Senegal/ˌsɛnɨˈɡɔːl, –ˈɡɑːl/ (French: le Sénégal), officially the Republic of Senegal (République du Sénégal, IPA: [ʁepyblik dy seneɡal]), is a country in West Africa. It is the westernmost country in the mainland of the Old World or Eurafrasia and owes its name to the Sénégal River that borders it to the east and north. Senegal covers a land area of almost 197,000 square kilometres (76,000 sq mi), and has an estimated population of about 13 million. The climate is tropical with two seasons: the dry season and the rainy season.
Senegal’s capital is Dakar. During the 17th and 18th centuries, numerous trading posts belonging to various European colonial empires were established along the coast. Senegal became a colony of France in the 19th century. It was granted independence from France in 1960.
Major industries are fish processing, phosphate mining, fertilizer production, petroleum refining, construction materials, ship construction and repair. Peanuts, sugarcane, cotton, green beans, industrial tomato, cherry tomato, melon, and mango are important cash crops.
Most Senegalese are Sunni Muslims with Sufi influences. French is the official language. Since April 2012 Senegal’s president has been Macky Sall.
Senegal is named after the Sénégal River, the etymology of which is contested. One popular theory (proposed by David Boilat in 1853) is that it stems from the Wolof phrase sunu gaal, which means “our canoe” (or pirogue), resulting from a miscommunication between 15th-century Portuguese sailors and Wolof fishermen. The “our canoe” theory has been popularly embraced in modern Senegal for its charm and its use in appeals to national solidarity (e.g. “we’re all in the same canoe”) are frequently heard in the media.
Modern historians believe the name probably refers to the Berber Zenaga people, who lived on the northern side of the river. A competing theory is that it derives from the medieval town of “Sanghana” (also spelled as Isenghan, Asengan, Singhanah), described by the Arab geographer al-Bakri in 1068 as located by the mouth of the river. Some Serer people from the south believe the river’s name is derived from the compound of the Serer term Sene (from Roge Sene, Supreme Deity in Serer religion) and O Gal (meaning “body of water”).
On 4 April 1959 Senegal and the French Sudan merged to form the Mali Federation, which became fully independent on 20 June 1960, as a result of the independence and the transfer of power agreement signed with France on 4 April 1960. Due to internal political difficulties, the Federation broke up on 20 August, when Senegal and French Sudan (renamed the Republic of Mali) each proclaimed independence.
Léopold Sédar Senghor was proclaimed Senegal’s first president in September 1960. Senghor was a very well-read man, educated in France. He was a poet, a philosopher and personally drafted the Senegalese national anthem, “Pincez tous vos koras, frappez les balafons”. Pro-African, he advocated a brand of African socialism.
In 1980, President Senghor decided to retire from politics. The next year, he transferred power in 1981 to his hand-picked successor, Abdou Diouf. Former prime minister Mamadou Dia, who was Senghor’s rival, ran for election in 1983 against Diouf but lost. Senghor moved to France, where he died at the age of 96.
Senegal joined with the Gambia to form the nominal Senegambia Confederation on 1 February 1982. However, the union was dissolved in 1989. Despite peace talks, a southern separatist group (Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance or MFDC) in the Casamance region has clashed sporadically with government forces since 1982 in the Casamance conflict. In the early 21st century, violence has subsided and President Macky Sall held talks with rebels in Rome in December 2012.
Abdou Diouf was president between 1981 and 2000. He encouraged broader political participation, reduced government involvement in the economy, and widened Senegal’s diplomatic engagements, particularly with other developing nations. Domestic politics on occasion spilled over into street violence, border tensions, and a violent separatist movement in the southern region of the Casamance. Nevertheless, Senegal’s commitment to democracy and human rights strengthened. Abdou Diouf served four terms as president.
In the presidential election of 1999, opposition leader Abdoulaye Wade defeated Diouf in an election deemed free and fair by international observers. Senegal experienced its second peaceful transition of power, and its first from one political party to another. On 30 December 2004 President Wade announced that he would sign a peace treaty with the separatist group in the Casamance region. This, however, has yet to be implemented. There was a round of talks in 2005, but the results have not yet yielded a resolution.