29 January 1891
1 January 1958
Edward Francis Small (29 January 1891 – January 1958) was a Gambian trade unionist and politician. The founder of the country’s first trade union, he was the first Gambian to be directly elected to the legislative council or to be appointed to the executive council, and is widely regarded as the father of Gambian politics.
A member of the Aku ethnic group, Small was born in Bathurst (now Banjul) in 1891. He finished his education at the Methodist Boys High School in Freetown in Sierra Leone, and in 1910 he began working at the school in Freetown, before returning to Bathurst to work as a teacher in 1915.
He joined the Methodist mission and was sent to Ballanghar to serve as an agent. However, around eighteen months later, following a fight with a local trader over bell ringing, Small was instead sent to Sukuta by PS Toys, chairman of the Gambia Wesleyan Methodist Church. He was later sacked by the church for openly criticising Toys. Alongside other Akus, Small founded the Gambia Native Defense Union (GNDU), which attacked the “blatant flaws in the administration of the central Government”. He attended a conference in Accra in the Gold Coast in 1920, delivering a speech on the right of West Africans to self-rule. The result of the conference was the formation of the National Congress of British West Africa, with Small setting up a Gambian branch upon his return.
During the 1920s he established a newspaper, the Gambia Outlook and Senegambian Reporter, and in 1929, founded the country’s first trade union, the Bathurst Trade Union, which in the same year organised the country’s first strike. He went on to establish the Rate Payers’ Association during the 1930s, which was the country’s first quasi-political party and dominated local politics in the city, winning all six seats open to African candidates in the 1936 elections.
Between 1941 and 1947 Small represented Bathurst Municipal Council in the country’s legislative council, first being appointed on 31 December 1941. In 1947 the country’s first election was held for a single seat on the council. Backed by his union, Small was victorious, beating I.M. Garba Jahumpa (who went on to found the Muslim Congress Party) and Sheikh Omar Faye, and was appointed to the country’s executive council on 11 December 1947. He was reappointed to the council again on 18 January 1951 and 12 June 1951.
He continued to be involved in politics until his death in January 1958. A monument to Small was established at a roundabout in the centre of Banjul.