All About Senegal



Is a country in western Africa that is south of the Senegal River. The Atlantic Ocean is to the west. Mauritania is to the north, Mali to the east, and Guinea-Bissau and Guinea to the south. The country completely surrounds The Gambia with the exception of Gambia’s small coastline on the Atlantic. Senegal’s area is 197,000 sq. km. and the population is estimated at over 16,619,225 million (2019). There are two seasons, the rainy and the dry.

The capital, Dakar, is on the country’s westernmost tip on the Cap-Vert peninsula. The Cape Verde Islands are approximately 300 miles off the coast. Trading areas were established on the coast during colonial times. St. Louis was French Western Africa’s capital before it moved to Dakar in 1902. In 1960, Dakar also became the capital of Senegal after independence from France.


Evidence indicates Senegal was inhabited in prehistoric times. The eastern part of Senegal was part of the Ghana Empire. Tukulor founded it in the middle of a Senegal River valley. Islam is the dominant religion and came to the area in the 11th century. The empires of the east began to influence the area in the 13th and 14th centuries. Around this time, the Jolof Empire was also founded in Senegal. One third of the population was enslaved in the Senegambia region between 1300 and 1900. Portugal, Britain, and the Netherlands competed for trade in the area after the 15th century. In 1677, France gained possession of the island of Goree, a minor slave trade departure point. The French used it as a base for purchasing slaves from the mainland’s warring chiefdoms.

Around the 7th century, the first kingdoms were created. These were the Tekrour, the Namandirou, and the Djolof. The Djolof became a powerful kingdom in the 14th century after having regrouped the Baol, Cayor, Sine and Saloum, Waalo, the Fouta-Toro, and the Bambouk kingdoms. Ndiadiane N’diaye founded the empire and formed a coalition with many ethnicities. It collapsed around 1549 with Lele Fouli Fak’s defeat by Amari Ngone Sobel Fall.

Under governor Louis Faidherbe, the French took over all of these kingdoms. Between the 8th and 9th centuries, Berber merchants brought Islam to Senegal. Toucouleurs and Sarakholles peacefully converted and spread the religion. In the 11th century, the Almoravids used Jihad to convert the region’s people. The resident ethnicities and followers of traditional beliefs resisted and moved further into the country and to the south. Leaders like Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba, El Hadj Malickk Sy, and Seydina Limamou Laye convinced their followers to convert, which allowed the Berbers to complete a peaceful conversion. They viewed Islam as a method to unite their people and fight colonial powers. Christianity was introduced by European missionaries in the 19th century.

The French expanded into the mainland in the 1850s and added native kingdoms like the Cayor, Baol, Waalo, and Jolof. Resistance to the French was led in part by Lat-Dior, Damel of Cayor.

French Sudan and Senegal merged in 1959 to form the Mali Federation. This became independence in 1960. The federation broke up later that year and Senegal and French Sudan declared independence. French Sudan later became the Republic of Mali. Senegal’s first president was Leopold Senghor.

Senghor and the Prime Minister, Mamadou Dia, governed under a parliamentary system. In 1962, Senghor accused Dia of attempting a coup and briefly jailed him for treason. The president’s power was consolidated in a new constitution. In 2006, then President Abdoulaye Wade removed the conviction and gave Dia a Medal of Honor. Senghor retired in 1980 and gave power to his hand-picked successor, Abdou Diouf. Dia ran for reelection as Prime Minister in 1983 but lost.

The Gambia and Senegal formed a confederation called Senegambia in 1982. In 1989, this was dissolved. Since 1982, separatists in the Casamance area have clashed with the government. Senegal has participated in international peacekeeping operations.

From 1981 to 2000, Diouf was president and encouraged broader political participation. Occasionally, politics turned into street violence. The country’s commitment to democracy strengthened. Diouf served four presidential terms.

In 1999, opposition leader Abdoulaye Wade beat Diouf in free and fair elections. This transition was the second peaceful one in the country’s history. Wade announced a peace treaty had been signed with separatists in the Casamance region in 2004. This has not been implemented although additional talks have occurred.


Senegal is a republic with a president elected to five year terms. Macky Sall is the current president.

There are more than 80 political parties in Senegal. There is a bicameral parliament with a National Assembly, with 120 seats, and the Senate, with 100 seats. Senegal has an independent judiciary. The highest branches of this are the constitutional court and the court of justice.

Senegal is one of the more successful African democracies. The president appoints local administrators. Senegalese religious leaders known as marabouts have strong political influence.


Senegal is in West Africa and consists of rolling sandy plains rising to foothills in the southeast. The highest point in Senegal is an unnamed feature near Nepen Diakha at 584 meters. The Senegal River forms the northern border. Dakar, the capital, is on the Cap-Vert peninsula, which is continental Africa’s westernmost point.

560 km off the coast are the Cape Verde Islands.


There is a local tropical climate with dry and rainy seasons. From December to April, the dry season has hot, harmattan wind. Most of the rainfall occurs from June to October. Temperatures are higher inland than on the coast.

Administrative Divisions

There are 14 regions in Senegal, each of which is governed by a Conseil Regional. These are subdivided further into 45 departments, 103 Arrondissements, and to Collectivites Locales.

Major Cities

Dakar is the capital and the country’s largest city with more than 1 million residents. Touba is the second largest city at over 500,000 residents.


Since changing the year—to 2014 from 1999—used as a base for calculating the size of the national economy, the economy has grown by 30%. As a result, Senegal’s 2016 GDP increased from $15.3 billion to $19.6 billion; per capita GNI increased from $953 to around $1,230; and public debt to GDP fell from 60.4% to 46.8%.

Annual economic growth has held at over 6% since 2015, accelerating from 6.2% in 2016 to 7.2% in 2017, and expectations for 2018 are optimistic—though high oil prices and other fiscal constraints may have a moderating affect.

The primary sector has been the fastest growing, particularly agriculture, due to support programs and robust external demand. This is followed by the tertiary sector, thanks to financial and intermediation services, the hotel sector, and transport. The secondary sector has slowed despite good performances in food industries, chemicals, and energy.

There are concerns over the country’s macro-fiscal framework: although the fiscal deficit fell from 3.3% of GDP in 2016 to 3% in 2017, the fiscal stance deteriorated due to arrears in government payments to private and public suppliers that could have pushed the 2017 deficit up to around 5% of GDP. Rising international oil prices, coupled with unchanged domestic energy pricing, explain much of the imbalance.

Public debt continued to increase, but remains at low risk of distress, partly due to the GDP rebasing. Debt increased from 47.8% of the rebased GDP in 2016 to 48.3% in 2017, while debt service remains high at 32.6% of fiscal revenues. Senegal’s debt may reach 49.4% of GDP in 2018, partly due to the issuance of a Eurobond (worth $2.2 billion in March 2018).

The external Current Account Deficit (CAD) also deteriorated, due to higher oil prices and stronger imports of capital goods. The CAD widened from 4.2% of GDP in 2016 to 7.3% in 2017, despite the good performance of exports, which increased 11% in volume, driven by agriculture, food-products, and extractives. Imports grew even faster, driven by oil-related products (+34%) and capital goods (+20%), due to higher oil prices and stronger domestic demand for goods.

The CAD is expected to worsen again in 2018 to 8% of GDP, mostly due to high oil prices, but would improve afterwards from stronger exports.


Over 40 percent of Senegal’s 16,619,225 million (2019) people live in rural areas. Senegal’s urban population has almost doubled in the last few decades, rising from 23% in 1960 to 43% in 2013, and is projected to reach 60% by 2030. Population density varies depending on the region. According to international surveys, there are over 20,000 refugees in Senegal, most of which are from Mauritania.


There are many ethnic groups in Senegal and many languages are spoken. Over 43 percent of the people in Senegal belong to the Wolof ethnic group. Others are the Peul and Toucouleur, Serer, Lebou, Jola, Mandinka, Maures, and Bassari.

Approximately 50,000 Europeans and Lebanese reside in Senegal. Most Lebanese work in the commercial sector.

The official language is French, which is used regularly by a minority in Senegal. Most people speak an ethnic language and in Dakar Wolof is widely used.

In Ziguinchor, the capital of Casamance, Portuguese Creole is widely spoken.


Expenditure on health in Senegal was 4.7% of GDP in 2014, US$107 per capita. … Common medical problems in Senegal include child mortality, maternal death, malaria, and sexual diseases including HIV/AIDS. There is a high disparity in both the quality and extent of health services between urban and rural areas.


The predominant religion is Sufi Islam, which more than 90 percent of the population practices. These are organized around Sufi Islam brotherhoods headed by a khalif. The most prominent orders are the Tijaniyya and the Muridiyya. Christians are the remaining 10 percent, which includes Roman Catholic and Protestants. A small number of the population follows indigenous religions. These indigenous beliefs are often incorporated into Muslim or Christian practices. There is also an active Baha’i community.


The country’s music is better known than other African countries because of mbalax’s popularity. This is a form of Wolof percussive music. Sabar drumming is also popular and is used in celebrations.


Senegal’s constitution guarantees access to education for all children. It is free and compulsory to age 16. The government has indicated the system cannot cope with the number of children enrolling each year. The literacy rate is poor, at 49.7 percent.

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