Freedom in the World
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Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
The Gambia’s civil liberties rating declined from 4 to 5 due to President Yahya Jammeh’s enhanced personal control over the judiciary and threats of violence against civil society organizations.
President Yahya Jammeh exerted growing personal control over state institutions in 2009, capriciously replacing the chief justice and other senior officials. Jammeh also publicly threatened journalists and warned that he would execute any human rights activists who destabilized the country.
After gaining independence from Britain in 1965, The Gambia functioned for almost 30 years as an electoral democracy under President Dawda Jawara and his People’s Progressive Party. A 1981 coup by leftist soldiers was reversed by intervention from Senegal, which borders The Gambia on three sides. The two countries formed the Confederation of Senegambia a year later, but it was dissolved in 1989.
The government announced in March 2006 that it had foiled an attempted coup, leading to the arrest of dozens of people, including several prominent journalists and senior intelligence and defense personnel. Ten military officers were sentenced to lengthy prison terms in April 2007.
Although The Gambia is a poor, agrarian country, it has experienced modest economic growth thanks to its tourism industry and the government’s increased emphasis on economic development, for which it received praise in 2009 from World Bank and African Development Bank officials.
The Gambia is not an electoral democracy. The 2006 presidential election was marred by serious government repression of the media and the opposition, and Commonwealth observers found similar flaws in the 2008 legislative elections.The president is elected by popular vote for unlimited five-year terms. Of the 53 members of the unicameral National Assembly, 48 are elected by popular vote and the remainder are appointed by the president; members serve five-year terms.
The opposition UDP, led by Ousainou Darboe, holds four National Assembly seats, and the National Alliance for Democracy and Development (NADD), led by Halifa Sallah, holds one. One other seat is held by an independent. However, the president and the ruling APRC are in clear control, and the system’s pluralism is largely symbolic.
The government has encouraged female education by waiving primary school fees for girls, but women have fewer opportunities for higher education and wage employment than men, especially in rural areas. While the vice president and several cabinet ministers are women, there are just four women in the 53-seat National Assembly. Sharia provisions regarding family law and inheritance restrict women’s rights, and female genital mutilation remains legal and widely practiced. The U.S. State Department placed The Gambia on Tier 2 in its 2009 Trafficking in Persons Report, removing it from the Tier 2 Watch List but noting ongoing problems with trafficking in women and children for forced labor and sexual exploitation.