Africa Snapshot: Senegal

Senegal is this year’s host of Western Accord, an annual exercise designed to improve cooperation and connection among West African nations. More than 600 people are participating from the Armed Forces of Senegal, Burkina Faso, Guinea, The Gambia and France, along with another 600 military personnel from the United States. The exercise runs from June 26 to July 24, 2012.

Population:About 13 million people live in Senegal, as of 2011. The median age is 18 years old.

Flag of Senegal (CIA Factbook)

Languages: French is the official language. Other languages spoken include Wolof, Pulaar, Serer, Diola, Mandingo, Soninke.

Religion: The Senegalese population is 94% Muslim, 5% Christian (mostly Roman Catholic) and 1% indigenous beliefs, according to the CIA Factbook.

 History: Based on archaeological findings, Senegal was inhabited during the prehistoric era. Islam came to the Senegal River valley in the 11th century. A few hundred years later, the Jolof Empire of Senegal was founded.

Senegal is home to the first French settlement in West Africa, Saint-Louis. In 1959, Senegal and the French Soudan formed the Mali Federation. That federation celebrated independence from France on April 4, 1960. Senegal split from Soudan (later Mali) in 1960, when its first president was elected.

In 1982, Senegal joined with The Gambia to create Senegambia, a union that fell apart in 1989. A Socialist party ruled Senegal for four decades until 2000, when Abdoulaye Wade was elected president. He ruled until 2012, when Macky Sall defeated him in a spring runoff election. He is serving a 7-year term and is eligible for a second term.

Map of Senegal (CIA Factbook)

The White House released a statement after the runoff, which included: “Senegal has, through this election, reaffirmed its tradition as a leading example of good governance and democracy at work in Africa and remains an example for its neighbors. The government and people of Senegal have once again demonstrated their commitment to political expression through peaceful, democratic elections, making it harder for non-democratic forces near and far to prevail.”

Economy: Its natural resources include fish, phosphates, iron ore. Donor assistance remains a major contributor to the economy.

Geography: Senegal is located the farthest west of any country on the continent. Located on the North Atlantic Ocean, Senegal has a sliver carved out of it around the Gambia River, which is The Gambia. Its other neighbors are Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Mali and Mauritania.

Relations with the United States: America has a very good relationship with Senegal. The government often has supported the United States in the United Nations, including supporting peacekeeping efforts through Senegalese troops. The United States also provides economic and technical assistance.

 “Since its independence, Senegal has been one of America’s strongest and most consistent friends in francophone West Africa,” Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson said in a statement in February 2012.

Fun Fact: The lion is the national symbol of Senegal.

National pride: The national anthem is “Pincez Tous vos Koras, Frappez les Balafons,” which means “Pluck your koras, strike the balafons.” Koras are stringed instruments; balafons are a type of xylophone. Listen to the anthem here by going to the national anthem section.

Sources: CIA World FactbookState DepartmentLonely Planet; U.S. Embassy Senegal

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