Jawara, Dawda (The Gambia)
Dawda Jawara was the nation’s first prime minister from 1962 to 1970 and its first president from 1970 to 1994.
Dawda Jawara was born on 16 May 1924 in the village of Baragally Tenda. He won a scholarship to Glasgow University, graduating in 1954 as a veterinary surgeon. As a student, Jawara was elected president of the African student association and became a member of the student labour movement. On his return to Gambia he joined the government veterinary service, working as chief veterinary officer from 1958–60.
In 1959 Jawara joined the Protectorate People’s Party (later renamed the People’s Progressive Party), becoming leader later that year. In 1960 he was elected to the House of Representatives and was appointed by the British as minister of education. Following the success of the People’s Progressive Party at the 1962 election, Jawara was made premier. After Gambia gained independence on 18 Feb. 1965, he served as prime minister until 1970, before assuming the presidency of the republic of Gambia.
Jawara’s primary challenge was to modernise a severely underdeveloped country. Gambia was reliant on colonial markets and boasted a single major export crop—groundnuts. Its infrastructure was poor, with decrepit health and education provision. In 1985 Jawara introduced an economic recovery program that saw the budget deficit reduced, foreign exchange supplies increased and debt slashed. Nonetheless, by the 1990s Gambia remained one of Africa’s poorest countries.
In Dec. 1980 Jawara cut diplomatic ties with Libya after discovering that Tripoli had been recruiting Gambian men for guerrilla training. The following year Jawara uncovered a coup plot against him while he was travelling abroad and crushed it with the help of Senegalese troops. His reliance on foreign forces, however, severely undermined his authority at home, though his decision to give fair trials to the perpetrators won him international goodwill.
In April 1981, Jawara and President Diouf of Senegal formed the Senegambian Confederation. New transport and communication links quickly grew between the two countries but both leaders lacked domestic support for the alliance. Furthermore, in Gambia there was growing resentment over the use of Senegalese troops to provide protection to Jawara and key public buildings. In Aug. 1989 the confederation disintegrated.
In 1992 Jawara suggested that the country would benefit from a change in leadership, though his decision to stay in office over the short term created tension. On 22 July 1994 troops led by Yahal Jammeh overthrew Jawara in a bloodless coup. Jawara escaped to Senegal.