Sir Dauda Kairaba Jawara (born 1924) led his nation of the Gambia to independence and became its first president. Until a military coup in 1994, this veterinary surgeon brought years of stable parliamentary democracy to Africa's smallest republic.
Dauda Jawara was born into a Moslem Mandingo family at Barajally, MacCarthy Island Division, in the Gambian Protectorate, a British colony. He was educated in a local Moslem primary institution and at the Methodist Boys' Grammar School. From 1945 to 1947 Jawara was a trainee nurse in the Gambia Medical Department.
Awarded a veterinary scholarship, Jawara spent a year studying science at Achimoto College in the Gold Coast (now Ghana). After passing his intermediate bachelor of science examination, he entered the University of Glasgow and graduated from the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in 1953. Jawara was president of the African Students' Union during his years in Scotland.
Upon his return to Africa as his country's first veterinarian, Jawara worked up-country for a short while before joining the government veterinary service in January 1954. In 1958, a year after earning a diploma in tropical veterinary medicine from Glasgow, he became the colony's principal veterinary officer, a post he held until February 1960.
Disturbed by the unequal development between his native Mandingo tribal area and the capital city of Bathurst, he joined the Protectorate People's Party in 1959. By December he was in charge of the organization, which changed its name to the People's Progressive Party.
Jawara resigned his government post to contest the May 1960 elections, in which he won a seat in the House of Representatives. Appointed minister of education (1960-1961) by the British, he spent part of that time in London as a member of a finance delegation.
When Pierre Saar N'Jie, leader of the opposition United Party, was appointed first chief minister of the colony in 1961, Jawara resigned from the government. In the next elections, the People's Progressive Party won the majority of House seats, and Jawara was called on to form a government. He thus became Gambia's first premier. When the Gambia achieved independence, on February 18, 1965, he became the prime minister of this smallest African nation. Located on the western coast and containing only 4,127 square miles, the Gambia is a 30-mile-wide strip of land surrounded on three sides by Senegal. Jawara negotiated the Defense and Foreign Representation Agreement, which placed an independent Gambia within the protection of Senegal's foreign affairs.
Jawara was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1966. He had become a Christian in 1955 and was known as "David" thereafter, but he returned to his Moslem faith in 1965. His wife, the former Augusta Mahoney, an Aku trained in nursing in Britain, campaigned with her husband each time he ran for reelection, urging women to become actively interested in politics. The Jawaras had five children.
When an April 1970 referendum changed the Gambia's status to a republic, Jawara became the country's first president. He headed one of Africa's most stable and successful parliamentary democracies until, after 24 years in power, he was brought down by a bloodless military coup.
Harry A. Gailey, Jr., A History of the Gambia (1964), discusses Jawara's political career; an informal study of Gambia and its politics is Berkeley Rice, Enter Gambia: The Birth of an Improbable Nation (1967). □