QUICK FACTS

Capital city: Dakar

Population: 13,300,410 (July 2013 est.)

Major ethnic groups: Wolof 43.3%, Pular 23.8%, Serer 14.7%, Jola 3.7%, Mandinka 3%, Soninke 1.1%, European and Lebanese 1%, other 9.4%

Religion: Muslim 94%, Christian 5% (mostly Roman Catholic), indigenous beliefs 1%

Languages: French (official), Wolof, Pulaar, Jola, Mandinka

HISTORY

Named for a river bordering Mauritania to the North, Senegal is a country of diverse landscapes, exciting cities and a rich history.  The capitol of Dakar is the westernmost point in Africa.  Senegal borders Mauritania in the North, Mali to the East and Guinea and Guinea-Bissau to the south. 

Pre-Colonial Empires

Long before European arrival, a series of West African kingdoms ruled Senegal and its surrounding regions.  Empires were often competing for dominance, or ruling simultaneously.  Each left distinctive marks on the country today.  An important early group known as the Tekrur Empire governed present day Senegal and its surrounding areas starting around the Ninth Century CE.  Tekrur officials converted to Islam in the Eleventh Century CE.  At the same time the Tekrur Empire controlled much of West Africa, the Ghana Empire controlled the East.  Another important group, the Wolof Empire emerged in the 13th century and unlike many of the African empires ruling at the time, did not convert to Islam.  Rather, the Wolof Empire held animalist beliefs. 

The Colonial Era

The first Europeans to arrive in Senegal were the Portuguese.  While searching for a spice route to India, they came in 1444 and soon established trade with the Wolof peoples in present day Dakar.  They built chapels and established trading centers all across the region.   Although their trading was at first successful, the region was in high demand and the Wolof people were not secure in their dominance.  In 1588, the Dutch overtook the Portuguese and established trade of their own.  Several other European countries invaded parts of Senegal to broaden their slave trade, but finally, in 1677, the French claimed the region and forced out most other European nations.    

Independence

While under French rule, only those inhabitants of French communities in Senegal were given the right to vote.  Senegalese people not from these select areas lacked basic human rights that French citizens enjoyed.  In the late nineteenth century, France allowed these select regions to elect representatives in the French government.  Over the years, these representatives advocated for equality and independence.  In the mid twentieth century, Senegal and Mali joined to form the Mali Federation in 1959. On June 20, 1960, France granted the federation independence.  After internal conflicts, Senegal broke from the Mali Federation and became an independent state in August 1960. The first elected president of Senegal, Léopold Sédar Senghor was a poet, acclaimed writer, teacher, and former representative Senegal in France.  Léopold Sédar Senghor chose his successor and retired from public life in 1980.  While president, he maintained close relations with France and helped foster African socialism.  2012 elections marked a transition in political parties.  The current president, Macky Sall was the first to hail from the Alliance for the Republic.