Overcoming red tape and technical hurdles to bring together the country’s chemists

The Gambia is not a well-known country in Africa; it is small and over the years only a few people have pursued chemistry up to PhD level. Many times when Gambians are abroad studying, they encounter a lot of surprise when asked: ‘where are you from?’ Whenever anyone hears ‘The Gambia’, the next question is: ‘where is that?’ Now we’ve set up the Chemical Society of the Gambia, we hope to make everyone aware of us. But we faced many challenges on the way.

In October 2000, the first set of students started classes at the University of The Gambia (UTG), The Gambia’s first public university; only two were admitted to study chemistry. The number of chemistry students has since fluctuated, but hardly ever surpasses 10 per year. None of the three other universities now in The Gambia have a chemistry programme; any chemistry courses offered are part of another course, for example, medicine.

Students holding banner celebrating the launching of the chemical society of the Gambia
© Sainey Cham

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Student in class room in Gambia studying notes
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First, they came together with the idea of forming a task force together with an interim executive. Social media was of limited help for coordinating this because internet data in The Gambia is expensive. Thus, the task force was formed via WhatsApp, which is cheaper to use. One of the first tasks was to ascertain what it would involve to register an organisation like the chemical society: a constitution was required, along with names of executive members.

Drafting a constitution, designing a logo and obtaining the tax identification certificate that would eventually be required for legal registration took one year to be achieved. Getting things done in The Gambia can be challenging; some things cannot be done online and moving from office to office via public transportation is challenging. Everything that required funds was paid for using personal funds; no money existed officially for that purpose. This was a great sacrifice on the part of some of the members.

Despite these hardships, every member of the task force was very enthusiastic about forming a chemical society. Some chemistry lecturers helped with a lot of advice about the membership of the chemical society. Further to this, one lecturer advised that it would be nice to reach out to other existing chemical societies: in the sub-region, outside the sub-region and outside Africa. Everyone looked forward to meeting graduates of chemistry and related disciplines from other countries.

Final approval and registration in the Ministry of Justice of The Gambia was met with a lot of scepticism, and we were often treated as comic relief. Ministry of Justice officials associated the members of the Chemical Society with the infamous ‘Chemical Ali’ of Iraq. Despite this, on 31 March 2022, we completed our registration.


The Chemical Society started having an impact soon afterwards. The following May, the Society conducted a nationwide tutorial for final year high school students preparing for their West African Secondary School Certificate Examination. The exercise dealt with the laboratory practical in chemistry. No hands-on exercise took place; just lectures on the finer details of what is required in the examination. It was a welcomed exercise and was even publicised on television. This received a lot of applause from high school students and chemistry graduates.

The further relevance of the Society was appreciated when it was invited to be a member of a committee on chemicals set up by the Standards Bureau of The Gambia in June 2022. This meant some form of recognition.

A notable achievement of the Chemical Society of The Gambia was its recognition and invitation to the Commonwealth Chemistry. A graduate of UTG and a chemistry lecturer informed some members of Society about a Commonwealth Conference that took place some years ago where The Gambia had not been represented. Earlier this year we corrected that, attending the second Commonwealth Chemistry Congress.

The Chemical Society of The Gambia looks forward to expanding its membership base and collaborating with other chemical societies. Few members are PhD graduates, a bit more are master’s graduates. This is interesting when one observes that other chemical societies usually have a lot of PhD graduates.

In the Gambia, chemistry has acquired the air of a very difficult discipline whose graduates always end up in a classroom, teaching; this prospect is not something that many Gambians look forward to. We still have challenges to overcome.

Gambian researchers discussing a scientific poster
© Sainey Cham

This article was first published on 12 March 2024 in Chemistry World