Archaeological findings throughout the area indicate that Senegal was
inhabited in prehistoric times. Islam established itself in the Senegal
River valley in the 11th century; 95% of Senegalese today are Muslims.
In the 13th and 14th centuries, the area came under the influence of the
Mandingo empires to the east; the Jolof Empire of Senegal also was founded
during this time.
In January 1959, Senegal and the French Soudan merged to form the Mali
Federation, which became fully independent on June 20, 1960, as a result
of the independence and the transfer of power agreement signed with France
on April 4, 1960. Due to internal political difficulties, the Federation
broke up on August 20, 1960. Senegal and Soudan (renamed the Republic of
Mali) proclaimed independence. Leopold Sedar Senghor, internationally known
poet, politician, and statesman, was elected Senegal's first President
in August 1960.
After the breakup of the Mali Federation, President Senghor and Prime
Minister Mamadou Dia governed together under a parliamentary system. In
December 1962, their political rivalry led to an attempted coup by Prime
Minister Dia. Although this was put down without bloodshed, Dia was arrested
and imprisoned, and Senegal adopted a new constitution that consolidated
the Presidents power. In 1980, President Senghor decided to retire from
politics, and he handed over power in 1981 to his handpicked successor,
Abdou Diouf. Abdou Diouf was President from 1981-2000. 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. Diouf served four terms as President. In the presidential
election of 2000, he was defeated, in a free and fair election, by opposition
leader Abdoulaye Wade. Senegal experienced its second peaceful transition
of power, and its first from one political party to another.
The Socialist Party dominated the National Assembly until April 2001,
when in free and fair legislative elections, President Wades coalition
won a majority (89 of 120 seats). The Cour de Cassation (Highest Appeals
Court, equivalent to the U.S. Supreme Court) and the Constitutional Council,
the justices of which are named by the president, are the nation's highest
tribunals. Senegal is divided into 11 administrative regions, each headed
by a governor appointed by and responsible to the president. The law on
decentralization, which came into effect in January 1997, distributed significant
central government authority to regional assemblies.
Senegals principal political party was for 40 years the Socialist Party
(PS). Its domination of political life came to an end in March 2000, when
Abdoulaye Wade, the leader of the Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS) and
leader of the opposition for more than 25 years, won the presidency. Under
the terms of the 2001 constitution, future presidents will serve for 5
years and be limited to two terms. Wade was the last President to be elected
to a 7-year term.
President Wade has advanced a liberal agenda for Senegal, including
privatizations and other market-opening measures. He has a strong interest
in raising Senegals regional and international profile. The country, nevertheless,
has limited means with which to implement ambitious ideas. The liberalization
of the economy is proceeding, but at a slow pace. Senegal continues to
play a significant role in regional and international organizations. President
Wade has made excellent relations with the United States a high priority.