Back

Country Reports

Gambia Country Report

Overview

INTRODUCTION

Gambia, a small West African country (population 1.9 million) is entirely surrounded by Senegal on all sides except for its Atlantic coastline. Although it does not present major risks for travelers, Gambia faces potential security issues that should be heeded.

SECURITY

The armed resistance of the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (Mouvement des forces démocratiques de Casamance, MFDC) which has been operating in the Senegalese region of Casamance between Gambia and Guinee-Bissau against the government of Senegal, is the most active separatist group of sub-Saharan Africa. MFDC rebels have been fighting for their independence since 1982. From 1990 until 2004, various clashes erupted between government forces and the rebels despite attempts to establish peace talks. However, Senegal's territorial control over Casamance was ensured by an agreement signed between both parties in December 2004. The peace accord has reduced instability in the region, although sporadic bouts of violence have occurred near Gambia's border with Senegal in 2006, 2007, and 2011. The civilian population of Casamance is an easy target for rebels and bandits operating in the area.

It is necessary to remain cautious at the Gambia-Senegal border, as well as avoiding any nonessential travel to Casamance, despite the agreed cease-fire in April 2014. Due to the region's extreme volatility the United States government has restricted all travel to Casamance.

Terrorist threats remains limited throughout the country. However, a volatile security context calls for greater vigilance. Some alleged 'extremist' religious leaders were arrested in 2015.

SOCIOPOLITICAL RISKS

Presidential election were held on December 1, 2016. The leader of the opposition, Adama Barrow, won 49. 67 percent of the vote. His victory was swiftly recognized by the outgoing president Yahya Jammeh, who was in power for 22 years. However, in a sudden reversal, Jammeh refused to step down after claiming that the elections were rigged and filed an action for annulment before the Supreme Court.  Barrow rejected Jammeh's appeal and called for a peaceful resolution of the situation. A mission of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was sent to convince Jammeh to relinquish power, but was unsuccessful. Several weeks of tensions across the country ensued (arrests of political opponents, radio stations closed, population fleeing to neighboring countries, deployment of ECOWAS forces at the Senegalese-Gambian border), forcing newly elected president Adama Barrow to be inaugurated in Senegal, on January 19. The final ECOWAS mediation, led by Guinean and Mauritanian Presidents on January 20, was a success; after accepting to hand over power to his opponent, Jammeh set off to Equatorial Guinea where he will remain in exile. President Barrow took office in Banjul on January 26. 

Parliamentary elections are scheduled to take place in April, 6, 2017, followed by local elections on April 12, 2018. Organizing the legislative elections is all more important as dozens of people protested early February in front of the National Assembly to demand the resignation of those representatives who supported former president Jammeh during the post-election crisis.

CRIME

Assaults against tourists are on the rise (e.g. stolen passports and the theft of valuable objects in hotels). Individuals should take the following precautionary measures: do not carry conspicuous valuable objects and large sums of money with you and do not resist if assaulted. It is recommended to remain cautious while visiting beaches and markets, especially isolated areas.

One should also be on the lookout for Bumsters. They are usually young people that hassle and hustle tourists at the beaches and touristic areas of Sénégambie by offering their services (e.g. as a local guide) for money. Always politely refuse.  

Burglaries and home invasions are on the rise as a result of precarious economic conditions and food insecurity in the country.

Cases of credit card fraud are not a rare occurrence in Banjul, remain vigilance.

TRANSPORTATION

Road infrastructure in the country is obsolete, degraded, and insufficient with the exception of the capital city of Banjul, which has relatively better conditions. Commuting by 4x4 vehicles is necessary, especially during the rainy season that lasts from July to November. A car insurance is required. The danger from Gambia's roads is increased by bad driving, poor car maintenance, and the absence of effective medical care. Night travel is not recommended as road lighting and signposts are scarce.

It is recommended to be cautious during inter-urban commutes. The US embassy restricts all of its employees from long-distance commutes at night. If an accident occurs, immediately go to the nearest police station.

There are a number of checkpoints across the country functioning day and night, notably around the country's borders. Vehicles can be searched by security forces. Remain polite and accommodating if/when searched.

Avoid public taxis due to their lack of safety.

Two shuttles are available to cross the Gambian River. However, they are often over-crowded due to overbookings in addition to poor security standards. It is advised not to use the ferry after nightfall.

HEALTH

The hospital infrastructures are not up to European standards. There are few facilities and are poorly equipped. It is critical to obtain an international medical insurance prior to any travel to Gambia that covers medical care and provides repatriation in case of a serious health problem. Medical prescriptions are compulsory if travelers carry medication in order to avoid being arrested and accused of drug trafficking.

An immunization certificate against yellow fever is required upon entering the country for all travelers above the age of nine coming from a transmission country. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends to all travelers to be vaccinated against yellow fever. Additionally, malaria is endemic throughout the country and individuals should take personal protective measures against mosquito bites as well as a proper medical treatment. Similar precautionary measures should be taken for dengue fever and chikungunya present in the country.

Tap water is not drinkable; enteric and diarrheal diseases are frequent.  Only drink bottled or decontaminated water, avoid eating raw or under-cooked foods, and wash your hands several times a day.

In order to avoid any risk of parasitic contamination (Schistosomiasis), it is recommended to avoid bathing and washing clothes in stagnant water. Do not walk bare-foot.

It is critical to take all the necessary measures to protect oneself from HIV virus, which affects a significant portion of the adult population.

Immunization against meningitis is strongly recommended as numerous cases have been reported in the country. The risks are particularly high in Gambia due to its central position in the African meningitis belt. Conditions worsen during the dry season that lasts between October and June.

NATURAL RISKS

Travelers should note that during the rainy season (July to October) floods are not uncommon.

Be extremely careful when bathing due to strong tidal current on the Gambian coast.

LEGAL

Avoid traveling around military zones and certain government buildings. Do not take pictures of military or government buildings.

It should be noted that 80 percent of Gambians are Muslim and travelers should be respectful of Islamic customs and practices.

According to the 2009 Information & Communications Act, any person that spreads false information through the internet against the government and public agents, incites discontent or enkindles violence against the government or public agents (caricature, critical comments) is liable to 15 years of imprisonment and/or a 3 million dalasis fine (equivalent to 63,000 euros).

The death penalty may be sentenced for individuals convicted of arson, murder, treason, and the possession of at least 250 grams of cocaine.

A EUR 20 fee is imposed on travelers departing the country. Children under the age of two and transit passengers are exempted from the fee.

Travelers should also be aware that homosexuality is heavily stigmatized in Gambian society and punishable by law. It is advisable to remain discreet in public (particularly on the street, in restaurants, and in night clubs) to avoid being arrested.

In case of drug possession, it is necessary to hold a doctor's certificate to avoid being charged for drug trafficking.

Foreign currency exchanges have to go through banks.

It is strictly forbidden to smoke in public spaces.

It is strictly forbidden to carry food in your luggage.

Climate

Gambia's climate is subtropical and the country experiences two seasons. During the dry season (October to June), the Harmattan, a dry and dusty trade wind from the Sahara, often blows across the country between December to February. The rainy season lasts from July until November and often brings with it torrential rains and tornados. Temperatures are constant and high throughout the year and conditions are often sunny.

Useful Numbers

Country Code: +220 Ambulance: 16 Police: 17 Fire Dept.: 18

Electricity

Voltage: 230 V ~ 50 Hz

Outlets:

More