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 President’s 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 Wade’s 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.
Senegal’s 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 Senegal’s 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.
This site is (c) 2004. All rights reserved.