1965 Gambia Gains Independence


Gambia River
Gambia River

On February 18th Gambia became a fully independent country. A referendum on becoming a republic was defeated. The first Prime Minister was Dawanda Jawara..

The Gambia, a small West African nation enveloped by Senegal, attained its full independence from British colonial rule on February 18, 1965. Prior to this monumental event, the country had been under British colonial administration since the late 19th century. Its transition to self-governance marks a seminal chapter in its history, as well as that of Africa's decolonization.

The first Prime Minister of an independent Gambia was Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara, a veterinary surgeon by training and a member of the Mandinka ethnic group. Jawara played a pivotal role in the country's path to independence. Born in 1924 in Barajally, Jawara was educated in the United Kingdom and became involved in politics upon his return to The Gambia. He was instrumental in the formation of the People's Progressive Party (PPP), which became a significant political force aimed at achieving national independence.

The process of Gambia's independence was comparatively peaceful, especially when contrasted with the turbulent experiences of other African nations. Negotiations with the British government culminated in the granting of internal self-governance in 1963, paving the way for full independence two years later. The Lancaster House Conference in London set the stage for the handover of power, and on February 18, 1965, Gambia became a fully independent nation, though it chose to remain within the Commonwealth of Nations.

Interestingly, shortly after gaining independence, the country held a referendum to decide whether it should become a republic, thereby eliminating the British monarch as its head of state. The referendum was defeated, and Gambia remained a constitutional monarchy with Queen Elizabeth II as its queen. It was not until April 24, 1970, that another referendum succeeded in establishing The Gambia as a republic, with Jawara as its first President.

Jawara's tenure lasted until 1994, when he was ousted in a military coup led by Yahya Jammeh. However, his foundational role in establishing an independent Gambia is well-remembered. Under his leadership, the country made strides in education, healthcare, and infrastructure. Moreover, The Gambia was one of the few African nations that sustained a multi-party democracy from the moment of its independence.