Senegal: five things to know

2017-07-28 20:28

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Dakar  - Senegal, known for its stability and strong civil society, is one of the few African nations not to have suffered a coup since independence in 1960.

The former French colony has been headed since 2012 by President Macky Sall, and holds legislative elections on Sunday.

Here are five things to know about the west African, Muslim-majority nation of 15.4 million people.

Political stability 

Senegal gained independence on April 4, 1960, when Leopold Sedar Senghor became president.

Senghor resigned voluntarily in 1980 to be replaced by his Prime Minister Abdou Diouf, who was confirmed president in 1983, and re-elected in 1988 and 1993.

In 2000, Diouf was defeated by Abdoulaye Wade of the liberal Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS. The first time in 40 years the socialists had lost power, the transition was hailed as a model of democracy in Africa.

Wade was re-elected in February 2007, but beaten five years later by his former prime minister Sall following an electoral campaign tainted by violence.

Sall opened a probe into the previous administration and several leading figures, including Wade's son Karim, were put on trial.

Karim, sentenced to six years in prison in 2015 for corruption but pardoned in 2016, accused Sall of trying to eliminate him from the 2019 presidential race.

Another opposition leader, Dakar's popular mayor Khalifa Sall, was arrested more than four months ago on corruption charges and is campaigning for the legislative elections from jail.

Wade has returned from France to campaign for the elections, in which he is also standing on a different opposition list.

 Mainly agricultural 

Fishing is Senegal's largest source of income, followed by tourism. Agriculture includes peanut production - in decline over the past few years - millet, sorghum and cotton.

Major oil and gas finds off the coast are yet to be extracted but could in the future offer a new revenue stream to the state.

Most of the population lives below the poverty threshold and there is a high unemployment rate among young people.

Remittances from the large diaspora in Europe, notably France, Italy and Spain, contribute to purchasing power.

Income per capita came to $980 in 2015 according to the World Bank.

 Religious tolerance 

Senegal is 95% Muslim and dominated by moderate Sufi brotherhoods. It is known for its religious tolerance.

Spared by the jihadist attacks that have hit neighbours such as Mali, the authorities have stepped up security at hotels and administrative buildings since January 2016.

Senegal, on the west coast of Africa, is bordered by Mauritania, Mali, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau. Gambia forms a narrow enclave extending inland along the river of the same name.

 Goree: slave memorial 

Goree Island, four kilometres off Dakar, was one of the earliest European settlements in western Africa. For two and a half centuries it served as an outpost for slave and other trading serving the American continent.

Severa buildings from this period, including the House of Slaves, have been listed as a Unesco World Heritage site in 1978.

The island is visited every year by thousands of tourists, especially African-Americans.

 Conflict in Casamance 

In Casamance, a southern region dependent on agriculture and tourism, the Casamance Movement of Democratic Forces (MFDC) has been fighting for independence since 1982.

The region, separated from the rest of Senegal by The Gambia, is the site of west Africa's longest-running conflict, though violence is rare today despite the absence of a definitive peace deal.

Read more on:    unesco  |  macky sall  |  senegal  |  west africa

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