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Key findings
  • For nine out of 10 Gambians (92%), their national identity is at least as strong as their ethnic identity; very few say they feel “more ethnic than Gambian” (4%) or “only ethnic” (3%).
  • More than four in 10 Gambians (43%) say the government treats their ethnic group unfairly, including 18% who say this happens “often” or “always.” The proportion of citizens who say the government “never” discriminates against their ethnic group has dropped from 71% to 53% since 2018.
  • Three-quarters (75%) of Gambians say the government at least “sometimes” treats people unfairly based on their economic status.
  • Overwhelming majorities of Gambians express tolerant attitudes toward people of different ethnicities (95%), different political affiliations (90%), different nationalities (83%), and different religions (76%). But fewer than one in 10 (7%) are tolerant toward people in same-sex relationships.
  • More than three-fourths of Gambians say they trust their relatives (82%) and neighbours (78%) “somewhat” or “a lot.” Far fewer express trust in people from other religious backgrounds (56%).

Since its change of government in 2017, the Gambia has undergone significant reforms  aimed at promoting reconciliation and healing the wounds left by Yahya Jammeh’s two decade rule (Jaw, 2019). During his presidency, Jammeh adopted divide-and-rule tactics,  such as declaring the Gambia an Islamic state in 2015 and attacking the Mandinka, the  majority ethnic group in the country (Sommerfelt, 2016). 

Despite Jammeh’s electoral defeat in 2016, his legacy continues to affect the social fabric of  the Gambia, which has historically been known for its tolerance and harmonious coexistence (Courtright, 2018). While previous Afrobarometer survey data have shown generally tolerant attitudes toward different ethnicities, religions, and nationalities (Jaw & Isbell, 2020),  economic strains exacerbate challenges such as caste-based friction in the Upper River  Region (Point, 2020), religious tensions (National Human Rights Commission, 2023), and tribal rhetoric (Hultin & Sommerfelt, 2020).  

The National Human Rights Commission (2023) has played a leading role in efforts to address  these challenges, emphasising the importance of ethnic and religious diversity and tolerance  as key features of public and social life. Furthermore, the Supreme Islamic Council and  Christian Council have established interfaith dialogue groups to promote religious tolerance  and understanding, and youth groups such as Activista-The Gambia are intervening to  promote religious tolerance (Bah, 2023). 

The situation in the Gambia demonstrates the complexities of caste, ethnic, and religious  tensions in the country’s political landscape. Efforts to address past injustices and promote  reconciliation through the implementation of recommendations by the Truth, Reconciliation  and Reparations Commission and government white paper (Republic of the Gambia, 2022) offer hope for healing and inclusivity, but it remains crucial to monitor and address underlying socioeconomic issues to ensure a more tolerant and cohesive society in the future. 

The most recent Afrobarometer survey shows that for the overwhelming majority of  Gambians, national identity is either stronger than ethnic identity or equally strong. While still  a minority, the share of citizens who say the government treats their ethnic group unfairly has  increased significantly in recent years, and most Gambians think the government  discriminates against people based on their economic status.  

Survey findings show that most Gambians express tolerance toward people of different  ethnic, national, and religious backgrounds, but not toward people in same-sex relationships.

Lionel Osse Essima

Lionel is the assistant project manager for Anglophone West Africa and North Africa.

Sait Matty Jaw

Sait Matty Jaw is the national investigator for Gambia.