Visiting Banjul in The Gambia normally comes as a more welcoming environment after some of our other more uptight West African ports.
It’s hard to say why the welcome is friendlier here – the place is poorer than Ghana, and the infrastructure is in a worse state, but people are more willing to smile and interact with foreigners. Maybe it’s because there wasn’t a bitter independence struggle here in the Gambia – the British almost had to force independence on the locals. Maybe they’re more used to foreigners because of the long established beach holiday industry here. Or, maybe they’re just a bit happier, especially since the shadow of autocracy was lifted when the dictator President Jammeh was ousted in 2017.
Certainly, Jammeh didn’t leave this tiny country with very much – he managed to spirit away something in the region of $1 billion from a woefully poor country, but people seem to be working hard to improve their lot.
I joined a tour that did a serene boat trip down the wetlands outside the capital Banjul (where we saw plenty of huge pelicans), and paid a visit to the Abuko National Park. On a fun walk around the rough trails of the park, we we saw plentiful birdlife and some huge crocodiles sitting still as statues by the side of a lake.
Gambia doesn’t have much – beyond groundnuts and tourism, there aren’t many revenue streams here, but it appears to be doing its best. For me, the biggest problem seems to be the huge number of people in a society that hasn’t got enough work to go around. Without some population control, this little country’s biggest export may continue to be people – people willing to uproot their lives and take the dangerous journey to Europe.