The capital of Senegal, Dakar, is the westernmost point in Africa. The country, slightly smaller than South Dakota, surrounds Gambia on three sides and is bordered on the north by Mauritania, on the east by Mali, and on the south by Guinea and Guinea-Bissau.
Senegal is mainly a low-lying country, with a semidesert area in the north and northeast and forests in the southwest. The largest rivers include the Senegal in the north and the Casamance in the southern tropical climate region.
Multiparty democractic republic.
The Toucouleur people, among the early inhabitants of Senegal, converted to Islam in the 11th century, although their religious beliefs retained strong elements of animism. The Portuguese had some stations on the banks of the Senegal River in the 15th century, and the first French settlement was made at St.-Louis in 1659. Gorée Island became a major center for the Atlantic slave trade through the 1700s, and millions of Africans were shipped from there to the New World. The British took parts of Senegal at various times, but the French gained possession in 1840 and made it part of French West Africa in 1895. In 1946, together with other parts of French West Africa, Senegal became an overseas territory of France. On June 20, 1960, it formed an independent republic federated with Mali, but the federation collapsed within four months.
Although Senegal is neither a large nor a strategically located country, it has nonetheless played a prominent role in African politics since its independence. As a black nation that is more than 90% Muslim, Senegal has been a diplomatic and cultural bridge between the Islamic and black African worlds. Senegal has also maintained closer economic, political, and cultural ties to France than probably any other former French African colony.
Senegal's first president, Léopold Sédar Senghor, towered over the country's political life until his voluntary retirement in 1981. He replaced multiparty democracy with an authoritarian regime. An acclaimed poet, Senghor sought to become a “black-skinned Frenchman,” a quest he ultimately discovered to be impossible. An advocate of “African socialism,” Senghor increased government involvement in the economy through a series of four-year plans.
In 1973 Senegal and six other nations created the West African Economic Community. When rising oil prices and fluctuations in the price of peanuts, a major export crop, ruined the economy in the 1970s, Senghor reversed course. He emphasized new industries such as tourism and fishing. Politically, the so-called passive revolution allowed limited opposition.
A Smooth Transition of Power
When the economy continued to stagnate, and with it Senghor's popularity, he resigned after 20 years at the helm in favor of his protégé, Abdou Diouf. Diouf, who led the country for the next 20 years, initiated further economic and political liberalization, including the sale of government companies and permitting the existence of political parties. In March 2000, opposition party challenger Abdoulaye Wade won 60% of the vote in multiparty elections. Diouf stepped aside in what was hailed as a rare smooth transition of power in Africa. In Jan. 2001, the Senegalese voted in a new constitution that legalized opposition parties and granted women equal property rights with men.
In Sept. 2002, 1,863 passengers were killed when the state-owned Joola ferry sank. The government accepted responsibility for the disaster.
The president removed Prime Minister Idrissa Seck in April 2004. Seck was considered Wade's rival. Wade was elected to a second term in February, taking about 56% of the vote—enough to avoid a runoff election. Seck placed second, with about 15%. Wade did not breeze to victory, however, as his opponents accused him of corruption and the electorate has grown impatient with the slow growth in the number of jobs.
Wade Denied a Third Term
Despite constitutional term limits, President Wade ran for a third term in 2012. His decision sparked violent protests that threatened to destabilize the country. Wade lost decisively in the second round in March to former prime minister Macky Sall.
Macky Sall's move from prime minister to president became official on April 2, 2012. The following day he named Abdoul Mbaye as prime minister, and completed his cabinet on the 3rd with Alioune Badara Cissé as foreign minister, Augustin Tine as defense minister, Mbaye Ndiaye as interior minister, and Amadou Kane as finance minister.