Serekunda- an expanding Gambian town

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By Margaret Mackintosh — honorary editor, Primary Geographer, Geographical Association

Rich in culture and tradition and varied in physical features, The Gambia makes an ideal country for a contrasting locality study

Surrounded completely by Senegal, The Gambia is the smallest country on the African continent. Its economy relies mainly on agriculture (peanuts being its main export) and fishing, although the tropical temperature and idyllic beaches have seen tourism increase in coastal areas. Serekunda – the largest town in The Gambia – is little influenced by tourism, yet in recent years, its population has increased quickly, mainly due to young men leaving villages in rural areas to seek jobs in the town. This has resulted in an imbalance in the rural population, and has put extra pressure on women in agricultural and domestic work. Serekunda owes its size, rapid growth and importance in the Gambian economy to its location. While the capital city of Banjul cannot expand because it is an island, there are no constraints on Serekunda’s growth.

Transport and housing

Serekunda has been the hub of the Gambian transport system since roads replaced the River Gambia as the main mode of transport up-country. The main roads are tarmacked and there is a network of buses and bush-taxis, but no railway. Housing in the town spreads outwards from the town centre and consists mainly of small traditional fenced-off enclosures, referred to as compounds. However, newer peripheral housing is constructed more like bungalows or detached houses common in Western countries, which shows how The Gambia is changing.

Day-to-day living

The mosque and the market (see A1 poster) are at the heart of Serekunda. The market is a bustling environment where men sell imported consumer goods, meat and fish and women sell home-grown fruit and vegetables, or produce bought from villagers with surplus stocks. Stalls overflow into the town’s bus garage and traders make use of the whole width of the street – from the pavement to the roads busy with passing traffic. Most of the basic necessities can be purchased from the maze of tiny, single-storey shops, which resemble lock-up garages, but there are few luxuries for sale. People selling and making similar things, such as cloth, vegetables, cooking pots or batiks, tend to be clustered in specific parts of the town.

Around 85 per cent of the Gambian population is Muslim. During prayer, the centre of the town comes to a complete stand-still as people spill into the streets adjacent to the mosque, which is too small to accommodate them all. (A new, larger mosque is currently being constructed.) Men and boys place their prayer mats in the direction of Mecca and remove their shoes. The muezzins call and prayers are broadcast into the streets through loudspeakers.

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