 2022, https://www.kerrfatou.com/udp-demands-the-immediate-release-of-its-camp….
- 4Buba Gagigo, “Police Invites UDP TikTokers For Questioning,” Kerr Fatou, December 22, 2022, https://www.kerrfatou.com/police-invites-udp-tiktokers-for-questioning/.
- 5DW News, “The Gambia: Former minister released after alleged coup,” Dec 30, 2022, https://www.dw.com/en/the-gambia-former-minister-released-after-alleged….
- 6Gambia Press Union, “GPU Statement on the Arbitrary Arrest of Journalist Yusef Taylor,” July 8, 2022, https://www.voicegambia.com/2022/07/08/gpu-statement-on-the-arbitrary-a….
- 7UDP TV & MEDIA TV, “THREE YEARS JOTNA AFTER COURT PRESS CONFERENCE IN BANJUL-LISTEN TO YANKS DARBOE,” YouTube, February 10, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ShQKEmRiIvI; @udptvshow, “THREE YEARS JOTNA AFTER COURT PRESS CONFERENCE IN BANJUL,” February 10, 2021, https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=1079174732567252&ref=watch_perma….
- 8Alagie Baba, “Yankuba Darboe’s alleged seditious video played in court,” The Point, March 24, 2021, https://thepoint.gm/africa/gambia/headlines/yankuba-darboes-alleged-sed…; Buba Gagigo, “Lawyer Yankuba Darboe apologises for his ‘Indecent comments,’” Kerr Fatou, accessed August 19, 2021, http://www.kerr-fatou.com/lawyer-yankuba-darboe-apologises-for-his-inde….
- 9“Gambian radio journalists arrested, outlets shut down over protest coverage,” Committee to Protect Journalists, January 31, 2020 https://cpj.org/2020/01/gambian-radio-journalists-arrested-outlets-shut… ; “Two radio stations shut down, 4 journalists arrested in Gambia,” Panafrican News Agency, January 27, 2020, https://www.panapress.com/Two-radio-stations-shut-down-4-j-a_630625153-….
- 10“Gov’t drops charges against journalists, opens 2 radio stations”, The Point, February 26, 2020 http://archive.thepoint.gm/africa/gambia/article/govt-drops-charges-aga….
|Does the government place restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption?||2.002 4.004|
The ability to communicate anonymously is hampered by procedures surrounding SIM card and local-domain-name registration.1 In February 2018, PURA fined two mobile service providers for noncompliance with SIM card registration regulations.
It is not clear if Gambian law forbids the use of encryption. Under the ICA, users can be compelled to reveal a message by ministerial order.2 The ICA also requires ISPs to maintain capabilities to intercept and retain data from users (see C6).3
|Does state surveillance of internet activities infringe on users’ right to privacy?||2.002 6.006|
Legal and technological frameworks put in place by the former administration still allow unchecked government surveillance of ICTs. Article 138 of the ICA gives sweeping powers to national security agencies and investigative authorities to monitor, intercept, and store communications in unspecified circumstances while also giving PURA the authority to “intrude communication for surveillance purposes,” all without judicial oversight.1
Observers believe the former administration actively monitored and intercepted citizens’ communications, particularly the communications of activists and independent journalists who were perceived as threats to national security.2 Intercepted phone and email communications were often used as evidence in trials against government critics. However, the scope of the government’s current technical surveillance capabilities remains unknown, and it is uncertain whether the current government has continued to carry out the same surveillance practices.
In July 2020, human rights activist Madi Jobarteh alleged that he and others were being targeted by security agencies with surveillance, including of their communications devices.3
The level of transparency for communication surveillance remains low. The director of the then infamous National Intelligence Agency (NIA)—now the State Intelligence Services (SIS)—warned in early 2018 that social media may “affect security,” exacerbating concerns about the potential for online surveillance and user restrictions.4
- 1“Information and Communications Act, 2009,” Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA), http://www.pura.gm/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/IC-Info-Comms-Act-2009.pdf.
- 2Freedom House interviews, January 2017.
- 3“Charges Brought Against Human Rights Defender Madi Jobarteh,” Frontline Defenders, last updated August 5, 2020, https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/charges-brought-against-huma….
- 4Sanna Camara, “Social Media May Affect Gambia’s Security,” The Point, March 28, 2018, https://web.archive.org/web/20180331072112/http://thepoint.gm/africa/ga….
|Does monitoring and collection of user data by service providers and other technology companies infringe on users’ right to privacy?||1.001 6.006|
The Gambia’s legal infrastructure grants the authorities broad access to user data. Article 138 of the ICA requires ISPs to “implement the capability to allow authorized interception of communications” at the direction of the information minister. Article 141 of the ICA imposes onerous data retention requirements, obliging service providers to retain metadata for up to three years.1
In practice, technology companies frequently assist the government in monitoring the communications of users.2 According to insider sources, investigative authorities need only cite suspicious activity in such requests to technology companies.
The implementation of capabilities to allow authorized interception of communications is included in the preconditions for the issuance or renewal of ISP licenses. It is not clear if any licenses have been denied or revoked as a result of a lack of those capabilities.3
During the coverage period, The Gambia launched its first digital birth registry and national health insurance scheme.4 In the same period, The Gambia also became the first African country with a fully digital immunization register.5 These developments have highlighted the need for better data protection and privacy laws in The Gambia.6
The Gambian police force also issues vehicle licenses that contain quick-response codes (QR codes) that can be scanned to access information about the vehicle’s ownership, including the names and addresses of the individual or individuals associated with the vehicle.7
In August 2021, the 7th National Internet Governance Forum of The Gambia passed a resolution calling for the enactment of a data protection and privacy law that aligns with international standards, specifically noting the ECOWAS Supplementary Act on Data Protection and the Malabo Convention.8 While The Gambia signed the Malabo Convention on Cybersecurity and Personal Data Protection in December 2022,9 no domestic legislation has been enacted as of February 2023.10
- 1“Information and Communications Act, 2009,” Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA), http://www.pura.gm/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/IC-Info-Comms-Act-2009.pdf.
- 2Freedom House consultant interviews with Cybersecurity Alliance team members, January 2019.
- 3Freedom House consultant interviews with GPU, March 2019.
- 4“Gambia institutes digital birth certificates, National Health Insurance,” HealthCare Middle East & Africa, August 4, 2022, https://www.healthcareafrica.info/gambia-institutes-digital-birth-certi….
- 5Alkamba Times, “The Gambia launches digital immunization registry,” GlobalVoices, July 6, 2022, https://globalvoices.org/2022/07/06/the-gambia-launches-digital-immuniz….
- 6“The Gambia National Internet Governance Forum – Report 2023,” accessed September 2023, https://www.intgovforum.org/en/filedepot_download/21/25644.
- 7Interview with Freedom House consultant, February 20, 2023.
- 8Communique, the 7th National Internet Governance Forum of The Gambia, https://www.intgovforum.org/multilingual/index.php?q=filedepot_download….
- 9Sanusi Drammeh, “The Honourable Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Ousman A. Bah and his delegation attended the 17th Annual Internet Governance Forum 2022, which was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from the 28th November- 2nd December 2022,” LinkedIn, December 2022, https://www.linkedin.com/posts/sanusi-drammeh-723092135_au-cybersecurit….
- 10“Support for the legislative process on data protection in the Gambia,” Council of Europe, February 2022, https://www.coe.int/en/web/data-protection/support-for-the-legislative-….
|Are individuals subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor in relation to their online activities?||4.004 5.005|
Online journalists and activists sometimes face risks of intimidation and harassment in the course of their work.
In May 2023, two journalists, Malick B. Cham of the online platform Jamano and Pa Ousman Joof of the online platform Gambian Talents Promotion, were physically assaulted by supporters of the ruling NPP while they were covering the swearing-in ceremony of the mayor and councillors of the Banjul City Council. The motive for this reported assault is unknown.1
In a May 2022 address, President Barrow accused human rights activist Madi Jobarteh of wishing “to burn this country down,” stating that his administration “must look into his case.”2 Jobarteh had published an article on Facebook criticizing the government’s land allocation and calling for the firing of the minister of local government and lands.3
Members of minority religious groups, including the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at4 and Ndigal,5 have reported facing harassment both online and offline. Conservative Muslims often consider members of these groups non-Muslims, and sometimes incite hatred or violence against them. Such incidents increased after members of these groups testified in front of the Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparations Commission (TRRC)—established to address the abuses of the Jammeh era—in early 2020.6
Women routinely experience online harassment in The Gambia. LGBT+ people do not regularly identify as such openly online, in part because same-sex sexual activity remains criminalized in The Gambia.
Under the previous administration, violence and property confiscation against Gambian journalists for their independent and critical reporting was a serious risk, and numerous media workers, bloggers, and online journalists fled the country as a result of the unsafe environment for independent voices. Overall, such incidents have decreased under the new administration, and scores of online journalists and activists returned to the country following Jammeh’s fall from power.
- 1“Gambia: GPU Condemns Assault On 2 Journalists,” AllAfrica, June 2, 2023, https://allafrica.com/stories/202306050684.html.
- 2“Gambia: President Barrow’s threats against activist distasteful,” Media Foundation for West Africa, May 17, 2022, https://www.mfwa.org/gambia-president-barrows-threats-against-activist-…; Madi Jobarteh, “Public Notice! My Life is under Threat. Out of a guilty conscience and under pressure, Pres. Adama Barrow has just threatened my life on national television today Monday 2 May 2022 at State House,” Facebook, May 2, 2022, https://www.facebook.com/Kalajula/videos/689450528773394.
- 3“The Gambia: Stop attacks on human rights defenders and journalists,” Article 19, May 10, 2022, https://www.article19.org/resources/the-gambia-stop-attacks-on-human-ri…,' ; Madi Jobarteh, “Bring back our lands,” Facebook, April 2022, https://www.facebook.com/Kalajula/posts/pfbid032w86WWf3NXX5hvxn142SqV2d….
- 4Lamin Njie, “ ‘He Said We Should Be Killed’: Top Ahmadi Leader Testifies That Hate Against Sect Began In 1997 Triggered By Imam Fatty”, The Fatu Network, February 5, 2020, https://fatunetwork.net/he-said-we-should-be-killed-top-ahmadi-leader-t….
- 5Pa Modou Cham, “Witness says Ndigal followers should be killed”, The Point, February 5, 2020, http://archive.thepoint.gm/africa/gambia/article/witness-says-ndigal-fo….
- 6Yankuba Jallow, “TRRC Witness explains how practising another faith landed them in exile”, Foroyaa, January 29, 2020, https://foroyaa.net/trrc-witness-explains-how-practising-another-faith-….
|Are websites, governmental and private entities, service providers, or individual users subject to widespread hacking and other forms of cyberattack?||2.002 3.003|
Score Change: The score decreased from 3 to 2 due to cyber incidents that affected The Gambia’s central bank, one in which sensitive data was stolen and one in which customers were locked out of their bank accounts.
In November 2022, the Central Bank of The Gambia was hit with a ransomware attack that resulted in the theft of at least two terabytes (TB) of sensitive data, with hackers demanding a ransom of $2.5 million.1 It is unclear if the bank paid the ransom. Later that month, the bank experienced another cyber incident while issuing paychecks to civil servants, leading to many being temporarily locked out of their commercial bank accounts until the issue was resolved.2
These incidents raised serious questions as to The Gambia’s cybersecurity preparedness. The Gambia ranks 149th out of 164 countries on the National Cyber Security Index as of February 2023.3 The country scores low marks in the categories of data protection and cyber crisis management.4
Technical attacks against politicians, opinion leaders, and journalists have occurred in the past. Although most of these attacks are not publicly reported, the Cybersecurity Alliance of The Gambia has documented an increase in such technical attacks.5
The last publicly reported incidents occurred during the 2016 election and subsequent political impasse that reached into early 2017.6 A few websites that published election results indicating Jammeh’s defeat were hacked to have the results removed, including sites run by a pro-Jammeh newspaper and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).7 Numerous journalists, bloggers, activists, and internet users separately reported that their social media accounts had been hacked.8 Activists suspected that the Jammeh administration initiated or supported the attacks in order to counter growing antigovernment sentiment online.9
- 1“Gambia’s central bank hacked,” CentralBanking, November 23, 2022, https://www.centralbanking.com/operational-risk/7953764/gambias-central….
- 2“Central Bank suffers another hacking with millions of dalasi paid into civil servants’ accounts,” Gambiana, accessed February 21, 2023, https://gambiana.com/central-bank-suffers-another-hacking-with-millions….
- 3National Cyber Security Index, The Gambia, accessed February 28, 2023, https://ncsi.ega.ee/country/gm/.
- 4National Cyber Security Index, The Gambia, accessed February 28, 2023, https://ncsi.ega.ee/country/gm/.
- 5Freedom House interviews with Cybersecurity Alliance team, January 2019.
- 6Ismail Akwei, “Gambia's government website 'confiscated' by proud computer hacker,” Africa News, January 23, 2017, http://www.africanews.com/2017/01/23/gambia-s-government-website-confis….
- 7Sam Phateh, “Government website, pro-Jammeh paper remains offline,” SMBC News, December 15, 2016, https://web.archive.org/web/20180102011638/https://gambia.smbcgo.com/20….
- 8Interviews with activists & bloggers by Freedom House consultant, February 2017.
- 9Interviews with activists & bloggers by Freedom House consultant, February 2016.
On The Gambia
See all data, scores & information on this country or territory.See More
Global Freedom Score48 100 partly free
Internet Freedom Score56 100 partly free
Freedom in the World StatusPartly Free