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.

Cultural life

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 griots.

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.

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