Snapshot: Senegal

Senegal is a primarily Muslim country of nearly 13 million people located in West Africa. Located on the Atlantic coast, it is bordered by The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali and Mauritania. Its landscape ranges from sandy plains, generally those of the Sahel, to rising foothills in the southeast. It boasts the westernmost point in continental Africa, the Cap-Vert peninsula where the capital of Dakar is located.

Senegal’s highest point, an unnamed ridge near Nepen Diakha, is less than half the height of Mount Katahdin in Maine. The ridge is 1,926 feet high compared to Katahdin’s 5,269.

While French is the official language of Senegal, there are many local and regional languages recognized by the government and spoken by local peoples. Examples of these are Wolof, the most common local language, Pulaar, Mandinka, Sereer, and Jola.

Arabic is spoken within Koranic schools when reciting the Koran, but is not widely spoken in everyday conversation.

Historically, Senegal formed parts of many kingdoms in West Africa. Notable kingdoms included the Tarkur in the 9th century and the Jolof Empire beginning in the 13th century. Interestingly, the Jolof Empire was built on the idea of voluntary confederacy as opposed to military conquest. These historical kingdoms were challenged by the arrival of Portuguese explorers which marked the beginning of Senegal’s colonial history. In the late 1600s, France formally established a shipping port on the island of Gorée off of Dakar. French traders would then spend years purchasing slaves from warring tribes and states on mainland Senegal. As a nation, Senegal would achieve independence from France in 1960 by forming the Mali Federation with French Sudan. Months later, the Mali Federation would split and form Senegal and Mali as we know them today. Now, Senegal is lauded for good governance, a relatively stable political climate and increasingly democratic institutions.

Senegal ranked 9th on the Ibrahim Index of African Governance in 2014. The IIAG aims to quantify the ability of African governments to provide political, social and economic goods to its citizens. More information can be found at the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and its 2014 report.


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