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1965: Countdown to Gambian independence

The Duke and Duchess of Kent have celebrated the end of 300 years of colonial rule in Gambia with 35 chiefs.

At midnight Gambia will become the smallest - and 37th - sovereign state in Africa and the last of Britain's West African colonies to gain independence.

It was the first African nation conquered by the British and will become the 21st member of the Commonwealth, as well as the 116th member of the United Nations.

Representing the Queen, the royal couple was escorted to the mansa bengo - gathering of kings - by Gambian Prime Minister Dawda Jawara and Governor Sir John Paul.

All the Gambian leaders showed their respect by removing their shoes before greeting the British dignitaries.

The oldest chief, Toure Sagniang, said: "It gives us confidence to know that as a monarchy we are members of that family of which the Queen is head."

And he thanked the UK for its assistance in making the transition to independence.

The traditional ceremony - in the village of Brikama, 22 miles from the capital, Bathurst - included soothsayers and standard bearers, accompanied by drumming and string instruments.

Guests from around 30 nations were present, including the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, George Mennen, and the Soviet Ambassador to Sierra Leone, Grigori Pashchenko.

Flag up

The major celebration will begin tonight when the Union Jack is lowered for the last time and replaced with the red, white, blue and green of the Gambian national flag.

Presentations from the Gambian and British delegations will complete the formal beginning of independence.

The British Government has promised to provide support for Gambia, valued at 3m for the next two-and-a-half years.

Smaller than Yorkshire in the UK, Gambia extends 295 miles inland from the Atlantic, along the River Gambia, and has a total population of 320,000.

In Context
Gambia has been one of the most stable countries in Africa, although it has remained poor because of its lack of natural resources.

A military coup in 1994 toppled Dawda Jawara's elected government.

Coup leader Yahya Jemmeh attempted to restore democracy two years later and held elections - widely deemed to be unfair - to become president.

An attempted coup in 2000 was foiled, but discontent continued over the collapse of the peanut marketing system and students were killed during demonstrations.

President Jemmeh was re-elected in 2001 after attempting to address problems of corruption.

In 2002 Mr Jawara flew home from exile, nearly eight years after being ousted in the military coup.


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