Administration and social conditions
Editor's note: the following section is somewhat dated because
it describes the government of the first republic that was overthrown in
a military coup in 1994. In 1996 a new constitution was adopted, combining
elements of the old system of government as well as some new features.
The 50-member House of Representatives holds legislative power. There
are 36 elected members, five elected by the chiefs in assembly, and eight
nonvoting nominees; the attorney, who is nominated but has a vote, is also
a member. The People's Progressive Party (PPP) has dominated the legislature
since independence. The government is headed by a president, who is elected
by universal suffrage to a five-year term. The vice president and Cabinet
members are appointed by the president from among the 36 elected members
of the house. The highest judicial body is the Supreme Court, whose members
are appointed by the president.
Local administration in each of the 35 districts is theoretically the
responsibility of the local chief, who is assisted by councillors. The
districts are grouped into seven divisions, six of which are administered
by councils consisting of a majority of elected members. Actual power,
however, is in the hands of district officers appointed by the central
government. Banjul is administered by a city council.
Education at the primary level is free but not compulsory. There are secondary
and post-secondary schools, including a teacher-training college at Brikama.
A new university has just opened recently. Gambian students seeking higher
education also travel to Sierra Leone, Britain, or the United States.
Health and welfare
There are several general hospitals and a number of health centres, dispensaries,
and maternity and child care clinics. The Medical Research Council at Fajara
investigates tropical diseases. Nonetheless, health care in The Gambia
is poor. The infant mortality rate at about 170 per 1,000 live births (in
the 1980s) is the highest in western Africa, and life expectancy at about
43 years is below average for the region.
The peoples of the Senegambia have not produced any significant art, though
there were blacksmiths in all societies and a few drum and kora (a complex
stringed instrument) makers. Dance and music were tied to village activities,
and some songs were part of the repertoire of the praise singers called
There are several private and government newspapers which circulate
mainly in and around Banjul. Radio Gambia, also government-run, broadcasts
in English, French, and various Gambian languages. In Banjul is a small
museum whose holdings are mainly anthropological.
© 1994-1997 Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.
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