The Chronicle Gambia

A Brief History Of Anglo-French Relations In Senegambia From 1677 To 1960

Redacted from British Intelligence archives

  1. By the end of the 17thCentury, the Portuguese and Dutch had given way to the British and the French on the west coast of Africa. The main French base was in Goree (captured from the Dutch in 1677), while that of the British was at James Island (captured from the Courlanders in 1661) at the mouth of the Gambia River.  The French had a trading post at Albreda (established 1681) on the North Bank of the Gambia, which proved a constant source of irritation to the British.  The latter for their part annoyed the French by trading at Portudal and Joal which the French considered to be their sphere of influence.
  2. Prior to 1807, trading was only in slaves monopolized by the French Senegal Company and the British Royal African Company.  The numerous wars between the two countries were reflected by frequent capturing and recapturing of Goree, James Island and Albreda, which were however, always restored to their original owners. Following the Seven Years War, the British remained in St. Louis (captured in 1758) and the British Crown took over the new Province of Senegambia with a Governor at St. Louis and a Lieutenant Governor at James Island.  The French recaptured St. Louis in 1778.
  3. The abolition of the slave trade in 1807 ensured the presence of the British Navy to enforce it and Bathurst (Banjul) was founded in 1816 as a more convenient post to control the exits from the Gambia River than James Island.  In 1821 Gambia became a Crown Colony under the governor of Sierra Leone but became independent of the latter in 1843.  French influence was then replacing that of the Portuguese in the Casamance and in 1842-1850 French enclaves were established further down the coast at Grand Bassam (Ivory Coast), etc.  Groundnuts were introduced in both Senegal and Gambia and the trade even in Bathurst was, until 1914, largely in French hands.  To protect trade and prevent French expansion the British established forts on the northern entrance to the Gambia (Barra) and at Georgetown in the interior.  The French nevertheless helped the British to suppress native uprisings in the Gambia in 1831 and 1855; the fanatic “marabouts” (Muslims) caused trouble in both French and British zones of influence.
  4. In 1857 the French handed over Albreda to the British in exchange for the latter giving up their rights to the gum trade at Portendic (Trarza, Mauritania).  Under general Faidherbe’s governorship, Sine Saloum accepted French protection in 1861 and a fort was built at Kaolack.  Chiefs hostile to the French took refuge in the Gambia, from the safety of which a Marabout called Maba waged a “Jihad” against the Sine-Saloum.
  5. On several occasions between 1866 and 1875 the French offered to give up their enclaves at Grand Bassam (Ivory Coast) , Assinie, Dabou, and later Mellacoree (Guinea-Conakry), in exchange for the British handing over the Gambia.  The British Government was not unsympathetic to the idea as Gambia was not very economic, but negotiations foundered as the British firms and missionaries in the Gambia, as well as freed slaves [the Akus] and some of the native chiefs, rallied emotional support against the idea in the press and in Parliament.  The French were then asked to give up Porto Novo (Benin) as well, but this they were not prepared to do.
  6. In 1866 Gambia was again put under Freetown as part of the “British West African Settlements” and was not finally separated until 1888.  An Anglo-French Convention established the present limits of British Gambia in 1889.  There was more trouble with warring native tribes, who ignored the international boundary, before law and order was finally established in the Gambia in 1901- the French and British acting in cooperation.
  7. There are thus many historical precedents for the idea of joining Senegal and Gambia into one country.  The people of the interior of Gambia (Wolof, Mandingo, Fula, Jola) are found on both sides of the frontier, which is ethnologically an artificial one.  Furthermore most of these tribes have only been under effective British or French occupation for little more than 50 years.
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