Unusual Geography of the Republic of The Gambia

On February 6, 2008 · 2 Comments



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I don’t believe I’ve focused on the geography of an entire country before, but The Gambia is simply too interesting to not focus some attention on it. First, notice its remarkable shape. It’s long and narrow like a snake as it winds its way along the banks of the Gambia River. Much of the country is floodplain flanked by low hills. It extends some 338 kilometers (210 miles) east to west, but never more than 47 kilometers (29 miles) north to south, with a maximum elevation of only 53 meters.Next, consider its size. The Gambia is barely a speck on the African map and is indeed the smallest country on the continent at only 11,300 square kilometres (4,361 square miles). As a size comparison for those familiar with United States geography, The Gambia is slightly less than twice the size of Delaware according to The World Fact Book from the Central Intelligence Agency, or less than half the size of Maryland, according to the Background Note from the U.S. Department of State. For those of you unfamiliar with those comparisons, simply note that The Gambia is really quite small.

Finally, the Gambia shares a border with only one other country. It’s nearly an enclave of Senegal which surrounds The Gambia on every side except for an 80 kilometer Atlantic coastline on its western side. A map of Senegal looks quite odd with the long ribbon of land that forms The Gambia protruding more than halfway through its lower left flank.


Divisions of The Gambia
The Gambia is divided into five divisions and a city, it’s national capital, Banjul. Many of their names remind one of its geographic placement along the Gambia River: Upper River; Central River; Lower River; North Bank; Western and the city of Banjul. These in turn are divided into 37 districts. One of these, Janjanbureh (formerly Georgetown) which is the capital of the Central River Division, rests on McCarthy Island completely surrounded by the Gambia River.Its unusual shape traced back to colonialism, and the manner in which much of Africa was divided among European powers. Rivers were strategic trade routes into the African interior where roads did not or could not exist. England gained control of the Gambia River through the purchase of trading rights from Antonio, Prior of Crato, the claimant to the Portuguese thrown in 1588, and later by patent letters from Queen Elizabeth I and a charter from King James I to a British trading company. The surrounding area of Senegal was controlled by the French, and the two came to agreement on The Gambia’s current boundaries in 1889. As colonialism began to wane it was only natural that the areas controlled by the English and the French would form into countries independently and so The Gambia, with its unusual shape, evolved towards nationhood on a different path than Senegal.


Source: Wikipedia Image:TheGambia Divisions.png under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version

On February 6, 2008 · 2 Comments

2 Responses to “Unusual Geography of the Republic of The Gambia”

  1. [...] geopolitical boundaries. Sometimes I find it’s due to specific geographic features as with The Gambia. Other times it arises from territorial clashes as with the Temburong exclave of Brunei Darussalam. [...]

  2. Lincoln Ho says:

    Looking at this immediately made me think of the odd shape of Chile.

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