The British colonialists who occupied Gambia were very typical of British colonial practices elsewhere. Occupation and operation of a foreign nation, especially one as culturally and ethnically distinct from England as Gambia, requires the establishment of governing institutions consistent with the policy objectives of the occupying country, in this case Great Britain. While it is difficult and morally questionable to try and put a positive spin on colonialism, if a country had to be colonized by a European power, none better than Britain, with its tradition of imposing governing structures and training native bureaucrats that would enable these countries to function and eventually emerge from the colonialist yoke as functioning independent states. Had Portugal, the original colonial power that had occupied the region during the 16th Century, remained in control, the eventual war for revolution that likely would have occurred in the mid-20th Century would have been as bloody and destructive to the country’s future as those that occurred in Angola and Mozambique.
British control over Gambia was consolidated in 1889 as a result of an agreement with France regarding colonization of coastal territories known as Kombo. The earlier defeat of the kings who ruled the region enabled the Europeans to settle the region. Once their control over the territory was consolidated, the British imposed western-style governing structures, including appointment of a governor and division of the region into districts for the purpose of administering the territories.
Unlike in many countries or regions colonialized by Europeans, local resistance to British rule in Gambia never really assumed a militant tone. Once the British and French militaries had defeated the monarchs who had ruled there, violent opposition to colonial rule was successfully repressed until eventual independence in 1965. In the early part of the 20th Century, pro-independence movements were largely confined to labor unions and farmers, whose efforts were largely peaceful.
Gambia’s experience as a European colony was similar to other countries in that the existing governing structures – in effect, the monarchies – were replaced by British-designed civil services overseen by appointed governors. Unlike in many other regions, however, local resistance was extremely limited.