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In the 10th century, Muslim merchants established some of the Gambia's earliest major settlements as Saharan trading hubs. These settlements eventually grew into major export centers sending slaves, gold and ivory across the Sahara. Between the 16th and 17th centuries, European colonial powers began to trade with The Gambia. In 1664, the United Kingdom established a colony in The Gambia that focused on exporting enslaved people across the Atlantic. During the roughly 300 years of the transatlantic slave trade, the UK and other European powers may have exported as many as 3 million people from the Gambia.

The Gambia gained independence from the UK in 1965. Geographically surrounded by Senegal, it formed the short-lived confederation of Senegambia between 1982 and 1989. In 1994, Yahya JAMMEH led a military coup that overthrew the president and banned political activity. JAMMEH won all presidential elections until 2016. In December 2016, after 22 years of authoritarian rule, President JAMMEH lost to Adama BARROW in free and fair elections. Due to the poor human rights record in The Gambia under JAMMEH, international development partners had significantly reduced aid to the country. These channels have now reopened under the administration of President BARROW. Since the 2016 elections, The Gambia and the US have had better relations. US aid to the country has supported military education and training programs, capacity building and democracy-building activities.

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