The Smiling Coast of Africa Welcomes you for Christmas
By H.E. Ms Teneng Mba Jaiteh, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of The Islamic Republic of The Gambia to The Kingdom of Belgium and Mission to the EU with concurrent accreditation to The Kingdom of The Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Fondly referred to as the Smiling Coast of Africa, The Republic of The Gambia is the smallest country on mainland Africa. Upon gaining independence from Britain in 1965, the country quickly established itself strongly in the West African sub-region as a haven of peace and stability. As a newly independent nation and a member of the Non-Aligned Movement, the government has been able to establish its diplomatic presence in friendly nations the world over. Thus, one of the first missions to be established was the Embassy in Brussels that covers The Kingdom of The Netherlands as well as a large part of the EU.
Though The Gambian economy is largely agrarian, with groundnuts as its main export, it has been able to maintain its stability despite the global economic shocks of the recent past. GDP growth rates in the last few years have ranged between 5% and 7%. Services contribute a significant part of our economy – A major part of this comes from the tourism sub-sector.
The Gambia is renowned in the international tourism industry as a choice destination for European tourists – especially during the European winter months. Its main attraction lies in its proximity to Europe (about five to six hour’s flight from most European cities), its peace and tranquility, pristine beaches, the sub-tropical climate, un-spoilt natural environment and the warmth and friendliness of its people. As a former British Colonial settlement, English has remained as its official language with about six main local languages spoken throughout the country. Despite its geographic size, the country has a diverse and rich cultural heritage that attracts many visitors that want much more than the traditional sun, sea and sand tourism.
The tourism infrastructures include world-class hotels mainly along its long and pristine Atlantic Coastline that offer both international and local cuisine with all the modern amenities including internet facilities, as well as Eco-tourist Hotels and Lodges further inland. As a tourist destination, the country is also able to offer a good range of choices of restaurants, Bars and a vibrant nightlife.
Our diverse flaura and fauna also makes The Gambia an attractive destination for nature lovers including bird watchers (the country is home to over 550 species of birds), and game fishing. The River Gambia which meanders from the Atlantic Coast right across the country, dividing it in half, is itself a major attraction being navigable throughout, with its changing vegetation along its banks, interspersed with lowland rice fields in which rural women could often be seen farming tilling the land whilst singing traditional songs.
A journey to the Smiling Coast cannot be complete without a boat ride on the river and spending some time in one of the eco-lodges along its banks. The hippos and the monkeys are a familiar sight especially in the upper fringes. Baboon Island in the River Gambia National Park is a must for nature lovers. Other attractions in the rural hinterland are the UNESCO Heritage sites of Wassu (stone circles), the Slave houses of Janjanbureh both in the Central Region, as well as James Island (now called Kunta Kinteh Island – named after the African American slave cum freedom fighter depicted in the Book “Roots” by Alex Haley).
Nowhere is cultural and religious diversity celebrated and nurtured more than in The Gambia where the country’s majority muslim population lives harmoniously with its Christian minority and, our different ethnic groups each with its own distinct language and unique cultures provide so much diversity yet togetherness and solidarity that we are so proud of.
Our welcoming approach to visitors is more evident during the Christmas season. Despite the fact that less than 5% of the population are Christian, the festive season is celebrated by the whole country across religious lines. The entire nation is literally thrown into a festive and jubilant mood with cultural manifestations in the form of masquerades from the various ethnic groups paraded in the streets of the capital city Banjul and its satellite towns. These masquerades are accompanied by young men and women often wearing the same colour and pattern of fabric, drumming, singing and dancing. The festivities culminate with the traditional New Year fireworks – the most spectacular displays by most of the major hotels along the beach front that is witnessed by large crowds of people ushering in the New Year.
The cultural manifestation is also evidenced in the colourful traditional dresses of the women during the festive season. These are normally complemented with elaborate hairstyles or headties. The hotels and restaurants also make sure that visitors are treated to traditional Gambian drinks and cuisine on request – these include the famous peanut butter stew locally called “domoda” and the refreshing sorrel drink called “wonjo” loved by all visitors.
Thus, a christmas break in The Smiling Coast offers individuals and families with a unique and unforgettable experience. It is small wonder that we register more arrivals during this period which also sees the arrival of Gambian’s in the diaspora coming home for Christmas.
We would be more than happy to welcome you home away from home for Christmas in the smiling coast and assure you of a wonderful experience and giving you all the confidence you need to usher in a bright and prosperous New Year!.
Photography by Vicky Bogaert.