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 Jewel of

The African continent is comprised of 54 nations, each with its own independent government and sovereignty, GDP, culture, natural resources, language(s), military, and religion. The treasure trove of mineral and raw material wealth has scarcely been touched and the continent's largely untapped fertile lands could feed the world. Herewith is Jewel of Africa, an interactive adventure in the cradle of mankind, an exploration of nations from A-Z in alphabetical order.


Senegal: A blend of ancient traditions and contemporary


Senegal, officially the Republic of Senegal, is a country south of the Sénégal River in western western Africa. The name "Senegal" comes from the Wolof Sunu Gaal, which means "Our Boat." It is one of only a handful of countries to have a near-enclave within its borders—the small nation of The Gambia, which penetrates more than 199 mile into Senegal, from the Atlantic coast to the center of Senegal along the Gambia River, which bisects Senegal's territory.

The area of Senegal south of The Gambia, known as the Casamance, has ample rainfall, in con- trast to the dry lands to the north, and its distinctive people have a tradition of independence that led to a decades-long civil war only settled in 2004.

Senegal, though poor, has a tradition of political stability and peaceful transfers of power. It succesfully made the transition from a one-party state to a multiparty democracy in 2000. The former French colony was a major shipping point for the slave trade from Gorée Island.


Senegal is a coastal West African nation that is slightly smaller than  South Dakota, bounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Mauritania to the north, Mali to the east, and Guinea and Guinea-Bissau to the south, both borders running along the Casamance River, one of four rivers flowing from east to west, roughly parallel to each other.

The Cape Verde islands lie some 348 miles off the Senegalese coast, but Cap Vert is a peninsula near Senegal's capital Dakar, and the westernmost point in Africa.

Though the terrain is generally low, rolling, plains rising to foothills in the southeast, the country also has tropical rainforest in the southwest and marsh or swampland along the coast. These low- llands are seasonally flooded but subject to periodic droughts. The lowest point in Senegal is the Atlantic Ocean at sea level. The highest point is an unnamed feature near Nepen Diakha in the Fouta Djallon foothills at 1900 feet. Wildlife populations are threatened by poaching; other problems are deforestation, overgrazing, soil erosion, desertification, and overfishing.


The local climate is tropical with well-defined dry and humid seasons that result from northeast winter winds and southwest summer winds. The rainy season, May to November, has strong south- east winds, and the dry season, December to April, is dominated by the hot, dry, harmattan wind. Dakar's annual rainfall of about 24 inches occurs between June and October when maximum tem- peratures average 80.6 degrees Fahrenheit.


The minimum temperature range from December to February is roughly 62.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures inland are higher than along the coast, where the Canary Current keeps tempera- tures more moderate, and rainfall increases substantially farther south, exceeding 60 inches annually in some areas.


Archaeological findings throughout the area indicate that Senegal was inhabited by 800 B.C.E., before the Sahara Desert began expanding southward and the region was wetter. Groups of meg- aliths up to 12 feet high have been discovered near the mouth of the Senegal River. Eastern Sen- egal was once part of the Empire of Ghana, which was based in Mali. In the 9th century, the Tuk- ulor people founded the Tekrur empire, which converted to Islam in the 11th century. Islam remains

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Dakar is the capital and and largest city of Senegal. The city of Dakar proper has a population of 3.4 million, including the population of the Dakar metropolitan area. The area around Dakar was settled in the 15th cen- tury. The Portuguese estab-lished a presence on the island of Gorée off the coast of Cap-Vert and used it as a base for the Atlantic slave tradeFrance took over the island in 1677. Following the abolition of slavery and French annexation of the

mainland area in the 19th century, Dakar grew into a major regional port and a major city of the French

colonial empire. In 1902 Dakar replaced  Saint-Louis as the capital of French West Africa. From 1959 to 1960, Dakar was the capital of the short-lived Mali Federation. In 1960, it was named the capital of the independent Republic of Senegal. The city is home to 20,000 French expatriates. France still maintains an air force base

at Yoff and the French fleet

is serviced in Dakar's port.


Senegal is located in the westernmost part of Africa. The territory of this country com- bines the desert land- scapes of the Sahara

in the north, a saltwater water lake with pink water and wonderful rain forests towards

the south. Here you can find buffaloes and leopards, red monkeys and crocodiles, a large variety of birds, and in the ocean tropical fish, manatees, river dol- hins, and rare sea tur- tles. Senegalese cul- ture is very engaging, their markets, fabrics, and cheeses, as well as architecture. 


According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, 44 per- cent or about 20.1 mil- lion acres of Senegal is forested. Of this, 18.3 percent or 1,553,000 is classified as primary forest, the most bio- diverse and carbon-dense form of forest. Between 1990 and 2010, Senegal lost an average of 47 percent per year. Senegal's forests contain 340 million metric tons of carbon in living forest biomass. Senegal has 927 known species of amphibians, birds, mammals, and reptiles according to the World Conservation Monitor- ing Center; five percent are endemic, and 2.4 percent are threatened. 


Fauna in the Republic of Senegal is teeming. The nation has a tropical climate, three major rivers, and dry grassland. This mixed environment is ideal habitat for animals native to the region, which include the great white pelican, flamingo, zebra, giraffe, lion, leopard, elephant, chimpanzee, several species of antelope, numerous snake species, crocodile, and banded white mongoose.

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dominant religion in Senegal. In the 13th and 14th centuries, the area came under the influence of the Mandingo empire to the east. The Jolof Empire of Senegal also was founded during this time and reached its height in the 15th century, which is when the Portuguese first encountered them.

Various European powers—Portugal, the Netherlands, and England—competed for trade in the area from the 15th century onward, exchanging manufactured goods for hides, gum arabic (used for making paper, candy, and textiles), gold, and slaves, but the Europeans were confined to specified areas. When the Portuguese arrived in the mid-15th century, they found many of the tribes already engaging in slavery, using those acquired in raids for agriculture and trading them to Arabs for horses.

In 1617, France established its first permanent settlement in Senegal, at what had become an important slave trade departure point: the infamous island of Gorée next to modern Dakar. A French fort was built at Saint Louis in 1659. In 1840 Senegal was declared a French possession, and in the 1850s the French began to expand their foothold, both militarily and economically, onto the mainland at the expense of native kingdoms like Waalo, Cayor, Baol, and Jolof. 

France granted some political rights to people in the major trading cities in Senegal, declaring them citizens and allowing them to elect a representative to the French parliament. The first African was elected in 1914. In 1946 Senegal was given two deputies in the French parliament. Under the constitution of 1946, the franchise was extended and a Territorial Assembly was established in Senegal. Universal suffrage was established in 1957. In 1958, Senegal accepted the new French constitution and became an autonomous republic within the French Community, part of Francophone Africa.


In January 1959, representatives of French Sudan (now Mali), Senegal, Dahomey (now Benin), and Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) drafted a constitution for a Federation of Mali, but only the assemblies of French Sudan and Senegal ratified it and became members of the federation. The Mali Federation became fully independent in June 1960, as a result of the transfer of power agreement signed with France. Due to internal political difficulties, the federation broke up in August. Senegal and Sudan (Mali) proclaimed independence. Léopold Senghor was elected Senegal's first president in September 1960.

Senghor and Prime Minister Mamadou Dia governed together under a parliamentary system. In December 1962, their political rivalry led to an attempted coup by 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. His party, the Progressive Senegalese Union, was the single dominant party until Senghor authorized opposition parties in 1976. In 1980, Senghor decided to retire from politics, and he handed power over in 1981 to his hand- picked successor, Abdou Diouf.

Senegal joined with The Gambia to form the nominal confederation of Senegambia on Feb. 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 interna- tional peacekeeping. Abdou Diouf was president between 1981 and 2000. He encouraged broader political participation, reduced gov- ernment involvement in the economy, and widened Senegal's diplomatic engage- ments, 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 Abdou- laye 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. Wade drafted a more democratic constitution that abolished the Senate and reorganized the National Assembly and judiciary branch. Women were granted equal property rights. In 2004, Wade signed a peace treaty with the separ- atist group in the Casamance region that was expected finally to end the 22-year-long rebellion, in which at least 3,500 people died, 50,000 refugees fled into The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, and the region's once-booming tourist economy virtually collapsed. Intermittent clashes among factions in the Casamance continued in 2007.


Senegal is a multiparty republic. Senegal has a unicameral legislature (the National Assembly). The 165 members of the National Assembly are elected by two methods; 90 are elected by either first-past-the-post or party bloc vote in 35 single- or multi-member constituencies based on the 35 departments, with an additional 15 elected by over- seas voters. The other 60 seats are elected from a nationwide constituency by proportional representation, with seats allocated initially using the simple quotient, with remaining seats allocated using the largest remainder method. All legislators serve five-year terms. Judicial, executive, and legislative powers are separated. 

Local administrative and justice

Senegal is a republic the president is elected every five years. Governance  is divided into 14 régions, which in turn are divided into departments 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 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. The capital, 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 also tries government officials for crimes committed while in performance of their government duties.

Foreign relations

Senegal has long supported functional integration among French-speaking West African states through the West African Economic and Monetary Union. The nation has a high profile in many international organizations and was a member of the UN Security Council in 1988-1989. It was elected to the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1997. Senegal maintains friendly relations with the West, especially France and the US.

The US maintains friendly relations with Senegal and provides considerable economic and technical assistance. Senegal was President George W. Bush’s first stop in his July 2003 visit to Africa. Senegal took a strong position against terrorism in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and in October 2001 hosted a conference establishing the African Pact Against Terrorism.


Senegal has well-trained and disciplined armed forces comprised of 17,000 personnel in the army, air force, navy, and gendarmerie. Most military training, equipment, and support comes from the US and France. Senegal has participated in many international and regional peacekeeping missions, including the African Union mission in Darfur, Sudan, the UN mission in Liberia, and the UN mission in Cote d’Ivoire. In 2000, Senegal sent a battalion to the Democratic Republic of Congo to participate in the UN peacekeeping mission, and agreed to deploy a battalion to Sierra Leone to participate in another UN peacekeeping mission.

In 1991, Senegal was the only nation south of the Sahara to send a contingent to participate in Operation Desert Storm in the Middle East. Subsequent to that, in 1994, Senegal sent a battalion to Rwanda to participate in the UN peacekeeping mission there. A military contingent was also deployed to the Central African Republic in 1997 in a peacekeeping mission.


Senegal's economy grew by 5 percent in 2021 thanks in part to solid industrial output, according to the Internat- ional Monetary Fund (IMF), which said it had reached a staff-level agreement with Senegal that could pave the way for the disbursement of around a further $180 million under an existing loan deal. Senegal’s economic rebound through September 2021 was stronger than envisaged, according to the IMF, even as the country faced a ”third wave of the pandemic in the third quarter, on the back of solid industrial and services production," the IMF said in statement.

Senegal is seeking to recover from the economic shock of the pandemic, which caused its real GDP growth to slow to 1.5 percent in 2020 from 4.4 percent in 2019. Senegal envisions economic growth accelerating to 5.5 percent in 2022, and to peak at about 10 percent in 2023-24 with the beginning of oil and gas production, before easing to around 6 percent over the medium term.

The main industries include food processing, mining, cement, artificial fertilizer, chemicals, textiles, refining imported petroleum, and tourism. Exports include fish, chemicals, groundnuts, cotton, and calcium phosphate. Agricultural products include groundnuts, millet, corn, sorghum, rice, cotton, tomatoes, green vegetables, cattle, poultry, pigs, and fish.

The principal foreign markets are Mali (16.9 percent), India (13.1 percent), France (9.5 percent), Spain (6.1 percent), Italy (5.5 percent), and The Gambia (4.6 percent). The port at Dakar makes it a major trade center. 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 realized full Internet connectivity in 1996, creating a miniboom in information technology-based services.


Private activity now accounts for 82 percent of GDP. On the negative side, Senegal faces deep-seated urban problems like chronic unemployment, socioeconomic disparity, juvenile delinquency, and drug addiction. More than 77 percent of the population is engaged in agriculture. Unemployment is 48 percent, although most of that (40 percent), is among urban youth.

The record-high prices for oil that began in 2005 have had a severe impact on Africa's poorest nations, including Senegal. The government responded by trying to curtail his nation's energy dependency and urging oil companies to invest a portion of their profits to help fight poverty in Africa.


The current population of Senegal in 2022 is 17.5 million, a 2.66 percent increase from 2021. According to current projections, Senegal’s population is expected to grow for the rest of the century. The population is projected to surpass 50 million by 2077 and will end the century at 63.02 million, almost quadruple its current population. Just under half of the people of Senegal live in urban areas, and the largest city is Dakar with a population of 2.4 million, and more than 3.4 million people in the greater metropolitan area.


The next largest city is the holy city of Touba with a population of 529,176, which has only been in existence since 1963. The third largest city is Rufisque, located on the western side of Senegal, which a population of 490,694. Rufisque has fallen into disrepair in recent years and is one area of Senegal where the population is declining. Other notable cities include Thiès, Ziguinchor, Kaolack, Saint-Louis, M'Bour, and Diourbel, all of which have populations over 100,000.

Senegal is currently growing at a rate of 2.75 percent, adding upwards of 447,000 people to the population per year despite negative net migration. This is due to Senegal’s high fertility rate of 4.65 births per woman. Contraceptives are still considered taboo in Senegalese society with only about 13 percent of the population using contraceptives, attributing to the high fertility rate.

Like many other African countries with rapid population growth, Senegal faces challenges with education, health care, resource depletion, and economic development as the population growth outpaces these things. Literacy rate, adult total (% of people ages 15 and above) in Senegal was reported at 51.9 percent in 2017, according to the World Bank collection of development indicators, compiled from officially recognized sources. Senegal - Literacy rate, adult total values, historical data, forecasts and projections were sourced from the World Bank on January of 2022.


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 at 42 percent; there are also Pular (28 percent), Serer (15 percent), Mandinka (5 percent), Jola (3 percent), Soninke (1 percent), and others including Europeans and per- sons of Lebanese descent (5 percent). About 50,000 Europeans (mostly French), as well as smaller numbers of Mauritanians and Lebanese, reside in Senegal, mainly in the cities. 

From the time of earliest contact between Europeans and Africans along the coast of Senegal, particularly after the establishment of coastal trading posts, 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 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.


Islam is the predominant religion, practiced by approximately 96 percent of the country's population (most adhere to one of the four main Sufi brotherhoods). The Christian community, at 4 percent of the population, includes Roman Catholics and diverse Protestant denominations. There is also a tiny minority who practice animism, 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 be converted to Islam. The Halpulaar are comprised of various Fula 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 about one 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 19th and early 20th centuries. During the mid-19th century, Islam became a banner of resistance against the traditional aristocracies and French colonialism. 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 empires were 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 prom- inent 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.

Small Roman Catholic communities are mainly found in coastal Serer, Jola, Mankanya and Balant populations, and in eastern Senegal among the Bassari and Coniagui. In Dakar, Catholic and Protestant rites are also prac- ticed by a portion of the Lebanese, Capeverdian, European, American immigrant population, and among certain Africans of other countries. Although Islam is Senegal's majority religion, Senegal's first president, Léopold Sédar Senghor, was a Catholic Serer.


Senegalese society is sharply divided between the urban culture and rural farmers, perpetuating divisions that have their roots in the French colonial period. Africans born in the four major French areas—Dakar, Goree, Rufisque, and Saint-Louis—were granted French citizenship, could attend school in France, and had access to employment. 

Today, even in urban areas, housing varies from upper-class homes to crudely constructed huts in the shanty- towns made up of recent migrants. In rural villages, family compounds surround village centers, comprised of mud huts enclosed by a fences constructed of dried palm fronds or reed s. Married sons and their wives live in these family compounds.

Traditionally, the Senegalese are polygymous, and nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of women are in polygamous marriages, the third highest rate in the world. While in rural areas their roles are still largely confined to domestic duties, in the cities they are entering the labor force in such roles as secretaries and unskilled labor. More boys than girls are educated, but the gap is slowly closin

Arts and crafts

The dominant ethnic group in Senegal are the Wolof people, known for their skilled craftsmanship in pottery, woodcarving, basketry, and making designs on cloth. The Fulani, on the other hand, are best known for their leather work with geometric designs, and the Serer and Malinke craftsmen are known for their creativity in designing high-quality jewelry.

Music has both social and religious functions in traditional villages, especially in the use of percussion instru- ments. Youssou N'Dour and Baaba Maal are two popular singers who have an international reputation.  Drama
in Senegal is an outgrowth of ritual dances that combined drama, costumes, and song.  In the 1960s, the gov- ernment created a national theatrical company that includes singers and musicians, dancers, and actors. Ritual dances that accompanied religious ceremonies have evolved into less structured events but remain an important leisure activity. Usually they involve groups of dancers performing to instrumental music and chants. The national dance company has toured abroad.

Senegal plays a key role in West Africa's culture, despite its small size and population. From Senghor to Mariame BA, Senegal has produced some of the best African poets, writers, and film-makers. During the 19th century, there was a movement to integrate Senegal into the cultural Muslim world. Later, Léopold Sedar Senghor and Cheikh Anta Diop contributed to the evolution of Pan-Africanism and the restoration of the value of Negro culture. The first World Festival of Negro Arts, which was organized in Dakar in 1966, was one of the greatest events in Senegal's cultural life.


The cuisine of Senegal is a mix of indigenous foods by the Wolof people  influenced by France, Portugal and North Africa. Because Senegal borders the Atlantic Ocean, fish is very important. Chicken, lamb, peas, eggs, and beef are also infused in Senegalese cuisine. Pork is excluded due to the nation’s largely Muslim population. In the semi-arid interior, peanuts, millet, corn, couscous, white rice, sweet potatoes, lentils, black-eyed peas and various vegetables are the primary crops.


Meats and vegetables are typically stewed or marinated in herbs and spices and then poured over rice or couscous, or simply eaten with bread. Throughout the country, meals tend to be single-dish affairs, with everyone eating from one bowl or platter, using spoons or bare hands to scoop up meat and vegetables. Sosa kaani, an hot and spicy sauce made from Scotch bonnet peppers, is observed at every meal.

There are three main dishes that are widely known and beloved in Senegal. Thiéboudienne has been dubbed the country’s national dish, a fish and rice specialty that originated in the former French colonial capital of Saint-Louis. Another very popular meal is Yassa, which can be either chicken or fish that is first marinated overnight with lemon and onions, simmered and served over rice. And finally Mafe is a stew typically made with beef or lamb in a tomato and peanut sauce.


The traditional Senegalese sport is a form of wrestling called laambi, but the most popular sport is soccer. Other sports are basketball, cricket, and track and field.

Jarrette Fellows, Jr. / Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License  

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