There is a land not so far away

Where the scene is the shore on a golden beach

Where the rivers flow with the forest in a thousand creeks

A place where people smile and say ‘hello’

Welcome to The Gambia—the smiling coast of Africa

(Excerpts from a promotional video by The Gambia Tourism Board)

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Photo courtesy ATQ news

I was seated in a room full of stakeholders in the travel trade, all of whom were attending the Akwaaba Africa Travel Market, organized in Lagos by Africa Travel Quarterly. The particular session was ‘The Gambia Day’ and we listened to four representatives from The Gambia Tourism Board show and (tell) us why we should visit the small West African country sooner than later.

“You should come see our ‘Roots Festival’ in May, one rep said. “Do you all know Kunta Kinte—the man whose life was documented in Roots, the famed Alex Haley’s book? He was from The Gambia”.

When she was done, another rep took the mic. “The Gambia is possibly the only country where land is not sold to investors,” he said, guiding us through a short slide presentation. “We lease land for 50 years in the first instance, which is renewable for another 50 years afterwards, and on and on like that.”

Another rep talked about Gambians’ hospitable nature. “Our people are very friendly, and so are our wildlife,” she said as a picture of a Western tourist caressing a Crocodile showed up on the screen.

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The Gambian delegation to the Akwaaba Africa Travel Market (Photo courtesy of ATQ News)

Nigerians dominated the room, so the sales speak was directed more at us. So there were statements like: “Nigerians own some of the best hotels in our country” and “The Gambia is probably made up of 50% Nigerians”, which was heartwarming. Plus there was a fun remark to the one cuisine that is common to both countries—Jollof Rice.

When the officials were done selling the country, they called on some members of the audience to share their experiences in “The Smiling Coast of Africa”.

“The Gambia is truly a beautiful place,” said one Liberian who schooled partly in Banjul, the capital.

“The Gambia is about the only country where foreigners could dance in the presence of the president and end up being appreciated and rewarded,” said another.

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The Gambia, here we come!

And then another voice: “Gambia is a good place to go if you have something to do. It is not for unserious, idle people. So be sure you have something to offer.”

In between these talks, we watched a fascinating 10-minute video (referenced at the top of this piece). It showed some of Gambia’s tourist magnets (Ecolodges, river cruises, bird watching, craft markets, local music, and nightlife); it ended with a memorable line: “Gambia has it all—and more!” @PeluAwofeso

Gambia (Quick Facts)

Gained Independence: 18 February 1965

Population: 1.8 million

Official Language: English

Indigenous: Mandika, Wollof, Fula, Jola, Serer, Manjago, Creole

Religion: Muslim (85%); Christians + African Trad. Religions (15%)