| 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. The Cape Verde islands lie some 560 km (348 miles)
off the Senegalese coast.
Archaeological findings throughout the area indicate that
Senegal was inhabited in prehistoric times. Islam, the dominant
religion in Senegal, first came to the region in the 11th
century. Today, at least 95 percent of Senegalese are Muslims.
In the 13th and 14th centuries, the area came under the influence
of the Mandingo empires to the east; the Jolof Empire of Senegal
also was founded during this time. Various European powers
- Portugal, the Netherlands, and England - competed for trade
in the area from the 15th century onward, until in 1677, France
ended up in possession of what had become an important 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,
In January 1958, Senegal and the French Sudan merged to form
the Mali Federation, which became fully independent on June
20, 1960, as a result of the independence and the transfer
of power agreement signed with France on April 4, 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 elected Senegal's
first president in August 1961.
After the breakup of the Mali Federation, President Senghor
and Prime Minister Mamadou Dia governed together under a parliamentary
system. In December 1962, their political rivalry led to an
attempted coup by Prime Minister Dia. Although this was put
down without bloodshed, Dia was arrested and imprisoned, and
Senegal adopted a new constitution that consolidated the president's
power. In 1980, President Senghor decided to retire from politics,
and he handed power over in 1981 to his handpicked successor,
Senegal joined with The Gambia to form the nominal confederation
of Senegambia on February 1, 1982. However, the union was
dissolved in 1989. Despite peace talks, a southern separatist
group in the Casamance region has clashed sporadically with
government forces since 1982. Senegal has 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 2000, 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 December 30, 2004 President
Abdoulaye Wade announced that he would sign a peace treaty
with the separatist group in the Casamance region.
Senegal is a republic with a powerful presidency; the president
is elected every seven years, amended in 2001 to every five
years, by universal adult suffrage. The current president
is Abdoulaye Wade.
Senegal also has 64 political parties which contribute to
development of the country through working towards a successful
transition to democracy in the country, and even among other
developing countries on the African continent. The unicameral
National Assembly has 119 members elected separately from
the president. A single house legislature, and a fair and
independent judiciary also exist 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.
Senegal has a reputation for transparency in government operations.
The level of economic corruption that has damaged the development
of the economies in other parts of the world is very low.
Today Senegal has a democratic political culture, being part
of one of the most successful democratic transitions in Africa.
Local administrators are all appointed by and very responsible
to the president.
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 581 m. 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
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 600mm (24 in)
occurs between morgan 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 are higher
than along the coast, and rainfall increases substantially
farther south, exceeding 1.5m (59.1 in) annually in some areas.
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 contract by 2.1% in 1993,
Senegal made an important turnaround, thanks to the reform
programme, with real growth in GDP averaging 5 % annually
during 1995-2001. Annual inflation had been pushed down to
less than 1%, but rose to an estimated 3.3% in 2001. Investment
rose steadily from 13.8% of GDP in 1993 to 16.5% in 1997.
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 also realised full
Internet connectivity in 1996, creating a miniboom in information
technology-based services. Private activity now accounts for
82% of GDP. On the negative side, Senegal faces deep-seated
urban problems of chronic unemployment, socioeconomic disparity,
juvenile delinquency, and drug addiction; much as produced
within hierarchically class-based populations in the developed/industrialized
world's urban environs.
Senegal has a population of some 11 million, about 70 percent
of whom live in rural areas.
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%; the Fula and Tukulor (24%) are the second biggest group,
followed by others that include the Serer (15%), Lebou (10%),
Jola (4%), Mandinka (3%), Toucouleur, Soninke, Bassari and
many smaller communities (9%). About 50,000 Europeans (1%)
(mostly French) as well as smaller numbers of Mauritanians
and Lebanese reside in Senegal, mainly in the cities. Also
located primarily in urban settings are the minority Chinese
and Vietnamese communities. 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 Verdeans 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. 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.
Islam is the predominant religion, practiced by approximately
94 percent of the country's population; the Christian community,
at 4 percent of the population, includes Roman Catholics and
diverse Protestant denominations.