The Gambia has a land mass of roughly one-third of that of The Netherlands and is the smallest country on the African continent. Apart from its coastline on the Atlantic Ocean, it is surrounded on three sides by Senegal. On a governmental level, the country is divided in five districts or provinces. From these five districts, the Western Division is the most developed and is economically the most important. Recent developments in infrastructure have boosted economic activities, and efforts continue in this field to also improve the infrastructure in the other provinces aided by companies such as Ballast Nedam. Communication services have also greatly improved over the last years with mobile and fixed telephone coverage reaching all corners of the country. Mobile internet, ADSL, and wireless services are offered by four providers, and this distinguishes The Gambia from many of its Sub-Saharan neighbours.
The climate is subtropical, with a dry season (October-June), and a rainy season (July-September). From the end of October, humidity levels drop. During the rainy season, short but heavy showers turn the country into a lush green oasis. The temperatures are lowest during December and January.
Geographically, the country is divided in two parts: The North Bank and The South Bank. The Western Division lies on the South Bank, closest to the Atlantic Ocean. Development on the North Bank is progressing with the help of various NGOs and institutions who are working in close collaboration with the Gambian Government. There is still room for much more improvement in development as long as clean drinking water, tarred roads with street lights, and electricity remain limited to densely populated areas.
The Gambia, with its coastline and beaches and its wooded areas depends heavily on the tourist trade. Tourism took off in the sixties and has developed over the years, but recent years have hardly shown growth in the numbers of tourists. Other sectors that are developing include construction, technical services, and financial institutions. Recent years have shown a rapid growth in the number of banks in The Gambia.
Traditionally, agriculture is a major part of the country's economy, but the bulk of production is consumed in the domestic market. Exports are limited to ground nuts, vegetables, and some dried fish which are grown in targeted projects. Since local production is limited, imports are extensive. Some imports are re-exported to other countries in the sub-region.
Doing business or manufacturing in The Gambia presents many challenges. Laws, rules and taxes are often amended without prior notification. What was a fact yesterday is not necessarily a fact tomorrow. Doing business here requires flexibility, creativity, a good sense of humor, and much patience. Often, rules and rates are not fixed but are adjusted according to the situation. This does not mean; however, that you can expect to ‘bargain’ your way through in any given situation. ‘When in Rome…’ certainly applies to The Gambia. On the other hand, authorities are easily accessible and appointments are generally swiftly made. However, timeliness is less of a factor in daily life in The Gambia; hence, the expression G.M.T., Gambia Maybe Time…
The Gambia offers many possibilities for business but you need to be aware of certain hurdles on your path. DGBL has the knowledge and information to support start-up (Dutch) businesses by sharing experiences with potential investors. DGBL can answer many of your questions by keeping up with daily developments.
The Gambia knows many social and cultural rules. Knowledge of these unwritten rules and customs is of vital importance to be successful in your business.
The majority of the people lives below the poverty level and their daily budget allows them to buy the bare necessities for the day: rice, cooking oil, firewood, and the so called ‘fish money’ which covers the ingredients for the sauce.
The main meal of the day is lunch which is taken around 4 in the afternoon. It is usual for company owners to provide lunch to his staff in the form of a rice-based dish. Gambian hospitality is well known, and you will be frequently invited to join a group of Gambians for lunch. ‘Kai si ein bi’, which means ‘come and eat lunch’ in Wolof, is often heard on such occasions.
It is impossible to compare one Gambian to another. The country hosts many different tribes with their own language, customs and traditions which they follow passionately.
Being a former British colony, the justice system in The Gambia is mostly based on English Law. Unlike Britain, driving in The Gambia is done on the right side of the road (no pun intended). Medical facilities in the country have improved in recent years but remain basic and definitely not up to European standards. We advise you to get as much information as possible on the health services and indigenous diseases such as malaria. DGBL can also provide information on this issue. The currency of The Gambia is the Dalasi, which is subdivided in 100 Bututs. The official language of the country is English.
More information and practical advice on many topics such as schools, culture, government, import and export, appointments and traditions, financial institutions, lawyers, useful addresses, etc. can be found on www.accessgambia.com.
Should you be planning to come to The Gambia and set up a business, DGBL can help you with practical advice and information. You can also get more information from the Dutch Embassy in Dakar, Senegal.