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A West African country with an Atlantic coast.


Senegal surrounds the Gambia and is itself bounded inland by Mauritania, Mali, Guinea, and Guinea-Bissau. Its most westerly point (and that of continental Africa) is Cape Verde, formed by a volcano. Inland there is savannah, sparser in the north than in the south; the south of the country has a marshy coast. In winter the drying harmattan wind blows from the interior.


The predominantly agricultural economy has been weakened by drought and low world prices. The principal exports are fish, ground-nuts, and phosphates. Other crops include sugar cane, millet, rice, and cotton. Mineral resources include phosphates, and unexploited reserves of iron ore, and gold. Industry includes ship-repair and oil-refining.


Senegal has been part of several ancient empires, including those of Ghana, Mali, and Songhay. The Tukulor, one of Senegal's seven main ethnic groups, converted to Islam in the 11th century, but animism remained widespread until the middle of the 19th century. Portuguese navigators explored the coast of Senegal in 1445. Founded by France in the 17th century, the colony of Senegal was disputed by Britain in the Napoleonic Wars. The interior was occupied by the French governor L. L. Faidherbe (1854–61); in 1871 the colony sent its first Deputy to the French Assembly. It became part of French West Africa in 1895, and in 1958 it was made an autonomous republic within the French Community. It became part of the Federation of Mali (1959–60). Under the leadership of Léopold Sédar Senghor it became independent in 1960. It briefly federated with The Gambia as Senegambia (1982–89). In 1980 Abdou Diouf succeeded Senghor as President within a multiparty system. Relations between Senegal and Mauritania deteriorated sharply in 1989 following the killing of hundreds of Senegalese residents in Mauritania and the expulsion of thousands more. A virtual frontier war lasted through 1990, while both the Organization of African Unity and President Mubarak of Egypt tried to mediate. Faced with the problems arising from ethnic tension, President Diouf formed a power-sharing coalition government in 1991, which succeeded in restoring a degree of order; diplomatic relations were resumed with Mauritania in 1992. Meanwhile a separatist movement had developed within Casamance in southern Senegal, which continued into the 21st century. Diouf was re-elected in early 1993. Violence by the separatists marred the presidential election, but a ceasefire agreement was concluded later in the year. Despite French and IMF aid, the Senegalese economy was on the verge of bankruptcy; a currency devaluation took place early in 1994. Forty years of socialist rule ended in 2000 when Diouf was defeated by Abdoulaye Wade in the presidential election.




196,722 sq km (75,955 sq miles)


11,706,000 (2005)


1 CFA franc = 100 centimes


Sunni Muslim 87.6%; traditional beliefs 6.2%; Roman Catholic 4.7%

Ethnic Groups:

Wolof 34.6%; Fulani-(Peul-)Tukulor 27.1%; Serer 12.0%


French (official); Wolof; other local languages

International Organizations:

UN; AU; Franc Zone; ECOWAS; Non-Aligned Movement; WTO

Subjects: History — African Studies.

Reference entries

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