The territory of modern Senegal has been inhabited by various ethnic groups since prehistory. Organized kingdoms emerged around the seventh century, and parts of the country were ruled by prominent regional empires such as the Jolof Empire. The present state of Senegal has its roots in European colonialism, which began during the mid-15th century, when various European powers began competing for trade in the area. The establishment of coastal trading posts gradually led to control of the mainland, culminating in French rule of the area by the 19th century, albeit amid much local resistance. Senegal peacefully attained independence from France in 1960, and has since been among the more politically stable countries in Africa.
Senegal's economy is centered mostly on commodities and natural resources. Major industries are fish processing, phosphate mining, fertilizer production, petroleum refining, construction materials, and ship construction and repair. As in most African nations, agriculture is a major sector, with Senegal producing several important cash crops, including peanuts, sugarcane, cotton, green beans, tomatoes, melons, and mangoes. Owing to its relative stability, tourism and hospitality are also burgeoning sectors.
A multiethnic and secular nation, Senegal is predominantly Sunni Muslim with Sufi and animist influences. French is the official language, although many native languages are spoken and recognized. Since April 2012 Senegal's president has been Macky Sall. Senegal has been a member of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie since 1970.
Senegal is named after the Senegal River, the etymology of which is contested. One popular theory (proposed by David Boilat in 1853) is that it stems from the Wolof phrase sunu gaal, which means "our canoe" (or pirogue), resulting from a miscommunication between 15th-century Portuguese sailors and Wolof fishermen. The "our canoe" theory has been popularly embraced in modern Senegal for its charm. It is frequently used in appeals to national solidarity (e.g. "we're all in the same canoe"), frequently heard in the media.
Modern historians believe the name probably refers to the Sanhaja, Berbers who lived on the northern side of the river. A competing theory is that it derives from the medieval town of "Sanghana" (also spelled as Isenghan, Asengan, Singhanah), described by the Arab geographer al-Bakri in 1068 as located by the mouth of the river. Some Serer people from the south believe the river's name is derived from the compound of the Serer term Sene (from Roge Sene, Supreme Deity in Serer religion) and O Gal (meaning "body of water").
Archaeological findings throughout the area indicate that Senegal was inhabited in prehistoric times and has been continuously occupied by various ethnic groups. Some kingdoms were created around the 7th century: Takrur in the 9th century, Namandiru (wo) and the Jolof Empire during the 13th and 14th centuries. Eastern Senegal was once part of the Ghana Empire.
Islam was introduced through Toucouleur and Soninke contact with the Almoravid dynasty of the Maghreb, who in turn propagated it. The Almoravids, with the help of Toucouleur allies, used military force for conversion. This movement faced resistance from ethnicities of traditional religions, the Serers in particular.
In the 13th and 14th centuries, the area came under the influence of the empires to the east; the Jolof Empire of Senegal was also founded during this time. In the Senegambia region, between 1300 and 1900, close to one-third of the population was enslaved, typically as a result of captives taken in warfare.
In the 14th century the Jolof Empire grew powerful, having united Cayor and the kingdoms of Baol, Sine, Saloum, Waalo, Futa Tooro and Bambouk. The empire was a voluntary confederacy of various states rather than an empire built on military conquest. The empire was founded by Ndiadiane Ndiaye, a part Serer and part Toucouleur, who was able to form a coalition with many ethnicities, but collapsed around 1549 with the defeat and killing of Lele Fouli Fak by Amari Ngone Sobel Fall (fr).
In the mid-15th century, the Portuguese landed on the Senegal coastline, followed by traders representing other countries, including the French. Various European powers—Portugal, the Netherlands, and Great Britain—competed for trade in the area from the 15th century onward. In 1677, France gained control of what had become a minor departure point in the Atlantic slave trade—the island of Gorée next to modern Dakar, used as a base to purchase slaves from the warring chiefdoms on the mainland.
European missionaries introduced Christianity to Senegal and the Casamance in the 19th century. It was only in the 1850s that the French began to expand onto the Senegalese mainland after they abolished slavery and began promoting an abolitionist doctrine, adding native kingdoms like the Waalo, Cayor, Baol, and Jolof Empire. French colonists progressively invaded and took over all the kingdoms except Sine and Saloum under Governor Louis Faidherbe. Senegalese resistance to the French expansion and curtailing of their lucrative slave trade was led in part by Lat-Dior, Damel of Cayor, and Maad a Sinig Kumba Ndoffene Famak Joof, the Maad a Sinig of Sine, resulting in the Battle of Logandème.
On 4 April 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 20 August, when Senegal and French Sudan (renamed the Republic of Mali) each proclaimed independence.
Léopold Sédar Senghor was proclaimed Senegal's first president in September 1960. Senghor was a very well-read man, educated in France. He was a poet, a philosopher and personally drafted the Senegalese national anthem, "Pincez tous vos koras, frappez les balafons". Pro-African, he advocated a brand of African socialism.
In 1980, President Senghor decided to retire from politics. The next year, he transferred power in 1981 to his hand-picked successor, Abdou Diouf. Former prime minister Mamadou Dia, who was Senghor's rival, ran for election in 1983 against Diouf, but lost. Senghor moved to France, where he died at the age of 96.
Senegal joined with the Gambia to form the nominal Senegambia Confederation on 1 February 1982. However, the union was dissolved in 1989. Despite peace talks, a southern separatist group (Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance or MFDC) in the Casamance region has clashed sporadically with government forces since 1982 in the Casamance conflict. In the early 21st century, violence has subsided and President Macky Sall held talks with rebels in Rome in December 2012.
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. Abdou 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 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 have not yet yielded a resolution.
Senegal is a republic with a presidency; the president is elected every five years as of 2001, previously being seven years, by adult voters. The first president, Léopold Sédar Senghor, was a poet and writer, and was the first African elected to the Académie française. Senegal's second president, Abdou Diouf, later served as general secretary of the Organisation de la Francophonie. The third president was Abdoulaye Wade, a lawyer. The current president is Macky Sall, elected in March 2012.
Senegal has more than 80 political parties. The unicameral parliament consists of the National Assembly, which has 150 seats (a Senate was in place from 1999 to 2001 and 2007 to 2012). 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 quasi-democratic political culture, one of the more successful post-colonial democratic transitions in Africa. Local administrators are appointed by, and responsible to, the president. Marabouts, religious leaders of the various Muslim brotherhoods of Senegal, have also exercised a strong political influence in the country especially during Wade's presidency. In 2009, Freedom House downgraded Senegal's status from "Free" to "Partially Free", based on increased centralisation of power in the executive. However, it has since recovered its Free status by 2014.
In 2008, Senegal finished in 12th position on the Ibrahim Index of African Governance. The Ibrahim Index is a comprehensive measure of African governance (limited to sub-Saharan Africa until 2008), based on a number of different variables which reflect the success with which governments deliver essential political goods to their citizens. When the Northern African countries were added to the index in 2009, Senegal's 2008 position was retroactively downgraded to 15th place (with Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco placing themselves ahead of Senegal). As of 2012, Senegal's rank in the Ibrahim Index has decreased another point to 16 out of 52 African countries.
On 22 February 2011, Senegal reportedly severed diplomatic ties with Iran, saying it supplied rebels with weapons which killed Senegalese troops in the Casamance conflict.
The 2012 presidential election was controversial due to President Wade's candidacy, as the opposition argued he should not be considered eligible to run again. Several youth opposition movements, including M23 and Y'en a Marre, emerged in June 2011. In the end, Macky Sall of the Alliance for the Republic won, and Wade conceded the election to Sall. This peaceful and democratic transition was hailed by many foreign observers, such as the EU as a show of "maturity".
On 19 September 2012, lawmakers voted to do away with the Senate to save an estimated $15 million.
Senegal is subdivided into 14 regions, each administered by a Conseil Régional (Regional Council) elected by population weight at the Arrondissement level. The country is further subdivided by 45 Départements, 113 Arrondissements (neither of which have administrative function) and by Collectivités Locales, which elect administrative officers.
Regional capitals have the same name as their respective regions:
Senegal has a high profile in many international organizations and was a member of the UN Security Council in 1988–89 and 2015–2016. It was elected to the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1997. Friendly to the West, especially to France and to the United States, Senegal also is a vigorous proponent of more assistance from developed countries to the Third World.
Senegal enjoys mostly cordial relations with its neighbors. In spite of clear progress on other fronts with Mauritania (border security, resource management, economic integration, etc.), there remains the problem of an estimated 30,000 Afro-Mauritanian refugees living in Senegal.
Senegal is part of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Integrated with the main bodies of the international community, Senegal is also a member of the African Union (AU) and the Community of Sahel-Saharan States.
The Senegalese armed forces consist of about 19,000 personnel in the army, air force, navy, and gendarmerie. The Senegalese military force receives most of its training, equipment, and support from France and the United States. Germany also provides support but on a smaller scale.
Military noninterference in political affairs has contributed to Senegal's stability since independence. Senegal has participated in many international and regional peacekeeping missions. Most recently, in 2000, Senegal sent a battalion to the Democratic Republic of Congo to participate in MONUC, the United Nations peacekeeping mission, and agreed to deploy a United States-trained battalion to Sierra Leone to participate in UNAMSIL, another UN peacekeeping mission.
In 2015, Senegal participated in the Saudi Arabian-led military intervention in Yemen against the Shia Houthis.
Senegal is a secular state, as defined in its Constitution.
To fight corruption, the government has created the National Anti-Corruption Office (OFNAC) and the Commission of Restitution and Recovery of Illegally Acquired Assets. According to Business Anti-Corruption Portal, President Sall created the OFNAC to replace the Commission Nationale de Lutte Contre la non Transparence, la Corruption et la Concussion (CNLCC). It is said that the OFNAC represents a more effective tool for fighting corruption than the CNLCC established under former President Wade. The mission of OFNAC is to fight corruption, embezzlement of public funds and fraud. OFNAC has the power of self-referral (own initiative investigation). OFNAC is composed of twelve members appointed by decree.
Homosexuality is illegal in Senegal. According to 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center, 96% of Senegalese believe that homosexuality should not be accepted by society.
Senegal is located on the west of the African continent. It lies between latitudes 12° and 17°N, and longitudes 11° and 18°W.
Senegal is externally bounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Mauritania to the north, Mali to the east, and Guinea and Guinea-Bissau to the south; internally it almost completely surrounds The Gambia, namely on the north, east and south, except for Gambia's short Atlantic coastline.
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 2.7 km southeast of Nepen Diakha at 648 m (2,126 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 Cape Verde islands lie some 560 kilometres (350 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 (0.6 mi) south of the "Pointe des Almadies", the westernmost point in Africa.
Senegal has a tropical climate with pleasant heat throughout the year with well-defined dry and humid seasons that result from northeast winter winds and southwest summer winds. The dry season (December to April) is dominated by hot, dry, harmattan wind. Dakar's annual rainfall of about 600 mm (24 in) occurs between June and October when maximum temperatures average 30 °C (86.0 °F) and minimums 24.2 °C (75.6 °F); December to February maximum temperatures average 25.7 °C (78.3 °F) and minimums 18 °C (64.4 °F).
Interior temperatures are higher than along the coast (for example, average daily temperatures in Kaolack and Tambacounda for May are 30 °C (86.0 °F) and 32.7 °C (90.9 °F) respectively, compared to Dakar's 23.2 °C (73.8 °F) ), and rainfall increases substantially farther south, exceeding 1,500 mm (59.1 in) annually in some areas.
In Tambacounda in the far interior, particularly on the border of Mali where desert begins, temperatures can reach as high as 54 °C (129.2 °F). The northernmost part of the country has a near hot desert climate, the central part has a hot semi-arid climate and the southernmost part has a tropical wet and dry climate. Senegal is mainly a sunny and dry country.
After its economy contracted by 2.1% in 1993 Senegal instituted a major economic reform program with the support of international donors. This reform began with a 50 percent devaluation of the country's currency (the CFA franc). Government price controls and subsidies were also dismantled. As a result, Senegal's inflation went down, investment went up, and the gross domestic product rose approximately 5% a year between 1995 and 2001.
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. The principal foreign market is India with 26.7% of exports (as of 1998). Other foreign markets include the United States, Italy and the United Kingdom.
Senegal has a 12-nautical-mile (22 km; 14 mi) exclusive fishing zone that has been regularly breached in recent years (as of 2014). It has been estimated that the country's fishermen lose 300,000 tonnes of fish each year to illegal fishing. The Senegalese government have tried to control the illegal fishing which is conducted by fishing trawlers, some of which are registered in Russia, Mauritania, Belize and Ukraine. In January 2014 a Russian trawler, Oleg Naydenov, was seized by Senegalese authorities close to the maritime border with Guinea-Bissau.
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.
Senegal realized full Internet connectivity in 1996, creating a mini-boom in information technology-based services. Private activity now accounts for 82 percent of its GDP. On the negative side, Senegal faces deep-seated urban problems of chronic high unemployment, socioeconomic disparity, juvenile delinquency, and drug addiction.
Senegal is a major recipient of international development assistance. Donors include the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Japan, France and China. Over 3000 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in Senegal since 1963.
Senegal has a population of around 15.4 million, about 42 percent of whom live in rural areas. Density in these areas varies from about 77 inhabitants per square kilometre (200/sq mi) in the west-central region to 2 per square kilometre (5.2/sq mi) in the arid eastern section.
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 Fula and Toucouleur (also known as Halpulaar'en, literally "Pulaar-speakers") (24%) are the second biggest group, followed by the Serer (14.7%), then others such as Jola (4%), Mandinka (3%), Maures or (Naarkajors), Soninke, Bassari and many smaller communities (9%). (See also the Bedick ethnic group.)
About 50,000 Europeans (mostly French) and Lebanese as well as smaller numbers of Mauritanians and Moroccans reside in Senegal, mainly in the cities and some retirees who reside in the resort towns around Mbour. The majority of Lebanese work in commerce. The country experienced a wave of immigration from France in the decades between World War II and Senegalese independence; most of these French people purchased homes in Dakar or other major urban centers. 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. There are also tens of thousands of Mauritanian refugees in Senegal, primarily in the country's north.
According to the World Refugee Survey 2008, published by the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, Senegal has a population of refugees and asylum seekers numbering approximately 23,800 in 2007. The majority of this population (20,200) is from Mauritania. Refugees live in N'dioum, Dodel, and small settlements along the Senegal River valley.
French is the official language, spoken at least by all those who enjoyed several years in the educational system that is of French origin (Koranic schools are even more popular, but Arabic is not widely spoken outside of the 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 Fulas and Toucouleur. The Serer language is widely spoken by both Serers and non-Serers (including President Sall, whose wife is Serer); so are the Cangin languages, whose speakers are ethnically Serers. Jola languages are widely spoken in the Casamance.
Several of the Senegalese languages have the legal status of "national languages": Balanta-Ganja, Hassaniya Arabic, Jola-Fonyi, Mandinka, Mandjak, Mankanya, Noon (Serer-Noon), Pulaar, Serer, Soninke, and Wolof.
Portuguese Creole, locally known as Portuguese, is a prominent minority language in Ziguinchor, regional capital of the Casamance, spoken by local Portuguese creoles and immigrants from Guinea-Bissau. The local Cape Verdean community speak a similar Portuguese creole, Cape Verdean Creole, and standard Portuguese. Portuguese was introduced in Senegal's secondary education in 1961 in Dakar by the country's first president, Léopold Sédar Senghor, it is currently available in most of Senegal and in higher education. It is especially prevalent in Casamance as it relates with the local cultural identity.
French is the only official language in the country, but a backlash in the form of a rising Senegalese linguistic nationalist movement supports the integration of Wolof, the common vernacular language of the country, into the national constitution.
Senegalese regions of Dakar, Diourbel, Fatick, Kaffrine, Kaolack, Kedougou, Kolda, Louga, Matam, Saint-Louis, Sedhiou, Tambacounda, Thies and Ziguinchor are members of the International Association of Francophone regions
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 jure communaute rurale (rural community), with half a million.