Senegal Basic Facts - History

Population mid-2009 .................................. 13,717,000
GDP per capita US$..........1600
GDP 2008 (PPP US$ billions)................ 21.98

Average annual growth 1991-97
Population (%) ....... 2.6
Labor force (%) ....... 2.6

Total Area...................................................................75,954 sq. mi.
Urban population (% of total population) ............................... 45

Life expectancy at birth (years).....................................................52
Infant mortality (per 1,000 live births)........................................ 70
Child malnutrition (% of children under 5) .............................22
Access to safe water (% of population) ..................................... 50
Illiteracy (% of population age 15+) ............................................65

Maps of Senegal

Senegal is a relatively flat country in West Africa with an area of 196,712 sq. km. It is located in a depression called the Senegal-Mauritanian Basin.

The country can be divided into three major physical regions. To the west is the Cape Verde headland or peninsula with small plateaus of volcanic origin. It hosts the national capital of Dakar as visible on the map. The relatively high eastern and southeastern parts with fringes of ancient massifs including the country's highest point at 581 m constitutes another distinct physical region. The third is the massive lowland area between the highland region to the east and Cape Verde to the west. The country also has a sandy coastline along the Atlantic to the west that is generally low except for the Cape Verde region.

Major rivers draining the country include Senegal, Gambia, Saloum, and Casamance.

Senegal Basic Facts - History

Map credit: (2010). Retrieved from Kingdom of Ghana from Ancient Civilizations Online Textbook,

Senegal's rich musical heritage is due in part to the diversity and history of its people. In the eleventh century, the Ghana empire occupied the southwest portion of Mauritania and the western end of Mali. (NOTE: The country of Ghana as we know it today is related to the ancient Ghana empire by name only it does not share any land.)

When the Ghana empire was defeated and incorporated into the empire of Mali, Wolof people in the empire migrated west to the northwest coastal region of Senegal. Today, the Wolof comprise the largest cultural group in Senegal.

In Eric Charry's book, Mande Music (2000), the author discusses the establishment of the West African empire in the early 13th century. Much is made of the legendary warrior and hero, Sunjata, who built one of the largest and wealthiest empires in West Africa. This empire centered around the area lying between the rivers Senegal and Niger, now known as the country of Mali. As people migrated west to the coast from Mali, local cultures were assimilated.

The descendents of the empire of Mali are known in Senegal and The Gambia as Mandinka. The Mandinka belong to the larger ethno-linguistic group known as Mande.

Over 90% of the Wolof and Mandinka practice Islam.

The instruments discussed in this website are indigenous to certain ethnic groups. The sabar is one of the instruments we explore in this website. When we think of drumming, most people will describe drumming as using two sticks (one in each hand) or two hands. In sabar drumming, it is one hand and one stick that is used to produce sound. Sabar drumming is unique to the Wolof people. Sabar is referenced to the actual drums of sabar, the dances that accompany sabar, and in general, events surrounding sabar.

The following video was filmed in Senegal, near the border of The Gambia in July of 2010. The drummer on the left is playing a sabar drum. The drummer you see on the right side of the screen is playing a tama, or "talking drum."

Sabar and Tama Drumming with Dance

Balla Kouyaté performing on balafon, Boston, 2010. Balla is a Mande Djeli. For more information on Balla and his music, please visit his website at:

Bala Kouyaté showing the gourd resonators of the balafon. Boston, 2010.

The below audio file is of Balla Kouyaté & World Vision performing Ma Ya Ye Hakili Ye. The CD is titled "Sababu." More information on Balla and his music can be found at Audio file is used by permission.

Balla Kouyaté performing on balafon

Thoughts to ponder:
What do we know about life during the Ghana empire?

What factors contributed to the kingdom of Mali becoming so large and wealthy?

Islam is practiced by over 90% of the population in Senegal and The Gambia. What role do you think religion has played in the realm of music? Would instrumental or vocal music show greater religious influences? What are the Muslim beliefs?

What role has history and culture played in the music of West Africa?

The earliest evidence of human life is found in the valley of the Falémé in the south-east. [1]

The presence of man in the Lower Paleolithic is attested by the discovery of stone tools characteristic of Acheulean such as hand axes reported by Théodore Monod [2] at the tip of Fann in the peninsula of Cap-Vert in 1938, or cleavers found in the south-east. [3] There were also found stones shaped by the Levallois technique, characteristic of the Middle Paleolithic. Mousterian Industry is represented mainly by scrapers found in the peninsula of Cap-Vert, as well in the low and middle valleys of the Senegal and the Falémé. Some pieces are explicitly linked to hunting, like those found in Tiémassass, near M'Bour, a controversial site that some claim belongs to the Upper Paleolithic, [4] while other argue in favor of the Neolithic. [5]

In Senegambia, the period when humans became hunters, fishermen and producers (farmer and artisan) are all well represented and studied. This is when more elaborate objects and ceramics [6] emerged. But gray areas remain. Although the characteristics and manifestations of civilization from the Neolithic have been identified their origins and relationship have not yet fully defined. What can be distinguished is:

  • The dig of Cape Manuel: the Neolithic deposit Manueline Dakar was discovered in 1940. [7]Basalt rocks including ankaramite were used for making microlithic tools such as axes or planes. Such tools have been found at Gorée and the Magdalen Islands, indicating the activity of shipbuilding by nearby fishermen.
  • The dig of Bel-Air: Neolithic Bélarien tools, usually made out of flint, are present in the dunes of the west, near the current capital. In addition to axes, adzes and pottery, there is also a statuette, the Venus Thiaroye[8]
  • The dig of Khant: the Khanty creek, located in the north near Kayar in the lower valley of the Senegal River, gave its name to a Neolithic industry which mainly uses bone and wood. [9] This deposit is on the list of closed sites and monuments of Senegal. [10]
  • The dig the Falémé located in the south-east of Senegal, has uncovered a Neolithic Falemian tools industry that produced polished materials as diverse as sandstone, hematite, shale, quartz, and flint. Grinding equipment and pottery from the period are well represented at the site.
  • The Neolithic civilization of the Senegal River valley and the Ferlo are the least well known due to not always being separated.

In the case of Senegal, the periodization of prehistory remains controversial. It is often described as beginning with the age of metallurgy, thus placing it between the first metalworking and the appearance of writing. Other approaches exist such as that of Guy Thilmans and his team in 1980, [11] who felt that any archeology from pre-colonial could be attached to that designation or that of Hamady Bocoum, who speaks of "Historical Archaeology" from the 4th century, at least for the former Tekrur. [12]

A variety of archaeological remains have been found:

  • On the coast and in river estuaries of the Senegal, Saloum, Gambia, and Casamance rivers, burial mounds with clusters of shells often referred to as middens. 217 of these clusters have been identified in the Saloum Delta alone, [10] for example in Joal-Fadiouth, [13] Mounds in the Saloum Delta have been dated back as far as 400 BCE, and part of the Saloum Delta is now a World Heritage Site. Funerary sites or tumuli were built there during the 8th to 16th centuries. [14] They are also found in the north near Saint-Louis, [15] and in the estuary of the Casamance. [16]
  • The West is rich in burial mounds of sand that the Wolof refer to as mbanaar, which translates to "graves", [17] A solid gold pectoral of mass 191 g has also been discovered near Saint-Louis. [18]
  • In a huge area of nearly 33,000km 2 located in the center-south around the Gambia there have been found alignments of boulders known as the Stone Circles of Senegambia which were placed on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites in 2006. [19] Two of these sites are located within the territory of Senegal: Sine Ngayène[20] and Sine Wanar, both located in the Department of Nioro Rip. Sine Ngayène has 52 stone circles including a double circle. At Wanar, they number 24 and the stones are smaller. There are stone-carved lyre in the laterite, Y- or A-shaped.
  • The existence of proto-historic ruins in the middle Senegal River valley was confirmed in the late 1970s. [21] Pottery, perforated ceramic discs [22] or ornaments have been unearthed. Excavations at thé site of Sinthiou Bara, [23] near Matam, have proved particularly fruitful. They have revealed, for example, the flow of trans-Saharan trade from distant parts of North Africa.

The region of modern Senegal was a part of the larger region called Upper Guinea by European traders. In the absence of written sources and monumental ruins in this region, the history of the early centuries of the modern era must be based primarily on archaeological excavations, the writing of early geographers and travelers, written in Arabic and data derived from oral tradition. Combining these data suggests that Senegal was first populated from the north and east in several waves of migration, the last being that of the Wolof, the Fulani and the Serer. Africanist historian Donald R. Wright suggests that Senegambian place-names indicate "that the earliest inhabitants might be identified most closely with one of several related groups—Bainunk, Kasanga, Beafada. To these were added Serer, who moved southward during the first millennium A.D. from the Senegal River valley, and Mande-speaking peoples, who arrived later still from the east." [24] Probable descendants of Bafours [ who? ] were pushed southward by the Berber dynasty of Almoravids. [ citation needed ]

Before the arrival of European settlers, the history of the Saharan region is mainly characterized by the consolidation of settlements in large state entities – the Ghana Empire, the Mali Empire and the Songhai Empire. The cores of these great empires were located on the territory of the current Republic of Mali, so current-day Senegal occupied a peripheral position. [25]

The earliest of these empires is that of Ghana, probably founded in the first millennium by Soninke and whose animist populations subsisted by agriculture and trade across the Sahara, [26] including gold, salt and cloth. Its area of influence slowly spread to regions between the river valleys of the Senegal and Niger.

A contemporary empire of Ghana, but less extensive, the kingdom of Tekrur was its vassal. Ghana and Tekrur were the only organized populations before Islamization. The territory of Tekrur approximates that of the current Fouta Toro. Its existence in the 9th century is attested by Arabic manuscripts. The formation of the state may have taken place as an influx of Fulani from the east settled in the Senegal valley. [27] [28] John Donnelly Fage suggests that Takrur was formed through the interaction of Berbers from the Sahara and "Negro agricultural peoples" who were "essentially Serer" although its kings after 1000 CE might have been Soninke (northern Mande). [29] The name, borrowed from Arabic writings, may be linked to that of the ethnicity Toucouleur. [30] Trade with the Arabs was prevalent. The Kingdom imported wool, copper and pearls and exported gold and slaves. [31] Indeed, the growth of a vast empire by Arab-Muslim Jihads is not devoid of economic and political issues and brought in its wake the first real growth of the slave trade. This trade called the trans-Saharan slave trade provided North Africa and Saharan Africa with slave labor. The Tekrur were among the first converts to Islam, certainly before 1040. [32]

Two other major political entities were formed and grew during the 13th and 14th century: the Mali Empire and the Jolof Empire which become the vassal of the first in its heyday. Originating in the Mandinka invasion, Mali continued to expand, encompassing first eastern Senegal, and later almost all the present territory. Founded in the 14th century by the possibly mythical chief of the Wolof Ndiadiane Ndiaye, [33] who was a Serer of Waalo (Ndiaye is originally a Serer surname [34] [35] [36] [37] [38] which is also found among the Wolof). Djolof expanded its dominance of small chiefdoms south of the Senegal River (Waalo, Cayor, Baol, Sine – Saloum), bringing together all the Senegambia to which he gave religious and social unity: [ dubious – discuss ] the "Grand Djolof" [39] which collapsed in 1550.

The Jolof Empire was founded by a voluntary confederacy of States it was not an empire built on military conquest in spite of what the word "empire" implies. [40] [41] The Serer tradition of Sine attests that the Kingdom of Sine never paid tribute to Ndiadiane Ndiaye nor to any member of his descendants that ruled Djolof. Historian Sylviane Diouf states that "Each vassal kingdom—Walo, Takrur, Kayor, Baol, Sine, Salum, Wuli, and Niani—recognized the hegemony of Jolof and paid tribute." [42] It went on to state that, Ndiadiane Ndiaye himself received his name from the mouth of Maissa Wali (the King of Sine). [43] In the epics of Ndiadiane and Maissa Wali, it is well acknowledged that Maissa Wali was pivotal in the founding of this Empire. [ citation needed ] It was he who nominated Ndiadiane Ndiaye and called for the other states to join this confederacy, which they did, and the "empire" headed by Ndiadiane, who took residence at Djolof. [43] [44] It is for this reason scholars propose that the empire was more like a voluntary confederacy than an empire built on military conquest. [40] [41]

The arrival of Europeans engendered autonomy of small kingdoms which were under the influence of Djolof. Less dependent on trans-Saharan trade with the new shipping lanes, they turn more readily to trade with the New World. The decline of these kingdoms can be explained by internal rivalries, then by the arrival of Europeans, who organized the mass exodus of young Africans to the New World. [45] Ghazis, wars, epidemics and famine afflicted the people, along with the Atlantic slave trade, in exchange for weapons and manufactured goods. Under the influence of Islam, these kingdoms were transformed and marabouts played an increasing role.

In Casamance, the Baïnounks, the Manjaques and Diola inhabited the coastal area while the mainland – unified 13th century under the name of Kaabu – was occupied by the Mandingo. In the 15th century, the king of one of the tribes, Kassas gave his name to the region: Kassa Mansa (King of Kassas). Until the French intervention The Casamance was a heterogeneous entity, weakened by internal rivalries. [46]

According to several ancient sources, including occasions by the Dictionnaire de pédagogie et d'instruction primaire by Ferdinand Buisson in 1887, [47] the first French settlement in Senegal dates back to the Dieppe Mariners in the 14th century. Flattering for Norman sailors, this argument gives credence also to the idea of a precedence of the French presence in the region, but it is not confirmed by subsequent work.

In the mid-15th century, several European nations reached the coast of West Africa, vested successively or simultaneously by the Portuguese, the Dutch, the English and French. Europeans first settled along the coasts, on islands in the mouths of rivers and then a little further upstream. They opened trading posts and engaged in the "trade:" – a term which, under the Ancien Régime, means any type of trade (wheat, pepper ivory. ), and not necessarily, or only, the slave trade, [48] although this "infamous traffic", as it was called at the end of the 18th century, was indeed at the heart of a new economic order, controlled by powerful companies in privilege.

The Portuguese navigators Edit

Encouraged by Henry the Navigator and always in search of the Passage to India, and not forgetting gold and slaves, Portuguese explorers explored the African coast and ventured still farther south. [49]

In 1444 Dinis Dias went off the mouth of the Senegal River to reach the westernmost point of Africa he calls Cabo Verde, Cape Vert, [50] because of the lush vegetation seen there. He also reached the island of Gorée, referred to by its inhabitants as Berzeguiche, but which he called Ilha de Palma, the island of Palms. The Portuguese did not settle there permanently, but used the site for landing and engaged in commerce in the region. They built a chapel there in 1481. [51] Portuguese trading posts were installed in Tanguegueth [52] in Cay, a town they renamed Fresco Rio (the future Rufisque) because of the freshness of its sources in the Baol Sali (later the seaside town of Saly) which takes the name of Portudal, or to Joal in the Kingdom of Sine.

They also traversed the lower Casamance [53] and founded Ziguinchor in 1645. The introduction of Christianity accompanied this business expansion.

The Dutch West India Company Edit

After the Act of Abjuration in 1581, the United Provinces flouted the authority of the King of Spain. They based their growth on maritime trade and expanded their colonial empire in Asia, the Americas and South Africa. In West Africa trading posts were opened at some points of the current Senegal, Gambia, Ghana and Angola.

Created in 1621, the Dutch West India Company purchased the island of Gorée in 1627. [54] The company built two forts that are in ruins today: in 1628 on the face of Nassau Cove and 1639 at Nassau on the hill, as well as warehouses for goods destined for the mainland trading posts .

In his Description of Africa (1668), the humanist Dutch Olfert Dapper gives the etymology of the name given to it by his countrymen, Goe-ree Goede Reede, that is to say "good harbor"., [55] which is the name of (part of) an island in the Dutch province of Zeeland as well.

The Dutch settlers occupied the island for nearly half a century, dealing in wax, amber, gold, ivory and also participated in the slave trade, but kept away from foreign trading posts on the coast. The Dutch were dislodged several times: in 1629 by the Portuguese, in 1645 and 1659 by the French and in 1663 by the English.

Against the backdrop of Anglo-French rivalry Edit

The "trade" and the slave trade intensified in the 17th century. In Senegal, the French and British competed mainly on two issues, the island of Gorée and St. Louis. On 10 February 1763 the Treaty of Paris ended the Seven Years' War and reconciled, after three years of negotiations, France, Great Britain and Spain. Great Britain returned the island of Gorée to France. Britain then acquired from France, among many other territories, "the river of Senegal, with forts & trading posts St. Louis, Podor, and Galam and all rights & dependencies of the said River of Senegal.". [56]

Under Louis XIII and especially Louis XIV, the privileges were quite extensively granted to certain French shipping lines, which still faced many difficulties. In 1626 Richelieu founded the Norman Company, an association of Dieppe and Rouen merchants responsible for the operation in Senegal and the Gambia. It was dissolved in 1658 and its assets were acquired by the Company of Cape Vert and Senegal, itself expropriated following the creation by Colbert in 1664 of the French West India Company.

The Company of Senegal was in turn founded by Colbert in 1673. It became the major tool of French colonialism in Senegal, but saddled with debt, it was dissolved 1681 and replaced by another that lasted until 1694, the date of creation of the Royal Company of Senegal, whose director, Andre Brue, would be captured by the Damel of Cay and released against ransom in 1701. A third Company of Senegal was founded in 1709 and lasted until 1718. On the British side, the monopoly of trade with Africa was granted to the Royal African Company in 1698.

Grand Master of the naval war of Louis XIV, Admiral Jean Estrées seized Gorée on 1 November 1677. The island was taken up by the English on 4 February 1693 before being again occupied by the French four months later. In 1698 the Director of the Company of Senegal, Andre Brue, restored the fortifications. But Gorée became English once again in the middle of the 18th century.

The excellent location of St. Louis caught the attention of the English, who occupied it three times for a few months in 1693, then during the Seven Years' War of 1758 until it was taken by the Duc de Lauzun in 1779, and lastly 1809 in 1816. [ clarification needed ]

In 1783 the Treaty of Versailles returned Senegal to France. The monopoly of gum acacia is licensed to Senegal Company.

Appointed governor in 1785, Knight Boufflers focuses for two years to enhance the colony, while engaged in the smuggling of gum arabic and gold with signares.

In 1789 people of St. Louis write a List of Complaints. The same year the French were driven out of Fort St. Joseph in Galam and kingdom of Galam.

A trading economy Edit

The Europeans were sometimes disappointed because they hoped to find more gold in West Africa, but when the development of plantations in the Americas, mainly in the Caribbean, in Brazil and in the south of the United States raised a great need for cheap labor, the area received more attention. The Papacy, who had sometimes opposed slavery, did not condemn it explicitly to the end of the 17th century in fact the Church itself has an interest in the colonial system. Traffic of "ebony" was an issue for warriors who traditionally reduced the vanquished to slavery. Some people specialized in the slave trade, for example the Dyula in West Africa. States and kingdoms competed, along with private traders who became much richer in the triangular trade (although some shipments resulted in real financial disaster). Politico-military instability in the region was compounded by the slave trade.

The Black Code, enacted in 1685, regulated the trafficking of slaves in the American colonies.

In Senegal, trading posts were established in Gorée, St. Louis, Rufisque, Portudal and Joal and the upper valley of the Senegal River, including Fort St. Joseph, in the Kingdom of Galam, was in the 18th century a French engine of trafficking in Senegambia.

In parallel, a mestizo society develops in St. Louis and Gorée.

Slavery was abolished by the National Convention in 1794, then reinstated by Bonaparte in 1802. The British Empire abolished slavery in 1833 in France it was finally abolished in the Second Republic in 1848, under the leadership of Victor Schœlcher.

The progressive weakening of the colony Edit

In 1815, the Congress of Vienna condemned slavery. But this would not change much economically for the Africans.

After the departure of Governor Schmaltz (he had taken office at the end of the wreck of the Medusa), Roger Baron particularly encouraged the development of the peanut, "the earth pistachio", whose monoculture would be long because of the severe economic backwardness of Senegal. Despite the ferocity of the Baron, the company was a failure.

The colonization of Casamance also continued. The island of Carabane, acquired by France in 1836, was profoundly transformed between 1849 and 1857 by the resident Emmanuel Bertrand Bocandé, a Nantes businessman.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. The basic food is rice cooked with a spicy sauce and vegetables. The national dish is chep-bu-jen, the Wolof word for rice with fish. Cooked in a tomato sauce with boiled fish and a few vegetables (carrots, cabbage, and green peppers), chep-bu-jen is originally from the city of Saint-Louis. Yassa, a dish from Casamance is chicken or fish marinated in lemon juice, pepper, and onions and then baked. It is accompanied by plain white rice. Other sauces include mafé, domada and soupe kandja, (which is made from okra with fish and palm oil).

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. On ceremonial occasions, festive meals that include roasted or grilled meat with beans or French fries are eaten. Couscous (steamed millet) with vegetables, mutton, and gravy is a ceremonial dish. At the end of each meal, strong and sweet tea is drunk. Except in areas where it is prohibited, alcohol is available.

Basic Economy. The country's market economy is based largely on agriculture. The limited economic growth it has achieved since independence is interrupted periodically by drought conditions that can send the economy into severe recession. The most important food crops are millet and sorghum large quantities of rice are imported. Cotton, rice, sugar, and market-garden produce are grown. The national currency is called the CFA franc.

Land Tenure and Property. Primarily small family farms are worked chiefly by family labor. More than two-thirds of the country's farms are less than ten acres in size only 5 percent are more than twenty-five acres. After independence, the National Land Tenure Law of 1964 gave the state rights over all rural land and in theory abolished rents paid to absentee landlords. Under this arrangement, the state would become the steward of the land and allocate land rights to those who worked it. Before independence, traditional local systems of land tenure were based on African customary law, which allowed the local nobility or the head or chief of a village to receive crop shares and land rents from former slaves and people without land. Under the new law, which was part of a package of socialist reforms, owners with permanent buildings on their land were given six months to establish deeds for their plots. All land was divided into four categories: urban areas, reserves (including national forests and parks), farmland, and "pioneer zones." The law permitted the government to declare some of the less intensively occupied pioneer zones and cede them to groups and organizations that were willing to develop them. The country's most prominent Muslim leaders own large estates in the pioneer zones. The government's decision in 1991 to transfer large tracts of protected forestland to the head of the Mouride brotherhood to be used by his followers for planting peanuts dealt a serious blow to the credibility of the land tenure policy. In a few weeks, thousands of Mouride followers talibés had cleared the land, a process accompanied by the eviction of six thousand pastoralists and one hundred thousand animals from the forest area. The press and the international donor community sharply criticized the government's decision, which followed a pattern dating back to colonial days, when the French ceded large tracts of land to the Mourides to encourage peanut production.

Other reforms included the establishment of farmers' cooperatives and rural councils to replace traditional kin and patron-client networks. The cooperatives became the basic sources from which farmers could obtain seeds, tools, credit, and marketing facilities for their crops.

Commercial Activities. Agricultural and manufactured products are sold, including foodstuffs and household goods. The informal sector provides inexpensive goods and services for the urban poor who cannot afford to buy the goods produced by the formal industrial sector. There is an enormous market for cheap used clothing, which often is smuggled into the country and permits families to clothe their children at a relatively low cost.

Major Industries. Industrial output is determined largely by agricultural performance. Most major manufacturing is located in and around Dakar. Food processing is the largest activity, accounting for 43 percent of industrial production. Groundnut extraction is the major agricultural industry. Other industrial production includes fishing, phosphate mining, chemicals and oil, metal and mechanical industries, and the construction material and paper industries. In terms of light industry, the craft sector is very active. It includes handmade textiles gold, silver, and iron smithing pottery making woodworking basketry leatherworking and other traditional crafts.

Trade. Peanuts, phosphates, cotton, and fish and fishing products are exported. Fishing products, mostly canned tuna, provide direct and indirect employment for more than 150,000 people. As part of its diversification policy, Senegal became one of the first African countries to develop tourism as a major national economic activity. However, tourism suffered a major blow from the Casamance insurgency and the conflict with Mauritania. Cash crops include rice, cowpeas, maize, sugar, and livestock. Cement, refined sugar, fertilizers, and tobacco products are exported to neighboring countries. Food, capital goods, and petroleum are imported from France, Cote d'Ivoire, Nigeria, Algeria, China, and Japan.

Division of Labor. In the past, division of labor was practiced in farming. Before the rainy season, young men did the hard work of clearing the bush and preparing the land for sowing. Once it rained and the seeds began to sprout, women and children weeded. The constitution bans child labor, but instead of attending school, many children work in the family's fields.

Official name: Republic of Senegal
Capital city: Dakar
Population: 15,736,368
Area: 196,722 sq km
Major languages: French, Wolof
Time zone: UTC 0 (Greenwich Mean Time)
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

1. Senegal in West Africa has long been considered one of the region’s model democracies, boasting a history of stable government and civilian rule.
– Source: BBC News

2. Senegal has been part of several West African empires including the Kingdom of Ghana (8th century), the Tukulor Empire (11th century) and the Jolof Empire (12th-14th centuries).
– Source: BBC News

3. Senegal was of great interest to European powers. The Portuguese, British, French and Dutch all contended for control of the region due to its strategic location for trading slaves and goods.
– Source: Lonely Planet

4. The UNESCO-listed island of Gorée lies off the coast of Senegal. From the 15th to the 19th century, it was the largest slave-trading centre on the African coast.
– Source: UNESCO

Gorée Island was the largest slave-trading centre on the African coast (Shutterstock)

5. Goree Island is home to the ‘Door of No Return’, where millions of Africans were shipped to a life of slavery in the Caribbean and the Americas.
– Source: Reuters

6. In total, Senegal has seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In Africa, only South Africa (10), Ethiopia, Morocco (9) and Tunisia (8) have more.
– Source: UNESCO

7. In 1960, Senegal gained independence as part of the Mali Federation – an alliance linking Senegal and the Sudanese Republic (previously French Sudan).
– Source: Britannica

9. However, the federation lasted just two months when it was dissolved following Senegal’s secession and the Sudanese Republic became the Republic of Mali.
– Source: Britannica

10. In 1982, Senegal also briefly merged with Gambia to form a confederation to combine the countries’ military and security forces. Known as the Senegambian Confederation, it was dissolved in 1989.
– Source: BBC News

11. The Senegalese flag has green, yellow and red vertical stripes with a central green star. These are pan-African colours with green (along with the star) representing hope and the country’s major religion (Islam), yellow representing the natural riches and the wealth obtained through labour and red representing the struggle for independence, life and socialism.
– Source: Britannic

The flag of Senegal (Shutterstock)

12. Some drivers in Senegal attach horse, sheep or cattle hair to their taxis for good luck. Blessed by religious leaders, these tails are believed to provide good fortune.
– Source: New York Times

13. Senegal has a growing surf scene and the highly influential 1966 surfing movie The Endless Summer was part shot in Senegal.
– Source: CNN (video)

14. On Sundays in Dakar, local shepherds take their sheep for a daylong cleansing ritual. Sheep are prized as sacrifices during religious festivals and some people believe the cleaner the animal, the better the sacrifice.
– Source: New York Times

15. In 2012, Senegal began planting the Great Green Wall – a 7,000km long and 16km wide wall of trees stretching through several countries and across the arid Sahel savanna from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean. The project is behind schedule but there is still optimism regarding its completion.
– Source: Smithsonian

16. The Dakar Rally, first held in 1978–79 and covering up to 15,000km between Southern Europe and Senegal, is considered to be the world’s most gruelling automobile race. In 2009 the rally was relocated to South America after its organizers cancelled the event due to terrorism concerns.
– Source: Britannica

17. The Cape Verde Peninsula in west-central Senegal is the westernmost point of continental Africa.
– Source: Britannica

18. Senegal is home to Fadiouth, a small car-free island made entirely of clamshells including the houses, streets and cemeteries.
– Source: National Geographic (video)

Fadiouth Island is made entirely of clamshells (Shutterstock)

20. Senegal is known as the “Gateway to Africa” as it is served by multiple air and maritime travel routes.
– Source: Britannica

21. Lake Rose (also known as Lake Retba) in Senegal sometimes turns rosy pink due to its unusually high salt content which is 10 times that of ocean water.
– Source: Lonely Planet

22. Borom Sarret (1963), considered to be the first African film produced and directed by an African, was filmed in Senegal. It was also the first film of Senegalese director, Ousmane Sembene, who is often referred to as the “father of African cinema”.
– Source: The Guardian, The Guardian

23. Senegal is home to Africa’s tallest statue. The 49m African Renaissance Monument is said to have cost $27 million and was created by North Korean artists.
– Source: BBC News

The African Renaissance Monument (Shutterstock)

24. Senegal’s national symbol is the lion. A lion is the soccer team’s mascot, one adorns the presidential seal and lion statues are often placed at the entrances to towns and in front of military installations. However, decades of hunting and development has almost wiped them out. Niokolo-Koba National Park holds the last remaining lion population in Senegal.
– Source: New York Times

25. In the space of 10 years, 25 fishermen were mauled to death by “killer hippopotamuses” in the rivers of Senegal.
– Source: The Telegraph

26. Besides the main languages of French and Wolof, people usually speak the language of their ethnic group such as Pulaar, Serer and 38 different African languages.
– Source:

27. Senegal is named after the Senegal River which derives from “Azenegue,” the Portuguese word for the Berber Zenaga people who lived north of the river. Another theory is that the name originates from the Wolof “sunu gaal” which means “our boat”.
– Source: CIA World Fact Book, New World Encyclopedia

28. In 2022, Senegal will become the first African country to host an Olympic event when the Youth Olympic Games is held there.
– Source: International Olympic Committee

29. Known as “Africa’s Mecca”, the city of Touba in Senegal sees more than a million Muslim pilgrims visit it annually from around the world. The pilgrimage commemorates the Sufi Islam movement’s founder Cheikh Amadou Bamba and his exile in 1895 by French colonial authorities.
– Source: Reuters

30. Rapper and entrepreneur Akon is part-Senegalese. He recently declared that he has created his own city in Senegal called ‘Akon City’.
– Source: CNN

Every effort has been made to verify these facts about Senegal. However, if you find an error or have any questions, please contact us.


The first human beings in Senegal were hunters but by about 3,000 BCE they had learned to farm. About 500 BCE knowledge of how to make iron tools reached West Africa. By 500 AD a sophisticated society arose in Senegal capable of building stone circles. Towns and trade flourished. In the 13th century, the Empire of Mali included much of western Africa including Senegal. However, the power of Mali declined in the 15th century and Senegal broke up into small kingdoms.

Meanwhile, Europeans were exploring the coast of West Africa. The Portuguese landed on Cap Vert in 1544. The Portuguese began to trade with the Africans and their influence gradually grew. However, in the early 16th century, the Portuguese settled in Brazil and they needed slaves to work sugar plantations there. So they began to import slaves from West Africa. Slavery was not new in Senegal but the Portuguese took huge numbers of slaves from the area. In the later 16th century the English joined the slave trade. In the early 17th century so did the Dutch and the French. The Dutch established a trading station on Ile de Goree in 1617. The French established a trading station in 1639 and in 1677 they took Ile de Goree from the Dutch.

During the 18th century the slave trade flourished. Europeans persuaded Africans from the coast to attack neighboring tribes and take captives. The captives were exchanged for goods like guns and cloth. They were then shipped across the Atlantic in appalling conditions. However the British banned the slave trade in 1807.

In the 19th century the British became the ruling power along the River Gambia but the French advanced inland along the River Senegal. In 1884-85 the European powers divided up Africa. France was confirmed as the colonial power in Senegal.

In the early 20th century Senegal was a prosperous colony exporting groundnuts. However, in the 1950s demands for independence grew in Senegal. Finally, Senegal became independent on 20 June 1960. At first, Senegal was joined with Mali but the union was short-lived. Senegal became a separate nation on 20 August 1960. Leopold Senghor became the first leader. He introduced a new constitution in 1963. Senghor stepped down in 1980. He was replaced by Abdou Diouf. Diouf in turn was president of Senegal until 2000. He was replaced by Abdoulaye Wade.

Today Senegal is still a poor country. However, its economy is growing rapidly. Senegal has great potential for tourism. Today Senegal is developing quickly. In 2020 the population of Senegal was 16 million.


5+ Senegal Facts: Interesting Trivia On Culture, History, Food & More

Looking for Senegal facts? If you want to learn about the food, culture, people, history, or other facts about Senegal, this article is for you!

Ready to learn some interesting facts about Senegal?

Whether you’re traveling to Senegal soon or just want to learn more about this Western African country, this article has just what you’re looking for!

Here’s our roundup of the most interesting Senegal facts:

1. Senegal is the westernmost country on Africa’s mainland. This makes it also the westernmost country in what is considered the “Old World,” or the Afro-Eurasian landmass.

2. There’s a pink lake in Senegal. Lake Retba, known also as Lac Rose (“Pink Lake”), has a thick pink color due to the algae Dunaliella salina and its high salt content.

3. French is the official language of Senegal, but Wolof is the lingua franca. As with many African countries, Senegal was formerly ruled by the French, so the French language has stuck as its national language. Wolof is a language spoken by the Wolof people, an African ethnic group spread out around Senegal, Gambia, and Mauritania. The word banana, in English, probably comes from the Wolof word banaana!

4. Dakar is the capital of Senegal and its largest city. It has a population of just over 1 million people, but its metropolitan area includes about 2.5 million people, about 15% of the total Senegalese population of 16.7 million.

5. Senegal tried to stop the Sahara from spreading further by planting the Great Green Wall. The Great Green Wall was to be a massive project, planting a band of trees 10 miles (16 km) wide and 4,350 miles (7,000 km) long, from Senegal all the way across Africa to Djibouti. Unfortunately, the wall didn’t work, due to creeping desertification, but the project was a success in another way. The Great Green Wall project stopped its tree-planting efforts and instead became an initiative to fight desertification, degradation of land, and drought through sustainable land use practices.

6. Senegal has 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Of these 7 world heritage sites, 5 are cultural, and 2 are natural. They are:

  • Bassari Country: Bassari, Fula and Bedik Cultural Landscapes (cultural)
  • Island of Gorée (cultural)
  • Island of Saint-Louis (cultural)
  • Saloum Delta (cultural)
  • Stone Circles of Senegambia (cultural)
  • Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary (natural)
  • Niokolo-Koba National Park (natural)

Well, that’s all our Senegal facts for now, and we hope you’ve found this post interesting and informative! Do you have any questions, feedback, or other facts about Senegal we should include on our list? Let us know below in the comments, and thanks for reading!

Christian Eilers

Christian Eilers is a travel and career advice writer who constantly loves to learn about the world through traveling, cultural stories, reading, and education. A native of New York City, when he is not traveling, he can find an abundance of cultural influences right in his own city, enough to keep him satisfied until the next country's beckon cannot be ignored any longer.


In the 15th century, Portuguese people came to Gorée Island off the coast of Dakar. In the 17th century, French people and Dutch people came there, too. These European countries used the island as a trading post in slaves from the mainland, controlled by the Muslim Wolof Empires. Slavery was later made illegal by France, but soon after, around 1850, the French started to conquer the Wolof. By 1902 Senegal was a part of the French colony French West Africa.

In January 1959, Senegal and the French Sudan became one to form the Mali Federation, which became fully independent on June 20, 1960, as a result of the independence and transfer of power agreement signed with France on April 4, 1960. This did not last long and Senegal and Mali broke apart into separate nations. Between 1982 and 1989 Senegal and The Gambia joined together to make Senegambia.


Located in the westernmost part of the African continent, Senegal is bordered by Mauritania, Mali, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau. It surrounds The Gambia, a small Anglophone country. Senegal enjoys a tropical dry climate and has a population of 16.7 million inhabitants, a quarter of whom live in the Dakar region (0.3% of the territory).

Senegal is one of the most stable countries in Africa, with three peaceful political transitions since independence in 1960. In power since 2012, President Macky Sall was elected to a second five-year term in office in February 2019. The five-year term has been in effect since the referendum of March 2016.

In 2017, the ruling coalition, Benno Bokk Yakaar (United in Hope) won 125 of the 165 seats in the National Assembly. Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, local and legislative elections could be twinned in 2022.

Senegal has so far been spared the violence convulsing the region, but activism by terrorist groups in neighboring countries and cross-border trafficking are factors that risk fueling instability.

Senegal’s economy grew by more than 6% per year between 2014 and 2018. Real GDP growth stood at 4.4% in 2019, down from 6.2% in 2017. The services sector is the main engine of GDP growth, while on the demand side, investment and exports are the main drivers of growth.

The pandemic has significantly changed the country’s economic outlook. It is estimated that growth fell by -0.7% in 2020, setting back services (tourism and transport) and exports. Senegal has responded with a number of containment measures and has implemented an Economic and Social Resilience Program (Programme de Résilience Économique et Sociale, PRES). Nevertheless, limited fiscal buffers and safety nets, a vulnerable health care system, and a large informal sector pose challenges.

Economic recovery will likely be gradual, driven by a return of private consumption and investment. Reforms envisaged under the Emerging Senegal Plan (Plan Sénégal Émergent, PSE) need to be deepened for growth to resume its pre-pandemic trajectory. The significant crowding in of private investment is central to increasing Senegal’s productive capacity and supporting export growth. Services remain the main contributor to GDP, and the primary sector (agriculture, in particular) the most dynamic engine of growth. Oil and gas developments have been delayed due to the health crisis and are not expected to contribute to revenues and exports before 2035.

Development Challenges

Senegal’s key development challenge is to mitigate the socioeconomic impact of the pandemic, while enabling sustainable and inclusive growth. This will require:

  • Improving resilience to macro-fiscal, environmental, and social risks in order to safeguard investments in human capital and household livelihoods
  • Boosting and protecting human capital for productivity growth
  • Enhancing competitiveness and job creation by improving digital and physical connectivity at the national and regional levels, and increasing the efficiency of labor markets
  • Lowering energy costs, reducing the carbon footprint, and optimizing the energy mix
  • Promoting the services economy, and boosting the productivity and competitiveness of agriculture and related value chains.

The COVID-19 pandemic risks jeopardizing the socioeconomic gains achieved through improved access to key services. This could generate severe losses for households through shortfalls in labor and non-labor income (particularly private money transfers), domestic price inflation, and disruptions in basic services.