Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara was a Gambian politician who served as Prime Minister from 1962 to 1970, and then as the first President of the Gambia from 1970 to 1994.
Jawara was born in Barajally, MacCarthy Island Division, the son of Mamma Fatty and Almami Jawara. He was educated at the Methodist Boys' School in Bathurst and then attended Achimota College in Ghana. He trained as a veterinary surgeon at the University of Glasgow's School of Veterinary Medicine and then completed his training at the University of Liverpool. He returned to The Gambia in 1953 and married Augusta Mahoney, beginning work as a veterinary officer. He decided to enter politics and became secretary of the new People's Progressive Party and was elected to the House of Representatives in the 1960 election. He became the leader of the PPP and then the country's first Prime Minister in 1962, only the second ever head of government following Pierre Sarr N'Jie's term as Chief Minister.
Under Jawara, The Gambia gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1965. He remained as Prime Minister and Elizabeth II remained as head of state as Queen of the Gambia. In 1970, The Gambia became a republic, with no monarchy, and Jawara was elected as its first President. The greatest challenge to Jawara's power came in 1981 when an attempted coup d'état took place and soldiers from neighbouring Senegal were forced to intervene, with 400 to 800 deaths reported by the end of the coup attempt. Following the coup attempt, Jawara and Senegalese President Abdou Diouf announced the creation of the Senegambia Confederation, but it collapsed in 1989.
Jawara continued to rule until 1994 when a coup d'état led by Yahya Jammeh seized power. Following this, he went into exile, but returned in 2002, and lived in retirement in The Gambia until his death.
Childhood and early educationDawda Jawara was born in 1924 to Almammi Jawara and Mamma Fatty in the village of Barajally Tenda in the central region of The Gambia, approximately from the capital, Banjul, then called Bathurst. One of six sons, Dawda was the lastborn on his mother's side and a younger brother to sister Na Ceesay and brothers Basaddi and Sheriffo Jawara.
Their father Almammi, who had several wives, was a well-to-do trader from an aristocratic family who commuted from Barajally Tenda to his trading post in Wally Kunda. His family, the Jawaras, had once served as members of the Gbara of Old Mali.
Dawda from an early age attended the local Arabic schools to memorize the Quran, a rite of passage for many Gambian children. There were no primary schools in Barajally Tenda: the nearest was in Georgetown, the provincial capital, but this boarding school was reserved for the sons of the chiefs.
Around 1933, young Jawara's formal education was sponsored by a friend of his father, a trader named Ebrima Youma Jallow, whose trading post was across the street from Alammi's in Wally-Kunda. Dawda was enrolled at Mohammedan primary school. After graduation from Mohammedan, Jawara won a scholarship to an all-boys High School, where he enjoyed all his classes, but showed the greatest aptitude in science and mathematics. Upon matriculation in 1945, he worked as a nurse until 1947 at the Victoria Hospital in Bathurst. The limited career and educational opportunities in colonial Gambia led to a year's stint at Prince of Wales College and School in Achimota, Accra, in the then Gold Coast, where he studied science. While at Prince of Wales College and School, Jawara showed little interest in politics at a time when Ghana and many colonies in Africa were beginning to become restless for political independence or internal self-government. While he was happy to have met Ghana's founding father, Kwame Nkrumah, the impact did not prove significant at the time.
After attending Achimota College, Jawara won a scholarship to Scotland's Glasgow University to study veterinary medicine. At the time, colonial education was intended to train Africans for the most menial of clerical tasks in the civil service. And it was rare for Gambians to be awarded scholarships in the sciences. It was at Glasgow University in the late 1940s, that Jawara's interest in politics began. In 1948 he joined the African Students Association and was later elected secretary-general and president, respectively. Also, while at Glasgow, Jawara honed his political interests and skills by joining the Student Labour Party Organization, Forward Group, and became active in labour politics of the time. Though never a "leftist", Jawara immersed himself in the Labour Party’s socialist politics and ideology. At Glasgow Jawara met Cheddi Jagan, who later became Premier of British Guiana, now Guyana. Jawara classified this period in his life “as very interesting politically”. It was a moment of rising Pan-Africanist fervour and personal growth politically. He completed his studies in 1953.
Return to The GambiaWhen Jawara returned home in 1953 after completing his studies as a veterinary surgeon, he first served as a veterinary officer. In 1955 he married Augusta Mahoney, daughter of Sir John Mahoney, a prominent Aku in Bathurst. The Aku, a small and educated group, are descendants of freed slaves who settled in The Gambia after manumission. Despite their relatively small size, they came to dominate both the social, political, and economic life of the colony. Many opponents claim that it was pragmatic, albeit an unusual, fulfillment of Jawara's wish to marry a well-to-do Anglican woman.
As a veterinary officer, Jawara traveled the length and breadth of The Gambia for months vaccinating cattle. In the process, he established valuable social contacts and relationships with the relatively well-to-do cattle owners in the protectorate. This group, with the district chiefs and village heads, in later years formed the bulk of his initial political support. As noted, British colonial policy at that time divided The Gambia into two sections; the colony and the protectorate. Adults in the colony area, which included Bathurst and the Kombo St. Mary sub-regions, were franchised, while their counterparts in the protectorate were not. Political activity and representation at the Legislative Council were limited to the colony.
At the time of his return to The Gambia, politics in the colony were dominated by a group of urban elites from Bathurst and the Kombo St. Mary's areas. At a meeting in 1959 at Basse, a major commercial town almost at the end of The Gambia River, the leadership of the People's Progressive Society decided to change its name to challenge the urban-based parties and their leaders. Thus was born the Protectorate People's Party.
The same year, a delegation headed by Sanjally Bojang, Bokarr Fofanah and Madiba Janneh, arrived at Abuko to inform Jawara of his nomination as secretary of the party. Jawara resigned his position as chief veterinary officer in order to contest the 1960 election. The Protectorate People's Party was renamed the People's Progressive Party to make the party inclusive as opposed to the generally held perception of it being a Mandinka-based party. Over time, the PPP and Jawara would supersede the urban-based parties and their leaders. This change is what Arnold Hughes termed a "Green Revolution", a political process in which a rural elite emerges to challenge and defeat an urban-based political petty-bourgeoisie.
Jawara's ascendance to the leadership of the party was hardly contested. As one of the few university graduates from the protectorate, the only other possible candidate was Dr. Lamin Marena from Kudang.
Self-government in The Gambiaand General Moshe Dayan during a visit to Israel in 1962.
In 1962, Jawara became Prime Minister, which laid the foundation for PPP and Jawara domination of The Gambia's political landscape. With Jawara's rise to power after the 1962 elections, the colonial administration began a gradual withdrawal from The Gambia, and self-government was granted in 1963. Jawara was appointed Prime Minister in the same year, and independence came on February 18, 1965. This completed The Gambia's peaceful transition from colonial rule.
With a small civil service, staffed mostly by the Aku and urban Wollofs, Jawara, and the PPP sought to build a nation and develop an economy to sustain both farmers and urban dwellers. Many in the rural areas hoped that political independence would bring with an immediate improvement in their life circumstances. These high expectations, as in other newly independent ex-colonies, stemmed partly from the extravagant promises made by some political leaders. In time, however, a measure of disappointment set in as the people quickly discovered that their leaders could not deliver on all their promises.
During the self-government period of 1962-–65, promising overtures were made from Jawara to Senegal. In November 1962, Jawara asked the United Nations to appoint experts to assess the future of Senegal and The Gambia together, which U Thant, the Secretary-General, agreed to. The British attitude was said to be one of "friendly encouragement". In March 1964, following a visit from Léopold Sédar Senghor, intentions to coordinate The Gambia's and Senegal's economic programmes were announced. Particular focus was to be placed on the field of agriculture.
The 1981 attempted coupThe greatest challenge to Dawda Jawara's rule was an attempted coup in 1981, headed by a disgruntled ex-politician turned Marxist, Kukoi Samba Sanyang. The coup, which followed a weakening of the economy and allegations of corruption against leading politicians, occurred on July 29, 1981, and was carried out by the leftist National Revolutionary Council, composed of Kukoi Samba Sanyang's Gambia Socialist Revolutionary Party and elements of the "Field Force".
President Jawara immediately requested military aid from Senegal which deployed 400 troops to the Gambia on July 31, and by August 6 2,700 Senegalese troops had been deployed and they had defeated the coup leaders' forces. Between 500 and 800 people were killed during the coup and the resulting violence.
The attempted coup reflected the desire for change, at least on the part of some civilians and their allies in the Field Force. Despite Kukoi's failure to assume power, the attempted coup revealed major weaknesses within the ruling PPP and society as a whole. The hegemony of the PPP, contraction of intra-party competition, and growing social inequalities were factors that could not be discounted. Also crucial to the causes of the aborted coup was a deteriorating economy whose major victims were the urban youth in particular. In his 1981 New Year message, Jawara explained The Gambia's economic problems thus:
The most striking consequence of the aborted coup was the intervention of the Senegalese troops at the request of Jawara, as a result of the defense treaty signed between the two countries in 1965. At the time of the aborted coup, Jawara was attending the Wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales, and Lady Diana Spencer in London and flew immediately to Dakar to consult with President Abdou Diouf. While Senegal's intervention was ostensibly to rescue President Jawara's regime, it had the effect of undermining Gambian sovereignty, which was something that had been jealously guarded by Gambians and Jawara in particular. Yet it was relinquished expediently. The presence of Senegalese troops in Banjul was testimony to Jawara's growing reliance on Senegal, which consequently was a source of much resentment.