Country, western Africa.
Area: 75,955 sq mi (196,722 sq km). Population (2007 est.):
12,522,000. Capital: Dakar. There are seven major ethnic groups in
Senegal—including the Wolof, Fulani, and Malinke, each speaking a
separate language—and a number of smaller groups. Language: French
(official). Religions: Islam; also traditional beliefs, Christianity.
Currency: CFA franc. The climate varies from dry desert to moist
tropics. Forests cover about one-third of the total area, and nearly
one-third is pasture or rangeland; much of the rest is arable.
Agriculture is the main industry; peanuts are the most important cash
and export crop. Other important industries are fishing, mining,
manufacturing, and tourism. Senegal has large reserves of phosphates and
iron ore. It is a republic with a bicameral legislature; its head of
state and government is the president, assisted by the prime minister.
Links between the peoples of Senegal and North Africa were established
in the early centuries ce. Islam was introduced in the 11th century,
although animism retained a hold on the country into the 19th century.
The Portuguese explored the coast about 1444, and in 1638 the French
established a trading post at the mouth of the Sénégal River. Throughout
the 17th and 18th centuries, Europeans exported slaves, ivory, and gold
from Senegal. The French gained control over the coast in the early 19th
century and moved inland, checking the expansion of the Tukulor empire;
in 1895 Senegal became part of French West Africa. Its inhabitants were
made French citizens in 1946, and it became an overseas territory of
France. It voted for a degree of autonomy in 1958, was federated with
Mali in 1959–60, and became an independent state in 1960. In 1982 it
entered a confederation with Gambia called Senegambia, which was
dissolved in 1989. Separatists fighting in the southern part of the
country since the early 1980s signed a peace accord with the government
Official name République du Sénégal (Republic of Senegal)
Form of government multiparty republic with two legislative houses
(Senate1 ; National Assembly )
Head of state and government President assisted by Prime Minister
Official language French
Official religion none
Monetary unit CFA franc (CFAF)
Population estimate (2008) 12,688,000
Total area (sq mi) 76,070
Total area (sq km) 197,021
1Originally created in 1999, abolished in 2001, and reinstated in August
2 Includes 65 appointees of president.
country of sub-Saharan West Africa. Located at the westernmost point
of the continent and served by multiple air and maritime travel routes,
Senegal is known as the “Gateway to Africa.” The country lies at an
ecological boundary where semiarid grassland, oceanfront, and tropical
rainforest converge; this diverse environment has endowed Senegal with a
wide variety of plant and animal life. It is from this rich natural
heritage that the country’s national symbols were chosen: the baobab
tree and the lion.
The region today known as Senegal was long a part of the ancient
Ghana and Djolof kingdoms and an important node on trans-Saharan caravan
routes. It was also an early point of European contact and was contested
by England, France, Portugal, and the Netherlands before ultimately
coming under French control in the late 19th century. It remained a
colony of France until 1960, when, under the leadership of the writer
and statesman Léopold Senghor, it gained its independence—first as part
of the short-lived Mali Federation and then as a wholly sovereign state.
Although Senegal traditionally has been dependent on peanuts
(groundnuts), the government has had some success with efforts to
diversify the country’s economy. Even so, the country suffered an
economic decline in the 20th century, owing in some measure to external
forces such as the fall in value of the African Financial Community
(Communauté Financière Africaine; CFA) franc and the high cost of debt
servicing, as well as to internal factors such as a rapidly growing
population and widespread unemployment.
Almost one-half of Senegal’s people are Wolof, members of a highly
stratified society whose traditional structure includes a hereditary
nobility and a class of musicians and storytellers called griots.
Contemporary Senegalese culture, especially its music and other arts,
draws largely on Wolof sources, but the influences of other Senegalese
groups (among them the Fulani, the Serer, the Diola, and the Malinke)
are also evident. Wolof predominate in matters of state and commerce as
well, and this dominance has fueled ethnic tension over time as
less-powerful groups vie for parity with the Wolof majority.
The most important city in Senegal is its capital, Dakar. This lively
and attractive metropolis, located on Cape Verde Peninsula along the
Atlantic shore, is a popular tourist destination. Although the
government announced plans to eventually move the capital inland, Dakar
will remain one of Africa’s most important harbours and an economic and
cultural centre for West Africa as a whole.
Senegal is home to several internationally renowned musicians and
artists. Other aspects of Senegalese culture have traveled into the
larger world as well, most notably Senghor’s espousal of Negritude—a
literary movement that flourished in the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s and that
emphasized African values and heritage. Through events such as the World
Festival of Negro Arts, first held in Senegal in 1966, and institutions
such as the Fundamental Institute of Black Africa (Institut Fondamental
d’Afrique Noire; IFAN) and the Gorée Island World Heritage site, Senegal
honours Senghor’s dictum "We must learn to absorb and influence others
more than they absorb or influence us."
Senegal is bounded to the north and northeast by the Sénégal
River, which separates it from Mauritania; to the east by Mali; to the
south by Guinea and Guinea-Bissau; and to the west by the Atlantic
Ocean. The Cape Verde (Cap Vert) Peninsula is the westernmost point of
the African continent. The Gambia consists of a narrow strip of
territory that extends from the coast eastward into Senegal along the
Gambia River and isolates the southern Senegalese area of Casamance.
Senegal is a flat country that lies in the depression known as the
Senegal-Mauritanian Basin. Elevations of more than about 330 feet (100
metres) are found only on the Cape Verde Peninsula and in the southeast
of the country. The country as a whole falls into three structural
divisions: the Cape Verde headland, which forms the western extremity
and consists of a grouping of small plateaus made of hard rock of
volcanic origin; the southeastern and the eastern parts of the country,
which consist of the fringes of ancient massifs (mountain masses)
contiguous with those buttressing the massif of Fouta Djallon on the
Guinea frontier and which include the highest point in the country,
reaching an elevation of 1,906 feet (581 metres) near Népen Diakha; and
a large but shallow landmass lying between Cape Verde to the west and
the edges of the massif to the east.
Washed by the Canary Current, the Atlantic coast of Senegal is sandy
and surf-beaten. Like the rest of the country, it is low except for the
Cape Verde Peninsula, which shelters Dakar, one of the finest ports in
Africa. The surf is less heavy on the coast south of the peninsula,
whereas the coast south of the Saloum River consists of rias (drowned
valleys) and is increasingly fringed with mangroves.
The country is drained by the Sénégal, Saloum, Gambia (Gambie), and
Casamance rivers, all of which are subjected to a monsoonal climatic
regime—i.e., a dry season and a rainy season. Of these rivers, the
Sénégal—which was long the main route to the interior—is the most
important. The river rises in the Fouta Djallon highlands of Guinea and,
after traversing the old massifs, rapidly drops downward before reaching
Senegalese territory. At Dagana it forms the so-called False Delta (or
Oualo), which supplies Lake Guier on the south (left) bank. At the head
of the delta is the town of Richard-Toll (the “Garden of Richard”),
named for a 19th-century French nursery gardener. The slope of the land
is so gentle on this stretch of the river that, at times of low water,
salty seawater flows about 125 miles (200 km) upstream. The island on
which the town of Saint-Louis stands, near the mouth of the river, is
situated about 300 yards (270 metres) from the sea in the False Delta;
the river’s true mouth lies 10 miles (16 km) to the south. In the
southern half of the country, estuaries are muddy and salty, with marshy
saline depressions known as tannes occurring occasionally.
Despite its apparent uniformity, Senegal contains a great diversity
of soils. These fall generally into two types—the valley soils and those
The soils of the Sénégal and Saloum river valleys in their middle
courses are alluvial and consist of sandy loams or clays. Near the river
mouths the soils are salty and favourable for grazing. Similar
conditions are associated with the Gambia and Casamance rivers, except
near their mouths the banks are muddy, whereas their upper courses have
sandy clay soils.
Many types of soils are found throughout the country. In the
northwest the soils are ochre-coloured and light, consisting of sands
combined with iron oxide. These soils, called Dior soils, constitute the
wealth of Senegal; the dunes they form are highly favourable to peanut
cultivation, whereas the soils between the dunes are suitable for other
food crops, such as sorghum. In the southwest the plateau soils are
sandy clays, frequently laterized (leached into red, residual,
iron-bearing soils). The centre and the south of the country are covered
by a layer of laterite hidden under a thin covering of sand that affords
only sparse grazing during the rainy season. In the Casamance area
heavily leached clay soils with a high iron-oxide content predominate,
suitable for cultivation regardless of their depth.
Senegal’s climate is conditioned by the tropical latitude of the
country and by the seasonal migration of the intertropical convergence
zone (ITCZ)—the line, or front, of low pressure at which hot, dry
continental air meets moist oceanic air and produces heavy rainfall. The
prevailing winds are also characterized by their origin: the dry winds
that originate in the continental interior and the moist maritime winds
that bring the rains.
The dry winds, sometimes called the dry monsoon, consist of the
northeast trade winds. In winter and spring, when they are strongest,
they are known as the harmattan. They bring no precipitation apart from
a very light rain, which the Wolof people of Senegal call the heug. The
moist rain-bearing winds blow primarily from the west and northwest.
Beginning in June with the northward passage of the ITCZ, these winds
usher in the summer monsoon. As the ITCZ returns southward beginning in
September, the rainy season draws to a close. The slow north-south
migration of the ITCZ results in a longer, heavier rainy season in the
southern part of the country.
From the combination of these factors, three principal climate zones
may be distinguished: coastal, Sahelian, and Sudanic. The coastal
(Canarian) zone occurs along a strip of Atlantic coastline about 10
miles (16 km) wide running from Saint-Louis to Dakar. Its winters are
cool, with minimum temperatures reaching about 63 °F (17 °C) in January;
maximum temperatures in May do not exceed 81 °F (27 °C). The rains begin
in June, reach their height in August, and cease in October. The average
annual rainfall is about 20 inches (500 mm).
The Sahelian climate occurs in an area bounded to the north by the
Sénégal River and to the south by a line running from Thiès (a town on
Cape Verde Peninsula) to Kayes in the neighbouring country of Mali. The
weather there in January is also cool, especially in the mornings before
sunrise, when the temperature drops to about 57 °F (14 °C); afternoon
temperatures, however, may top 95 °F (35 °C). In May minimum
temperatures are no lower than about 72 °F (22 °C), and maximums often
rise above 104 °F (40 °C). The dry season is quite distinct and lasts
from November to May. Certain places, such as Podor and Matam on the
border of Mauritania, are particularly noted for their dryness and heat.
Between July and October the rainfall averages about 14 inches (360 mm),
moderating the temperature somewhat, while maximum temperatures reach
about 95 °F (35 °C).
The Sudanic zone in the southern half of the country is generally
hot, humid, and uncomfortable. Annual precipitation varies from north to
south. In the Kaolack-Tambacounda vicinity, rainfall averages between 29
inches (740 mm) and 39 inches (990 mm), occurring on about 60 days
between June and October. Cultivation without irrigation is possible
here. Annual rainfall in the Gambian area frequently amounts to 50
inches (1,270 mm), resulting in the growth of a continuous belt of light
forest and patches of herbaceous undergrowth. In the southern Casamance
area it exceeds 50 inches, falling on 90 days of the year. The forest
there is dense, green, and continuous, without undergrowth, and oil
palms, mangroves, and rice fields are characteristic.
Plant and animal life
Plant life in Senegal varies among the climate zones and seasons.
The northern half of the country consists of a mix of shrub and tree
steppes and shrub and tree savannas. The herbaceous cover, green and
lush during the rainy season, all but disappears during the dry season.
When available, this cover is used for grazing by livestock. Thorn
bushes and baobab and acacia trees, including gum arabic trees, are
common to this area.
Savanna woodlands and dry woodlands are typical in the southern half
of Senegal; more than 80 woodland species are found in this area. Brisk
vegetation growth is generated by the first precipitation of the rainy
season. Annual bush fires contribute to maintaining open areas
throughout the region. Acacia and baobab trees are also found here, as
are mahogany trees. Much of the natural vegetation in the western area
of this region has been modified through the clearing of land for
In the extreme southwest area of Senegal, there are dense forests and
mangrove swamps. Mangrove trees, oil palms, teak trees, and silk cotton
trees are common here.
Although large mammals have disappeared from the western part of the
country, having been displaced by human settlement, such animals as
elephants, antelopes, lions, panthers, cheetahs, and jackals may still
be encountered in Niokolo Koba National Park in the eastern part of the
country. Herds of warthogs abound in the marshes, especially those of
the False Delta. Hares are ubiquitous, and monkeys of all types
congregate in noisy bands, above all in the upper Gambia and upper
Casamance river valleys. Among the great numbers of birds, the quelea,
or “millet eater,” which destroys crops, is notable, as are the
partridge and the guinea fowl. Reptiles are numerous and include
pythons, as well as cobras and other venomous snakes. Crocodiles,
hippopotamuses, and turtles are found in the rivers. The rivers and the
coastal waters are rich in fish and crustaceans. Djoudj National Bird
Sanctuary, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1981, contains
more than a million birds, including the African spoonbill, the purple
heron, the white pelican, and the cormorant. Niokolo Koba National Park
was also named a World Heritage site in 1981. Lower Casamance National
Park, located in the southwestern portion of the country, is home to
hippopotamuses, leopards, crocodiles, and water buffalo.
The Wolof comprise almost one-half of the total population, and
their language is the most widely used in the republic. Under the
traditional Wolof social structure, similar to those of other groups in
the region, people were divided into the categories of freeborn
(including nobles, clerics, and peasants), caste (including artisans,
griots, and blacksmiths), and slaves. The Serer, numbering slightly more
than one-tenth of the population, are closely related to the Wolof. The
Fulani and the Tukulor combined make up about one-fifth of the
population. The Tukulor are often hard to distinguish from the Wolof and
the Fulani, for they have often intermarried with both. The Diola and
the Malinke constitute a small portion of the population. Other small
groups consist of such peoples as the Soninke, rulers of the ancient
state of Ghana; the Mauri, who live primarily in the north of the
country; the Lebu of Cape Verde, who are fishermen and often wealthy
landowners; and the Basari, an ancient people who are found in the rocky
highlands of Fouta Djallon.
Some 39 languages are spoken in Senegal, including French (the
official language) and Arabic. Linguists divide the African languages
spoken there into two families: Atlantic and Mande. The Atlantic family,
generally found in the western half of the country, contains the
languages most widely spoken in Senegal—Wolof, Serer, Fula, and Diola.
Mande languages are found in the eastern half and include Bambara,
Malinke, and Soninke.
Islam is the religion of the vast majority of the population,
practiced through involvement in groups known as Muslim brotherhoods. In
Senegal the three primary brotherhoods are the Qadiri (Qadiriyyah), the
Tijani (Tijāniyyah), and the Mourides (Murid, Murīdiyyah). Spiritual
leaders known as marabouts figure prominently in Muslim brotherhoods and
are important in maintaining the social status quo. Touba, Senegal’s
most sacred city, is the birthplace of Amadou Bamba M’backe, the founder
of the Mourides brotherhood. A small segment of the population follows
traditional religions. The Diola have a priestly class that directs
ancestor veneration. Christianity is practiced by a growing but still
very small population. Christianity came to the region beginning in
1486, and the contact was renewed with the arrival in 1819 of nuns of
the order of St. Joseph of Cluny. Most followers are Roman Catholic, and
the small number of Protestants are largely immigrants from Europe.
Traditional geographic areas
Senegal is divided into five geographic areas, which are inhabited
by various ethnic groups. Ferlo, the north-central area of Senegal, is
distinguished by its semidesert environment and by its poor soils.
Vegetation appears only in the south, the north consisting of the
Sahelian type of savanna parkland (an intermediate zone between the
Sahara and the savanna proper); it affords light grazing for the flocks
tended by nomadic Fulani pastoralists.
Fouta is centred on the Sénégal River and extends approximately from
Bakel in the east to Dagana in the north. It consists of a strip of
territory that is relatively densely inhabited. Watered by the river and
its tributaries in the dry season, this area is conducive to highly
developed agricultural and pastoral use of the soils and vegetation.
Fulani also inhabit this area, although Wolof occupy the False Delta,
where they cultivate millet and raise livestock with the help of Fulani
The diverse area situated between Ferlo and the Atlantic and
extending from the False Delta in the north to Cape Verde Peninsula in
the south was once home to the historical Wolof states of Dianbour,
Cayor, Djolof, and Baol. Here the soils are sandy and the winters cool;
peanuts are the primary crop. The population is as diverse as the area
itself and includes Wolof in the north, Serer in the Thiès region, and
Lebu on Cape Verde.
The Sudan area is bounded by Cape Verde to the northwest, Ferlo to
the north, and the lower Casamance valley to the southwest. It is
composed of the following parts—the “Little Coast,” Sine-Saloum, Rip,
Yassine, Niani, Boundou, Fouladou, and the valleys of the Gambia and
upper Casamance rivers. In general, the area benefits from ample
rainfall, which becomes abundant toward the south. It is suitable for
agriculture and, as a result, is relatively densely populated. The area
as a whole is inhabited by a diverse population composed of all the
ethnic groups living in Senegal; the majority, however, are Malinke.
The lower Casamance area is covered by dense vegetation of the
Guinean type. The predominant ethnic groups are the Diola and the
The majority of Senegalese live in the countryside, although people
continue to migrate to the towns, especially the capital city, Dakar.
Many of those migrating to urban environments still consider themselves
farmers who go there to do odd jobs to make money to send to their
families. There are numerous villages, each with an average population
of a few hundred people. Usually each village has a shaded public
gathering place, a mosque, and a water source (a well, a spring, or a
small stream). The village is administered by a chief who is either
traditionally nominated or appointed by the government. Religious life
is directed by a Muslim marabout or other traditional religious leader.
The villages differ on the basis of the ethnic characteristics of the
inhabitants, but all are directed by traditional leaders of some form.
The towns of Saint-Louis (founded in 1659) and Dakar (1857) are the
oldest in Senegal. Saint-Louis, originally the capital of French West
Africa and noted for its colonial heritage, was designated a UNESCO
World Heritage site in 2000. Dakar replaced Saint-Louis as the capital
of French West Africa in 1902. Other towns, founded more recently and of
colonial origin, typically developed as collection points for the peanut
trade and later evolved into urban centres. These towns were often stops
along the railroad lines, as at Thiès, Tivaouane, Mékhé, and Louga
(between Dakar and Saint-Louis) or at Khombole, Bambey, Diourbel,
Gossas, Kaffrine, and Koungheul (between Thiès and Kayes, Mali). Certain
ports also became towns; among these are Kaolack, Foundiougne, and
Fatick (on the Sine-Saloum rivers) and Ziguinchor, Sédhiou, and Kolda
(on the Casamance River). Many of these towns have remained rural in
character. Furthermore, every town—including Saint-Louis, Rufisque, and
Gorée, which had great importance in the past—is today dependent upon
the Dakar metropolis, where some one-fifth of all Senegalese live.
The population of Senegal has been growing at a rate that is higher
than the world average but is comparable to other countries in the
region. Life expectancy figures for Senegal, averaging about 56 years
for both men and women, are among the highest in sub-Saharan Africa. The
population is heavily weighted toward the young, as are most African
populations, with more than two-fifths under 15 years of age. Population
densities throughout Senegal are not great. There has been a major
increase in permanent urban settlement, which is approaching half of the
population. Urban unemployment and underemployment are high, however.
The Senegalese economy has traditionally revolved around a single
cash crop, the peanut. The government, however, has worked to diversify
both cash crops and subsistence agriculture by expanding into
commodities such as cotton, garden produce, and sugarcane as well as by
promoting nonagricultural sectors. The government was successful in
making fishing, phosphates, and tourism major sources of foreign
exchange at the beginning of the 21st century, although the condition of
the transportation and power infrastructure placed limits on the amount
of expansion possible. Exploitation of mineral resources such as gold,
petroleum, and natural gas also diversified the economy.
Before Senegal’s independence from France in 1960, the economy was
largely in the hands of the private sector. Since economic activity
depended primarily on the peanut trade, the large French companies that
marketed the crop also controlled the importation of European
manufactured goods. After independence the Senegalese government created
a state agency responsible for virtually all aspects of the peanut
trade. Although the private sector remained important, the state
dominated the economy. The government also created an investment code,
which consisted of various guarantees and long-term tax concessions and
attracted capital investment from many quarters.
The intervention of the state occurred during the colonial era but
became more prevalent after independence with the creation of the
National Organization of the Rural Sector. The organization, the
backbone of President Léopold Senghor’s policy of African socialism,
bought and sold peanuts, rice, and millet and also sold fertilizer,
seed, tools, and equipment.
Under Abdou Diouf, president of Senegal from 1981 to 2000, the
government began to move away from state intervention in the economy and
to encourage the reintroduction of private initiatives. Privatization
was pursued in agricultural marketing, some industries, and some public
utilities, including telecommunications (Sonatel), textiles (Sotexka),
electric utilities (Senelec), and peanut processing (Sonacos). The
policy was encouraged and supported by the International Monetary Fund
and the World Bank and was continued by Abdoulaye Wade when he became
president in 2000. However, the large number of unionized workers and
the problems associated with finding suitable buyers for large
enterprises prevented complete implementation of the plan.
Since the late 1970s a population explosion, uncontrolled migration
to the city, and declining prices for primary materials have depressed
the economy. Only substantial foreign aid has prevented a decline in the
standard of living. Foreign assistance has also allowed the government
to revitalize its deteriorating transportation infrastructure.
Agriculture, forestry, and fishing
Agriculture occupies about two-thirds of the economically active
population and provides the basis for industry as well. The most
important crop has been the peanut, but, beginning in the 1980s,
agriculture has been diversified. Extensive acreage is devoted to
millet, sorghum, and plants from the Pennisetum genus of Old World
grasses, grown for fodder. Rice is cultivated both in naturally wet
areas and by irrigation, although its large-scale cultivation is
restricted to the lower Casamance valley and the lower Sénégal River
valley below Richard-Toll. In addition, corn (maize), cassava (manioc),
beans, and sweet potatoes are grown in significant quantities. Periodic
drought at the end of the 20th century limited agricultural production,
but the Manantali dam in Mali has alleviated some of this problem by
providing water for large areas of newly irrigated land. New
drought-resistant strains of plants have also been developed.
The climate and the savanna type of vegetation encourage the raising
of livestock—including cattle, goats, sheep, horses, donkeys, camels,
and pigs—which is carried on in almost all geographic regions but is
especially characteristic of the north. Stock raising is not a major
source of income for the farmer, however; the meat is consumed locally,
and only the hides and skins are exported.
Senegal is well-forested, particularly in the south, and the country
has conservation and reforestation programs in place. Sawn timber is
produced for domestic consumption, and wood, particularly in the form of
charcoal, is an important source of fuel in the country. Baobab trees
provide fuel, and the fruit from the tree is also useful. Gum arabic,
which is obtained from acacia trees, has been traded for centuries but
is now of limited commercial value.
Although many fish are obtained from the rivers, the greater part of
the catch is obtained from the sea. Fishing products now lead all
exports in terms of value, the result of many years of building up the
industry. The waters off Senegal—particularly those at some distance
from the shore—have an abundance of economically significant fish.
Senegal’s coastal waters are also known for their large variety of fish,
unlike most other African countries on the Atlantic seaboard. However,
overfishing by foreign fisheries threatens this very lucrative source of
Resources and power
Senegal’s known mineral deposits consist primarily of phosphates of
lime, located at Taïba, near Tivaouane, about 60 miles (100 km)
northeast of Dakar, and aluminum phosphates at Palo, near Thiès. Some
mineral reserves include petroleum deposits discovered off the Casamance
coast, high-grade iron-ore reserves located in the upper Falémé River
valley, gold reserves in the southeastern part of the country at
Sabodala, and natural gas reserves located both onshore and offshore.
The saltworks of Kaolack have considerable production potential.
Electric energy is produced and distributed by the Senegalese
Electric Company (Société Sénégalaise d’Électricité [Senelec]). Before
the 1980s all energy produced in Senegal was generated by thermal
plants. Cheaper hydroelectric energy became available with the
construction of hydroelectric projects on the Sénégal River undertaken
with Mauritania and Mali, with dams at Diama in Senegal (completed in
1985) and Manantali in Mali (completed in 1988).
Industrial production in Senegal is more developed than in most
Western African countries. Both food-processing and handicraft
industries are well established. Most of the former is located in the
Cape Verde area, where many plants produce peanut oil. In good years
Senegal is the leading producer of peanut oil in French-speaking
sub-Saharan Africa. However, the world market for this product is
decreasing, and the government’s push for the greater privatization of
markets has led to peanut cooperatives’ selling directly to local oil
producers. Developments in the chemicals industry, metalworking,
mineral, and truck and bicycle assembly plants are aimed at processing
the country’s own raw materials and reducing reliance on imports.
Senegal has fish canneries, a shoe factory, and a cement-manufacturing
plant, the last two located in Rufisque. Other industrial
establishments, all of which are located in Dakar, include flour mills,
a textile plant, a sugar refinery, a tobacco factory, and a brewery, in
addition to a naval shipyard, chemical plants, and an automobile
assembly plant. Traditional handicrafts, such as wood carvings, glass
paintings, jewelry, painted fabrics, drums, and masks, are produced
mainly in Dakar and Saint-Louis, home to the most-skilled artisans.
Finance and trade
Senegal’s currency is the CFA franc, which has been officially
pegged to the euro since 2002. Currency is issued by the Central Bank of
West African States, an agency of the West African Economic and Monetary
Union, consisting of eight countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte
d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Togo) that were once
French colonies in Africa. Other state and private banks exist,
including Islamic ones. A stock exchange based in Abidjan, Côte
d’Ivoire, also services Senegal.
The value of imports is usually greater than that of exports, and
Senegal generally has a significant balance-of-trade deficit. The
principal imports are agricultural products, capital goods, and
petroleum products, and exports include seafood, refined petroleum,
chemical products, peanut oil, and phosphates. France is the primary
Tourism, one of the country’s primary sources of foreign exchange,
has made Senegal one of the most visited countries in West Africa.
Although most of the tourists are Europeans, the government has tried to
attract others, especially Americans. Gorée Island, site of a former
slave warehouse, is a popular attraction, as are Senegal’s national
parks. Dakar is an important international conference centre. Tourism
declined in 1993 because of instability in the Casamance area but had
recovered by the mid-1990s. At the beginning of the 21st century, the
country was accommodating about a half million tourists per year.
Labour and taxation
The majority of Senegal’s labour force are agricultural workers,
although a sizable minority work as traders. The constitution guarantees
workers the right to unionize, but the union can legally exist only
after registering with the Ministry of the Interior. The constitution
grants all people the right to work; however, until 1989 husbands were
allowed to prevent their wives from working outside the home. Women, who
represented some four-tenths of the labour force at the beginning of the
21st century, were employed mainly in the agricultural sector, although
they were well represented in small trade. Women merchants often join
the African Network for the Promotion of Working Women (Réseau Africain
pour la Promotion de la Femme Travailleuse; RAFET), an organization that
provides employment training and support to women.
Most governmental revenue is obtained indirectly from local taxes on
alcohol, gasoline, tobacco, firearms, automobiles, and commerce. Land,
professional licenses, profits, and income are directly taxed.
Transportation and telecommunications
The transport network has developed primarily in the western part of
the country within the area bounded by Saint-Louis, Kaolack, and Dakar.
About half of Senegal’s extensive road network is passable year-round.
The rail system, which is being rehabilitated and expanded, includes
a line from Saint-Louis to Dakar, with a branch line running from Louga
inland to Linguère, and a line from Dakar to the Niger River at
Koulikoro, Mali. Locomotives are run entirely on diesel fuel. Phosphates
represent the great bulk of freight carried by rail.
Senegal’s three seaports are Kaolack, Ziguinchor, and Dakar. Only
Dakar is an international port; the others are limited to handling local
traffic. Dakar is one of the busiest ports in Western Africa and
accommodates ships up to 100,000 tons along 6 miles (10 km) of quay. The
quays provide refrigerated facilities that serve 1,000 fishing boats
The international airport of Dakar-Yoff near Dakar is served by a
number of airlines, including Air Sénégal. Its three runways can
accommodate any kind of aircraft. Airports at Saint-Louis and several
other cities provide domestic service.
Historically, Senegal’s rivers, especially the Sénégal, were
important transportation arteries, despite limited navigability.
However, their significance has diminished since the end of the 19th
century, with the construction of rail lines. Navigation of the Sénégal
was facilitated by the completion of the Diama and Manantali dams in the
late 20th century. Activity on the Saloum River centres on peanut
shipping from Kaolack, and traffic on the Casamance is to and from the
port of Ziguinchor.
Senegal has a strong, reliable telephone system, especially in urban
areas. Sonatel, the national telecommunications company, provides
telephone service. Senegal became wired for Internet use in 1996,
providing the opportunity for many technology-based services to develop
in the country. Internet and mobile phone services are provided by a
small number of private companies, as well as Sonatel. Both services are
growing in popularity in Senegal.
Government and society
The first constitution of Senegal was promulgated in 1963 and
revised through March 1998. A new constitution, approved by voters in
January 2001, proclaims fundamental human rights; respect for individual
and collective property rights; political, trade-union, and religious
freedoms; and a democratic and secular state.
The constitution provides for a strongly centralized presidential
regime elected by direct universal adult suffrage. The president, who
can be elected to two five-year terms (changed in 2008 to two seven-year
terms, scheduled to take effect in 2012), appoints the prime minister.
Ministers are appointed by the prime minister in consultation with the
president. The legislature is bicameral, consisting of the National
Assembly and the Senate (reinstated in 2007 after six years of
dormancy). Three-fourths of the National Assembly is directly elected;
the remaining one-fourth is indirectly elected. About one-third of the
Senate is indirectly elected, but the majority is appointed by the
president. All legislators serve five-year terms. Judicial, executive,
and legislative powers are separated.
Local government and justice
Senegal is divided into 11 régions, which in turn are divided into
départements and arrondissements. Each région is administered by a
governor whose role is coordinative and who is assisted by two deputy
governors, one dealing with administration and the other with
development. Regional assemblies, the powers of which were increased in
1996, are composed of general councillors responsible for local
taxation. In each département the prefect represents the republic, as do
the ministers. There are also autonomous urban communes. Dakar is
governed by an elected municipal council.
Judicial power in Senegal is exercised by the Constitutional Council,
the Council of State, the Court of Cassation, the Court of Accounts, and
the Courts and Tribunals. Senegal also has a High Court of Justice,
whose members are elected by the National Assembly. The High Court tries
government officials for crimes committed while in performance of their
The Senegalese played a pioneering role in the development of a
modern political system in the territories of French West Africa. At
first, political life was of concern only to an elite consisting of
intellectuals, traditional chiefs, and the inhabitants of the four
communes—Saint-Louis, Dakar, Rufisque, and Gorée—who had been French
citizens since 1916. After World War II universal suffrage was
introduced in stages, and the electorate increased from 890,000 voters
in 1958 to 3,164,827 in 1998. Senegalese citizens now participate in the
elections of the president, members of the National Assembly, and
regional and municipal councillors.
Unlike most African states, which tend to pivot on a single political
party, Senegal has a solidly entrenched multiparty system that is
guaranteed by constitutional provision. Elections are contested by
several parties representing a wide range of political views. In spite
of this diversity, party politics since national independence was long
dominated by the Socialist Party (until 1976 the Senegalese Progressive
Union). Not until the 21st century did another party, the Senegalese
Democratic Party, become dominant: party leader Abdoulaye Wade won the
2000 presidential elections, and the party won the majority of seats in
legislative elections held the following year.
In addition to political party and trade union activities, other
institutions also permit participation in the political process. These
include societies for mutual assistance, which are organized at the
regional as well as the village level, youth associations, and religious
groupings, which are most influential. Muslims, particularly Sunnis, are
aware of their political power and have even called for the
establishment of an Islamic state. The government remains committed to a
Mame Madior Boye became Senegal’s first female prime minister in
2001. There were several other women ministers in the government, and
women accounted for almost one-fifth of members in the National
Assembly. In 2007 women held two-fifths of the seats in the newly
Senegal has a small military force consisting of army, navy, and air
force contingents. Conscription is practiced, and conscripted recruits
enter the military for two years. Senegalese troops have been involved
in various United Nations-sponsored missions as well as peacekeeping
functions sponsored by the Economic Community of West African States
(ECOWAS). The French also station some military troops in the country.
Health and welfare
Although Senegal has a considerable range of medical facilities,
most of them are concentrated in Dakar and are thus insufficient for the
country’s health needs. They include hospitals, clinics, maternity
homes, and various services specializing in diseases such as
tuberculosis, syphilis, and leprosy. The Senegalese Red Cross, the
Research Institute for Development, and the World Health Organization
are also active. Most of the population, however, continues to utilize
traditional African and Islamic forms of healing because they are more
accessible and affordable.
Malaria is the leading cause of death by infectious disease in
Senegal. There also has been a resurgence in tuberculosis, part of a
worldwide trend, but polio, once a significant menace, has been nearly
eliminated. In 1999 government legislation banned female genital cutting
(also referred to as female genital mutilation or female circumcision).
Cases of AIDS have been reported in Senegal, but the overall infection
rate is not high compared with those of other sub-Saharan countries.
This is due in large measure to a conscious effort on the part of the
Senegalese government to educate its population about the disease when
it began spreading throughout Africa. Pioneering work on the virus,
particularly the strain most prevalent in West Africa, HIV-2, has been
done at Senegalese universities by researchers such as Souleymane Mboup.
The standard of living in the countryside is low compared with that
of the cities. Many people aspire to live in Dakar, but once they arrive
there, they find a great disparity between exclusive wealthy
neighbourhoods and sprawling shantytowns that are growing at an
increasing rate. Power outages are common, as are crimes of property.
In rural areas dwellings are usually well constructed and roofed
with straw, with walls made of either earth or straw. In more-prosperous
villages roofs may be made of corrugated iron; the walls may be made of
cement brick. Houses in towns are constructed of cement and have roofs
either of tile or of corrugated iron; typically, many families are
crowded together in these dwellings. Migration from the countryside has
expanded the population of urban areas and resulted in the proliferation
Wolof villages, which are small, contain about a hundred households.
Because the topography provides no natural obstacles, each village may
easily be moved from place to place. The houses are built of locally
obtained materials. Harvests are kept in straw granaries, located far
from the housing compounds for fear of fire. In the area around the
Saloum River, each Wolof village is surrounded by three concentric zones
of vegetation. The first of these—the inner zone—consists of fields and
vegetable gardens. The second circle consists of land that has been
exhausted, except for peanut cultivation. The third, the farthest from
the village, is where cereal crops are cultivated.
The typical Malinke village has between 200 and 300 inhabitants
living in enclosed compounds and crowded together in geometrically
aligned rectangular huts. Agriculture and stock raising are the
principal economic activities. Each village is usually headed by a chief
or a Muslim marabout, who, like most traditional leaders, is
conservative in outlook.
Unlike Wolof and Malinke villages, Serer family compounds are more
dispersed, and each one is autonomous. On the islands at the mouth of
the Saloum River, each Nyiominka Serer compound contains solidly built
houses and a granary.
Diola villages contain 5,000 or more people. Like those of the Serer,
the compounds are not grouped in any distinguishable hierarchy. These
villages are characteristically built on the edge of a plateau or on
ground overlooking the rice fields, which are associated with Diola
life. Their houses are the best-built and most-permanent village
dwellings in Senegal. On occasion they constitute veritable
fortifications, as in Thionck-Essil and Oussouye. The villages near
Essil also can be quite sophisticated, with many of them equipped with
rainwater-catchment systems. Diola and Serer villages have no chiefs
with authority or prestige comparable to those of Wolof or Malinke
Western education has existed in Senegal since the 19th century; its
first goal was to train the Senegalese in French culture and to help
with colonial administration. Since independence Senegal has made
particular efforts to increase school enrollment in rural areas,
although with limited success; the literacy rate remains one of the
lowest in the world. Among the secondary schools, the Faidherbe Lycée at
Saint-Louis and the Van Vollenhoven Lycée at Dakar are the oldest and
most renowned. Technical education is expanding and is provided by
institutions in Dakar, Saint-Louis, Diourbel, Kaolack, and Louga.
Higher education developed from the School of Medicine of Dakar
(1918). It achieved full status as a university in the French system in
1957 and became known as the University of Dakar. The name was changed
in 1987 to University Cheikh Anta Diop to honour a Senegalese scholar
and politician. Following disturbances in 1968, Senegal concluded an
agreement with France that emphasized a more African-based curriculum.
The College of Sciences and Veterinary Medicine for French-speaking
Africa is also located in Dakar, and a polytechnic college opened at
Thiès in 1973. The University of Saint-Louis, founded in 1990, was
renamed University Gaston-Berger in 1996 for a Senegalese philosopher
who was born in Saint-Louis. Approximately one-fifth of the students
attending these schools are foreign, mostly from the French-speaking
countries of Guinea, Mali, and Burkina Faso.
Daily life and social customs
Collectivism is central to traditional Senegalese culture, which
remains very much alive. Although written forms of languages spoken in
Senegal have existed for some time, the country’s cultural heritage is
preserved through oral tradition, mainly by the oldest men of the
community, who are at the summit of Senegal’s hierarchical society.
Rites and initiations are actively practiced in rural areas—for example,
by the Basari of Kédougou. Among Muslims, youths must be circumcised
before being accorded the responsibilities of manhood. Even though the
constitution prohibits discrimination by sex, traditional religious
beliefs in many parts of the country prohibit women from inheriting
land, and society generally recognizes men as the heads of the
A wide variety of foods are available in Senegal. Millet, couscous,
and rice form the basis of many meals; peanuts and fresh seafood are
common sources of protein; and chiles and palm oil are used for
flavouring. Common dishes include thiéboudienne, rice served with a fish
and vegetable sauce; yassa au poulet or yassa au poisson, grilled
chicken or fish in an onion and lemon sauce; and mafé, a peanut-based
stew. Meals are generally eaten communally from a single serving dish,
as they are in many parts of West Africa, and a code of conduct called
fayda ensures proper sharing. Senegalese beer is produced primarily by
breweries in Dakar.
Independence Day is celebrated on April 4th. The country also
celebrates various Christian and Islamic holidays.
Art, sculpture, music, and dance remain typically Senegalese in
expression. Sculpture is characterized by abstraction and by the
ideogram, through which the artist de-emphasizes the material aspect to
give free rein to ideas and feelings; a sculptured gazelle, for example,
may be represented solely by its horns and its neck, or an elephant may
be depicted only by the immense fan formed by its ears and its trunk.
Similarly, because traditional Senegalese music is not written down, the
imagination of the musician is critical. This is especially true for
griots. Once court artists, they are today a predominantly hereditary
caste of traditional West African troubadour-historians who perform a
variety of social and cultural functions—from genealogy and praise
singing to acting as key celebrants of village ceremonies. Accompanying
themselves, usually with a kora (a long-necked, multistringed
instrument), griots recite poems or tell stories, often of warrior
deeds, that contain a core of ideas around which they may improvise.
Dance also owes much to improvisation, though professional troupes such
as the Ballet National du Senegal, founded by Léopold Senghor in 1960,
have created highly choreographed presentations that draw on many ethnic
Contemporary Senegalese music combines traditional styles,
instruments, and rhythms with those of Western music. One of the first
bands to blend these musical styles was the Star Band, established by
Ibra Kassé in the early 1960s. Orchestra Baobab, founded in 1970, fuses
Latin American elements—especially Cuban—with African languages and
rhythms. Youssou N’Dour, one of Africa’s most famous recording artists,
achieved worldwide fame with his bands Étoile de Dakar and Super Étoile
de Dakar. He is known for blending traditional mbalax (a type of
drumming) and more-modern elements of such Western styles of music as
rock and pop. Another internationally known recording artist is Baaba
Maal, a Fulani musician who often uses traditional African instruments
but also draws from several styles of Western music, notably pop and
Senegalese literature is personified by Senghor, the former president
who in 1983 became the first person from sub-Saharan Africa to be
elected to the Académie Franƈaise. A poet and philosopher as well as a
politician, he was associated with Negritude, a literary movement that
celebrated the traditional culture of sub-Saharan Africa. In addition to
Senghor, its practitioners include Ousmane Socé, David Diop, Sheikh
Hamidou Kane, and Abdoulaye Sadji, all of whom are known for works that
imaginatively reflect the flavour of Senegalese life. Mariama Bâ, one of
Senegal’s few women writers, is known for her novel Une si longue lettre
(1980; So Long a Letter). Another noted Senegalese author, Ousmane
Sembène, wrote the classic Les Bouts de bois de Dieu (1960; God’s Bits
of Wood), a fictional account of a strike of African railroad workers
that occurred in the late 1940s.
About the time of that book’s publication, Sembène, eager to reach a
larger, nonliterate Senegalese audience, began making motion pictures,
first in French and then in his native Wolof language. His films include
La Noire de... (1966; Black Girl), depicting the virtual enslavement of
a Senegalese servant by a French family; Ceddo (1977; Outsiders),
portraying the clash between traditional African and Islamist beliefs;
Guelwaar (1992), a political thriller that examines Christian-Muslim
conflict; and Moolaadé (2004; Protection), about the controversial
practice of female genital cutting (also referred to as female genital
mutilation or female circumcision). Other prominent Senegalese
filmmakers include Djibril Diop Mambéty, Abacabar Samb-Makharam, and
Safi Faye, the first sub-Saharan African woman to direct a feature film,
Kaddu beykat (1975; Letters from My Village).
After the first World Festival of Negro Arts was organized at Dakar
in 1966, a number of existing institutions were reoriented toward
African traditions, and others were created, such as the Dynamique
Museum, the Daniel Sorano Theatre, and the Tapestry Factory of Thiès.
The craft village of Soumbédioune in Dakar has become a popular
marketplace and a centre for Senegalese artisans. The Fundamental
Institute of Black Africa (Institut Fondamental d’Afrique Noire; IFAN)
Museum in Dakar explores the anthropology of Africa and has a collection
of African art, while the IFAN Museum in Saint-Louis focuses on the
history of the Senegambian region. Gorée Island, with its remnants of
the Atlantic slave trade, is a popular tourist attraction and was
designated a World Heritage site in 1978.
Sports and recreation
Senegal has one of the most active national sports scenes in West
Africa. Dakar has hosted the All Africa Games and several Africa Cup
football (soccer) championships. A national holiday was declared after
Senegal beat France in first-round play at the 2002 football World Cup,
in Senegal’s first appearance in the competition. The country has
national men’s and women’s football and basketball teams that rank among
the best in Africa. Traditional African wrestling is also extremely
popular throughout the country, and Senegalese wrestlers are among the
best-known national sports figures. They wrestle in a sandy arena and
attempt to win by making their opponent’s knees, shoulder, or back touch
the sand. Matches are festive and lively occasions, with music, dancing,
and praise singing for the athletes; the actual wrestling bouts,
however, are often over within a few seconds.
Media and publishing
Senegal was the first of the former French West African territories
to have a press. Daily newspapers include Le Soleil and several others.
Radio Sénégal broadcasts are in French and English and in several
African languages; the French-language station Africa No. 1, from Gabon,
and Radio France Internationale are also available. Television is
prevalent, with stations broadcasting in Arabic, French, and English as
well as Wolof and other African languages. Phone booths and phone stores
with fax machines can be found in rural and urban areas. Internet
services are also available, and some Senegalese newspapers and
magazines are published online.
This discussion focuses on the history of Senegal since European
contact. For a more complete treatment of the country in its regional
context, see western Africa, history of.
Senegal has been inhabited since ancient times. Paleolithic and
Neolithic axes and arrows have been found near Dakar, and stone circles,
as well as copper and iron objects, have been found in central Senegal.
The stone circles, thought to date from the 3rd century bc to the 16th
century ad, were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2006.
The Fulani and Tukulor occupied the lower Sénégal River valley in the
11th century. The name Senegal appears to be derived from that of the
Zenaga Berbers of Mauritania and northern Senegal. About 1040, Zenaga
Berbers established a Muslim ribāṭ (fortified religious retreat),
perhaps on an island in the river; this became the base for the
Almoravids, who converted the Tukulor, conquered Morocco, and crossed
into Spain. The Almoravid attacks on the Soninke empire of Ghana
contributed to the empire’s eventual decline. Between 1150 and 1350 the
legendary leader Njajan Njay founded the Jolof kingdom, which in the
16th century split into the competing Wolof states of Walo, Kajor, Baol,
Sine, and Salum. Islamic influence spread throughout the region in
variable strength; it gained new impetus in the late 17th century, and
after 1776 Tukulor Muslims established a theocratic confederacy in
Portuguese navigators reached Cape Verde about 1444; they established
trading factories at the mouth of the Sénégal, on Gorée Island, at
Rufisque, and along the coast to the south. In the 17th century their
power was superseded by that of the Dutch and then the French.
The French period
A French factory at the mouth of the Sénégal River was rebuilt in
1659 at N’Dar, an island in the river that became the town of
Saint-Louis, and in 1677 France took over Gorée from the Dutch. These
two communities became bases for French trading companies that bought
slaves, gold, and gum arabic in the region and became homes for free
Christian Africans and Eurafricans.
After two periods of British occupation, Saint-Louis and Gorée were
returned to France in 1816. When attempts to grow cotton near
Saint-Louis proved unprofitable, trade for gum in the Sénégal valley was
substituted. In 1848 the marginal colonial economy was further disrupted
when the Second Republic outlawed slavery on French soil.
In 1854 Napoleon III granted the request of local merchants for a
greater French military presence and appointed Commandant
Louis-Léon-César Faidherbe governor. At the same time, al-Ḥājj ʿUmar
Tal, a Tukulor, conquered the Bambara kingdom of Kaarta as well as the
states of Segu and Macina, but he was unable to control his home
territory of Fouta because the French occupied the land. A military
stalemate after 1857 led to a truce of coexistence between the two
powers, although the French exploited the internal conflicts in the
region after ʿUmar Tal’s death in 1864. When Faidherbe retired in 1865,
French power was paramount over most of the territory of modern Senegal,
with peanut cultivation and export reaping great economic benefits for
In 1879 the French government approved a large program of railway
construction (built 1882–86). One line linked Saint-Louis with Dakar
through the main peanut area in Kajor. Another rail line, the
Dakar-Niger line, was not completed until 1923 and facilitated access to
the territory formerly controlled by ʿUmar Tal. Meanwhile, France was
consolidating direct control over the rest of Senegal and its other
African colonies. In 1895 Jean-Baptiste Chaudié became first
governor-general of French West Africa, and in 1902 its capital moved
from Saint-Louis to Dakar.
Before this new autocratic empire established its rigid
administrative control over such traditional chiefs as it still
tolerated, the Third Republic had recognized the inhabitants of
Saint-Louis, Gorée, Dakar, and Rufisque, regardless of ethnicity, as
French citizens. In 1914 the African electors succeeded in sending
Blaise Diagne, an African former colonial official, as their deputy to
the National Assembly in Paris. In return for assistance in recruiting
African soldiers in World War I (some 200,000 in all from French West
Africa), Diagne obtained confirmation of full French citizenship rights
for this urban minority, even if they chose to retain their status under
Muslim law. These privileges were lost between 1940 and 1942, when
French West Africa passed under control of the wartime Vichy government,
but were restored under the Fourth Republic (1947–58).
Two socialist deputies elected in 1946, Lamine Guèye and Léopold
Senghor, at first concentrated on restoring the original French
citizenship rights and then extending them to the whole Senegalese
population. But political life was increasingly influenced by
nationalist movements elsewhere in Africa and Asia, as well as by strong
internal tensions, notably those revealed by a sustained railway strike
in 1947–48. Senghor, a poet and philosopher who sought some synthesis
between an authentic African identity and French civilization, built a
strong political position on partnership with the leaders of the
Mourides (Murīdiyyah) and other socially conservative Muslim orders, but
he was increasingly driven toward claiming political independence. In
1958 the Senegalese electorate accepted his advice to vote in favour of
membership in Charles de Gaulle’s proposed French Community, but two
years later Senegal claimed and received independence (initially within
the short-lived Mali Federation).
As president, Senghor maintained collaboration internally with
Muslim religious leaders and externally with France, which continued to
provide economic, technical, and military support. The economy, however,
remained vulnerable both to fluctuations in world prices for peanuts and
phosphates and to the Sahelian droughts, and the government found it
increasingly difficult to satisfy the expectations of the working class
and of a rapidly growing student body. Although Senegal remained more
tolerant and pluralist than many African states, there were
encroachments on political freedoms. In 1976, however, Senghor
authorized the formation of two opposition parties; Abdou Diouf, to whom
he transmitted presidential power in January 1981, tentatively extended
Under Diouf the Socialist Party (PS) maintained Senghor’s alliance
with the Muslim hierarchies. When the PS secured more than 80 percent of
the votes in the 1983 elections, there were complaints of unfair
practice, and the eight deputies returned by the Senegalese Democratic
Party (PDS) of Abdoulaye Wade initially refused to take their seats.
Nevertheless, the framework of parliamentary democracy survived the
continuing economic stringency of the 1980s. In 1988 Diouf’s
presidential majority dropped to 73 percent, and the PDS won 17 of the
120 parliamentary seats. Charges of inequity and fraud, and considerable
violence, were followed by the declaration of a state of emergency. Wade
was imprisoned but was subsequently pardoned.
Diouf found it increasingly difficult to meet prescriptions for
economic adjustment while trying to contain social and ethnic pressures
caused by falling export values, rising costs of living, and mounting
unemployment. The proclamation in 1981 of the Senegambian confederation,
established after Senegalese troops marched into The Gambia to crush a
military coup, was abrogated in 1989. That same year a long-standing
border dispute between Senegal and Mauritania erupted into serious
ethnic violence; several hundred Senegalese were massacred in
Mauritania, and both countries expelled tens of thousands of
expatriates. Senegalese merchants took over many of the businesses
previously owned and operated by Mauritanians in Senegal. Tensions have
remained high ever since, despite an agreement in April 1992 between the
two countries to restore diplomatic relations. In 2000 tensions were
further heightened over the issue of Sénégal River usage rights;
violence was averted when the Senegalese government abandoned a
controversial irrigation plan.
Generally peaceful elections in 1993 resulted in victory for Diouf
and the PS. The French decision in 1994 to devalue the African franc by
50 percent negatively affected the Senegalese economy and sparked the
most-serious uprisings in the country in years, led by dissatisfied
urban youths. The government quickly crushed the demonstrations and
arrested hundreds. The difficult economic conditions continued,
exacerbated by periodic droughts and inflation. Despite the economic
problems, however, the Diouf regime retained the support of the powerful
Muslim leadership in the country, and the PS won legislative elections
again in 1998, although opposition parties did make some gains,
especially in the urban Dakar region. Wade finally won the presidency in
March 2000, marking the first time since the country’s independence that
a presidential candidate was elected from a party other than the PS.
Wade’s victory also ushered in a peaceful and democratic transfer of
power, a significant event on the African continent. He was reelected in
The greatest challenge still facing the Senegalese government was the
long-standing conflict in Casamance, the southern area physically
isolated from the rest of the country by The Gambia. Since 1982 a rebel
group, primarily based in the Diola areas, has been fighting for
independence, and many people have died as a result of the fighting. The
Senegalese government refused to negotiate with the rebels, and a 1998
attempted military coup in neighbouring Guinea-Bissau, which involved
guerrillas from Casamance, was repressed by government troops and led to
renewed violence in the area. The leader of the main rebel forces
declared the war over in 2003, and a peace agreement was signed in 2004,
but some rebel factions continued to fight.
John D. Hargreaves