The area now known as Senegal was inhabited in prehistoric times according to archaeological finds. It was once part of the Ghana Empire and, like so much of Africa, became a place of trade with European countries such as France infiltrating the Senegal mainland by the 1850s having previously owned the offshore island of Goree. Goree Island (below) was to be used as a major slave trading point for the transport of slaves between Africa and the New World peaking in the 18th Century and millions passed through its infamous "Door of No Return". In 1959 the French Sudan and Senegal merged into the Mali Federation which went on to achieve independence in 1960. However this arrangement was short lived with the French Sudan breaking away to form the Republic of Mali, and Senegal reverting to its former name the same year. Perhaps some of the reasons for this successful transition to independence in 1960 are down to the country's first president, Leopold Senghor who, far from having an army and/or militant background, was a distinguished politician who helped helped draft the then French President's new constitution for France in 1958.
Using this experience he provided Senegal with a new constitution of its own in 1963, placing executive powers in the hands of the Senegal President, an office he occupied until the transfer of power to his chosen successor and Prime Minister Abdou Diouf (below) in 1981 after five presidential terms with his Senegalese Progressive Union being the only permitted political party. (Interestingly, despite independence, Senegal's currency rate continued to be fixed by France, education was taught in French and the French continued to advise the President in all political matters.) Abdou Diouf demonstrated a strong commitment to democracy during his three terms as president from 1981 to 2000 allowing other political parties to form. Ironically this move fragmented the opposition securing him 83.5% of the vote in 1983 however his position had weakened to 72.3% in the next election in 1988 with main opposition leader Abdoulaye Wade getting 25.8% of the vote. In 1993 Diouf's vote was 58% and in 2000 he was defeated and succeeded by Senegalese Democratic Party opposition leader Abdoulaye Wade. Diouf gave up power voluntarily and stepped aside, the first time a West African leader had done so in memory securing him an enduring place in the mindset of West Africa.
One of Diouf's first acts as president had been to form the Senegambia Confederation between Senegal and Gambia aimed at enhancing cooperation between the two countries particularly in terms of their armed forces and security. This confederation lasted until late 1989 when Senegal, frustrated that its inner neighbour didn't want to pursue further integration potentially losing its identity, dissolved it. Following his election, Wade introduced a new constitution which was to become operative following the election of 2007 reducing presidential terms to five years, having been increased to seven by his predecessor in 1991. One of the ongoing difficulties of Wade's presidency was the long running conflict with two separatist factions of the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC) in the Casamance region in the south of the country.
Wade (above) went onto win the election in 2007, however opposition parties claimed the vote had been rigged and the subsequent parliamentary elections were boycotted by those opposition parties. Despite having agreed not to, Wade was later to confirm that he would stand again in 2012. He lost the first round, all other candidates rallied round opposition leader Macky Sall who had formerly served as Prime Minister under Wade before being removed and forming his own party, and Wade went down to an inglorious defeat. To his credit he congratulated his opponent and left office peacefully and President Macky Sall was re-elected in the 2019 election.
Senegal History: Volunteer in Senegal
Senegal History: Goree Island
Senegal History: Child Sponsor Senegal
Senegal History: Senegal Country Profile
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