Senegal (French: le Sénégal), officially the Republic of Senegal, is a country south of the Sénégal River in western Africa. Senegal is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Mauritania to the north, Mali to the east, and Guinea and Guinea-Bissau to the south, and it also encircles The Gambia on its three sides, except that of the Atlantic Ocean.
Its size is almost 197,000 km² with an estimated population of about 12.5 million.
Dakar is the capital city of Senegal, located on the Cape Verde Peninsula on the country’s Atlantic coast. About a third of the population live below the international poverty line of US$ 1.25 a day.
Archaeological findings throughout the area indicate that Senegal was inhabited in prehistoric times.
Eastern Senegal was once part of the Empire of Ghana. It was founded by the Tukulor in the middle valley of the Senegal River. Islam, the dominant religion in Senegal, first came to the region in the 11th century. In the 13th and 14th centuries, the area came under the influence of the empires to the east; the Jolof Empire of Senegal also was founded during this time. Various European powers—Portugal, the Netherlands, and Great Britain—competed for trade in the area from the 15th century onward, until in 1677, France ended up in possession of what had become a minor slave trade departure point—the infamous island of Gorée next to modern Dakar. It was only in the 1850s that the French began to expand their foothold onto the Senegalese mainland, at the expense of native kingdoms such as Waalo, Cayor, Baol, and Jolof. Senegalese resistance to the French expansion was led in part by Lat-Dior, Damel (king) of Cayor.
In January 1959 Senegal and the French Sudan merged to form the Mali Federation, which became fully independent on 20 June 1960, as a result of the independence and the transfer of power agreement signed with France on 4 April 1960. Due to internal political difficulties, the Federation broke up on August 20. Senegal and Sudan (renamed the Republic of Mali) proclaimed independence. Léopold Senghor was proclaimed Senegal’s first president in September 1960. Senghor was a very well read and highly educated man. He was a poet, a philosopher and personally drafted the Senegalese national anthem, “Pincez tous vos koras frappez les balafons”. As such he was not really a politician but was handed the presidency by the French authorities who saw in him a brilliant and peaceful man and not a revolutionary like Ahmed Sekou Toure of the neighboring Guinea.
Later after the breakup of the Mali Federation, President Senghor and Prime Minister Mamadou Dia governed together under a parliamentary system. Senghor always feared his Prime Minister who was a very charismatic figure and a hard liner. In December 1962 he accused him of an attempted coup and Dia was wrongfully convicted of treason and briefly jailed. Senegal adopted a new constitution that consolidated the president’s power. In 2006, the current president Abdoulaye Wade vacated the conviction and bestowed upon him a Medal of Honor. In 1980 President Senghor decided to retire from politics, and he handed power over in 1981 to his handpicked successor, Abdou Diouf. Mamadou Dia ran for reelection in 1983 against Abdou Diouf but lost. Senghor moved to France where he later died at the age of 96 having had been married to a French woman.
Senegal joined with The Gambia to form the nominal confederation of Senegambia on 1 February 1982. However, the union was dissolved in 1989. Despite peace talks, a southern separatist group in theCasamance region had clashed sporadically with government forces since 1982. Senegal has had a long history of participating in international peacekeeping.
Abdou Diouf was president between 1981 and 2000. He encouraged broader political participation, reduced government involvement in the economy, and widened Senegal’s diplomatic engagements, particularly with other developing nations. Domestic politics on occasion spilled over into street violence, border tensions, and a violent separatist movement in the southern region of the Casamance. Nevertheless, Senegal’s commitment to democracy and human rights strengthened. Diouf served four terms as president.
In the presidential election of 1999, opposition leader Abdoulaye Wade defeated Diouf in an election deemed free and fair by international observers. Senegal experienced its second peaceful transition of power, and its first from one political party to another. On 30 December 2004 President Abdoulaye Wade announced that he would sign a peace treaty with the separatist group in the Casamance region. This, however, has yet to be implemented. There was a round of talks in 2005, but the results did not yet yield a resolution.
Senegal is a republic with a presidency; the president is elected every five years as of 2001, previously being seven years, by universal adult suffrage. The current president is Abdoulaye Wade, re-elected in March 2007.
Senegal has more than 80 political parties. The bicameral parliament consists of the National Assembly, which has 120 seats, and the Senate, which has 100 seats and was reinstituted in 2007. An independent judiciary also exists in Senegal. The nation’s highest courts that deal with business issues are the constitutional council and the court of justice, members of which are named by the president.
Currently Senegal has a democratic political culture, being one of the more successful post-colonial democratic transitions in Africa. Local administrators are appointed by, and responsible to, the president. The marabouts, religious leaders of the various Senegalese Muslim brotherhoods, also exercise a strong political influence in the country. In 2009, however, Freedom House downgraded Senegal’s status from ‘Free’ to ‘Partially Free’, based on increased centralisation of power in the executive.
In 2008, Senegal finished in 10th position on the Ibrahim Index of African Governance. The Ibrahim Index is a comprehensive measure of sub-Saharan African governance, based on a number of different variables which reflect the success with which governments deliver essential political goods to its citizens. In 2009, Senegal’s ranking slipped substantially, to 17th place; however, this is partially accounted for by the addition of Northern African nations to the rankings.
Senegal is located on the west of the African continent. The Senegalese landscape consists mainly of the rolling sandy plains of the western Sahel which rise to foothills in the southeast. Here is also found Senegal’s highest point, an otherwise unnamed feature near Nepen Diakha at 584 m (1,916 ft). The northern border is formed by the Senegal River, other rivers include the Gambia and Casamance Rivers. The capital Dakar lies on the Cap-Vert peninsula, the westernmost point of continental Africa.
The local climate is tropical with well-defined dry and humid seasons that result from northeast winter winds and southwest summer winds. Dakar’s annual rainfall of about 600 mm (23.6 in) occurs between June and October when maximum temperatures average 27 °C (80.6 °F); December to February minimum temperatures are about 17 °C (62.6 °F). Interior temperatures can be substantially higher than along the coast, and rainfall increases substantially farther south, exceeding 1,500 mm (59.1 in) annually in some areas. The far interior of the country, in the region of Tambacounda, particularly on the border of Mali, temperatures can reach as high as 54 °C (129.2 °F).
The Cape Verde islands lie some 560 kilometers (348 mi) off the Senegalese coast, but Cap Vert (“Cape Green”) is a maritime placemark, set at the foot of “Les Mammelles”, a 105-metre (344 ft) cliff resting at one end of the Cap Vert peninsula onto which is settled Senegal’s capital Dakar, and 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) south of the “Pointe des Almadies”, the western-most point in Africa.
Senegal’s capital of Dakar is by far the largest city in Senegal, with over two million residents. The second most populous city is Touba, a de jurecommunaute rurale (rural community), with half a million.
In January 1994 Senegal undertook a bold and ambitious economic reform program with the support of the international donor community. This reform began with a 50 percent devaluation of Senegal’s currency, the CFA franc, which was linked at a fixed rate to the former French franc and now to the euro. Government price controls and subsidies have been steadily dismantled.
After seeing its economy retract by 2.1 percent in 1993, Senegal made an important turnaround, thanks to the reform program, with real growth in GDP averaging 5 percent annually during the years 1995–2001. Annual inflation was reduced to less than 1 percent, but rose again to an estimated 3.3 percent in 2001. Investment increased steadily from 13.8 percent of GDP in 1993 to 16.5 percent in 1997.
Thanks to this, Senegal’s economy is starting to be one of the fastest growing in the world.
The main industries include food processing, mining, cement, artificial fertilizer, chemicals, textiles, refining imported petroleum, and tourism. Exports include fish, chemicals, cotton, fabrics, groundnuts, and calcium phosphate, and the principal foreign market is India at 26.7 percent of exports (as of 1998). Other foreign markets include the US, Italy, and the UK.
As a member of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU), Senegal is working toward greater regional integration with a unified external tariff. Senegal is also a member of the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (OHADA).
Senegal realized full Internet connectivity in 1996, creating a mini-boom in information technology-based services. Private activity now accounts for 82 percent of GDP. On the negative side, Senegal faces deep-seated urban problems of chronic high unemployment, socioeconomic disparity, and juvenile delinquency.
Senegal has a wide variety of ethnic groups and, as in most West African countries, several languages are widely spoken. The Wolof are the largest single ethnic group in Senegal at 43 percent; the Peul and Toucouleur (also known as Halpulaar, Fulbe or Fula) (24 percent) are the second biggest group, followed by others that include the Serer (15 percent), Lebou (10 percent), Jola (4 percent), Mandinka (3 percent), Maures or Naarkajors, Soninke, Bassari and many smaller communities (9 percent).
About 50,000 Europeans (mostly French) and Lebanese as well as smaller numbers of Mauritanians and Moroccans reside in Senegal, mainly in the cities. The majority of Lebanese work in commerce. Also located primarily in urban settings are small Vietnamese communities as well as a growing number of Chinese immigrant traders, each numbering perhaps a few hundred people.
From the time of earliest contact between Europeans and Africans along the coast of Senegal, particularly after the establishment of coastal trading posts during the fifteenth century, communities of mixed African and European (mostly French and Portuguese) origin have thrived. Cape Verdean migrants and their descendants living in urban areas and in the Casamance region represent another recognized community of mixed African and European background.
French is the official language, used regularly by a minority of Senegalese educated in a system styled upon the colonial-era schools of French origin (Koranic schools are even more popular, but Arabic is not widely spoken outside of this context of recitation). Most people also speak their own ethnic language while, especially in Dakar, Wolof is the lingua franca. Pulaar is spoken by the Peuls and Toucouleur.
Portuguese Creole is a prominent minority language in Ziguinchor, regional capital of the Casamance, where some residents speak Kriol, primarily spoken in Guinea-Bissau. Cape Verdeans speak their native creole, Cape Verdean Creole, and standard Portuguese.
Islam is the predominant religion, practiced by approximately 95 percent of the country’s population; the Christian community, at 4 percent of the population, includes Roman Catholics and diverse Protestant denominations. There is also a 1 percent population who maintain animism in their beliefs, particularly in the southeastern region of the country.
Islamic communities are generally organized around one of several Islamic Sufi orders or brotherhoods, headed by a khalif (xaliifa in Wolof, from Arabic khalīfa), who is usually a direct descendant of the group’s founder. The two largest and most prominent Sufi orders in Senegal are the Tijaniyya, whose largest sub-groups are based in the cities of Tivaouane and Kaolack, and the Murīdiyya (Murid), based in the city of Touba. The Halpulaar, a widespread ethnic group found along the Sahel from Chad to Senegal, representing 20 percent of the Senegalese population, were the first to convert to Islam. The Halpulaar, composed of various Fula people groups, named Peuls and Toucouleurs in Senegal. Many of the Toucouleurs, or sedentary Halpulaar of the Senegal River Valley in the north, converted to Islam around a millennium ago and later contributed to Islam’s propagation throughout Senegal. Most communities south of the Senegal River Valley, however, were not thoroughly Islamized until the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. During the mid-19th century, Islam became a banner of resistance against the traditional aristocracies and French colonialism, and Tijānī leaders Al-Hajj Umar Tall and Màbba Jaxu Ba established short-lived but influential Islamic states but were both killed in battle and their territories then annexed by the French.
The spread of formal Quranic school (called daara in Wolof) during the colonial period increased largely through the effort of the Tijaniyya. In Murid communities, which place more emphasis on the work ethic than on literary Quranic studies, the term daara often applies to work groups devoted to working for a religious leader. Other Islamic groups include the much older Qādiriyya order and the Senegalese Laayeen order, which is prominent among the coastal Lebu. Today, most Senegalese children study at daaras for several years, memorizing as much of the Qur’an as they can. Some of them continue their religious studies at informal Arabic schools (majlis) or at the growing number of private Arabic schools and publicly funded Franco-Arabic schools.
Senegal’s musical heritage is better known than that of most African countries, due to the popularity of mbalax, which is a form of Wolof percussive; it has been popularized by Youssou N’Dour. Sabar drumming is especially popular. The sabar is mostly used in special celebrations like weddings. Another instrument, the tama, is used in more ethnic groups. Other popular Senegalese musicians are Cheikh Lô, Orchestra Baobab, Baba Maal, Thione Seck, Akon and Pape Diouf.
Articles 21 and 22 of the Constitution adopted in January 2001 guarantee access to education for all children. Education is compulsory and free up to the age of 16. The Ministry of Labor has indicated that the public school system is unable to cope with the number of children that must enroll each year. Illiteracy is high, particularly among women. The net primary enrolment rate was 69 % in 2005. Public expenditure on education was 5.4 % of the 2002-2005 GDP.