Independence Day – 18th February
The national day for The Gambia is Independence Day which is celebrated on the 18th February each year and involves the whole country. The event marks the day that The Gambia became independent from British Colonial rule, gaining a president elected by the people of The Gambia.
Independence Day is a day of national pride marked by various celebrations all over the country. The president of The Gambia attends the celebration at a national gathering alongside government dignitaries and representatives from the commonwealth. The Queen of England also normally sends representatives and the president delivers a celebratory speech focussing on individuals and the country as a whole. Local schools, different religious groups, local associations and traditional organisations also attend.
The scouts and members of the Red Cross sing the National Anthem whilst the Army and the police band march around the stadium. Local historians and musicians provide narratives of the history of The Gambia over the years, describing life before and during colonialism as well as after independence.
As well as the celebration at the stadium, schools around the country also celebrate in their own areas with a local governor or minister often attending and delivering a speech. This is followed by story telling where people give narratives of history passed on by their ancestors going back to pre-colonisation years. The day also involves sports and literacy competitions, and food and drink festivals in which national dishes are cooked by different tribes and shared by all.
As a child, throughout both primary and high school I have personally taken part and it is always a big day. I remember preparing the day before by washing my school uniform, cleaning my shoes and getting a haircut. We would go to bed early the night before as it was always a long day full of excitement.
National radio stations would broadcast highlights of the day, with regular playing of the national anthem and the sound of gun salutes, and the villagers would also organise wrestling, dancing and singing competitions. My friends and I loved this day as it was one of the biggest celebratory days of the year.
Although The Gambia has had its political struggles in the past few years, I have always found Independence Day to be a day that brought people together to celebrate achievements and put differences to one side. The attendance and input by representatives from other countries also emphasises how the world is interlinked and interdependent, and that local decisions can have both regional and global impacts.