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Situated in West Africa, Senegal experiences a four- to five-month rainy season. It was among the earliest parts of Africa to be incorporated within the French empire in the 1840s. Since gaining independence in 1960, it has been upheld as a model of democracy, largely due to it never having suffered a coup in a region notorious for them. However, the violent response by the Government to the protests against the previous leader’s decision to run for a third term, in spite of setting a two-term limit, was widely criticised. Of particular concern for children in the country are the problems of child exploitation and child labour.


Senegal is the most westerly country of continental Africa, and shares borders with Mauritania, Mali, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Gambia. On the northern fringe of the monsoon climate, the country experiences a four to five month rainy season, yet the country is generally arid and is becoming increasingly desiccated. The capital city is Dakar.

Population and language

12.8 million people live in Senegal, a figure that is increasing rapidly at an annual rate of more than 2.5 per cent.[1] This relatively ethnically diverse population is made up largely of Wolof, Pular, Serer and Diola peoples, who speak a range of languages. French is the country's official language, but Malinké, Wolof, Séerére, Soninké and Peul are all national languages.[2]

History and politics

Senegal was among the earliest parts of Africa to be incorporated within the French empire in the 1840s, and remained a part of French West Africa until it achieved independence in 1960. After independence, the country remained peaceful, though often undemocratic, and remains the only western-African country never to have undergone a coup since gaining independence. President Senghor of the Socialist Party was the first to hold the Presidency and retained power for 23 years, through periods in which he led a democracy, a single party state, and a multi-party democracy again. It was not until 2000 that Senegal gained its first non-Socialist Party President in Abdoulaye Wade of the Senegalese Democratic Party.[3] Wade remained in power until elections in March 2012, in which he was defeated by Macky Sall in a second round run-off. The peaceful and orderly nature of the election has been upheld in some quarters as an example of successful democratic reform in a region which is renowned for instability and military coups.[4]


The Senegalese economy has suffered a series of, largely exogenous, shocks over the last five years, including the decline of agriculture in the face of unfavourable rains, floods, electricity shortages, and the 2008 financial crisis and the corresponding fall out. The country's heavy reliance on a small number of sectors, notably agriculture, fisheries and services, leaves it particularly vulnerable to such shocks. Recovery appears to be under-way, however, as growth increased to 4.25 per cent from 2.7 per cent the previous year and the World Bank is projecting this trend to continue.[5] Poverty, however, remains a significant problem. 33.5 per cent of the population live on less than US$1.25 per day and the country is placed 155th on the Human Development Index.[6] The World Bank has also highlighted “entrenched disparities” between Dakar and the rest of the country, a phenomenon which has been key in the population shift towards the urban centres.

Senegal is a member of the Economic Community of West African States, and a founding member of the West African Economic and Monetary Union, organisations key in promoting trade within West Africa.

Media and civil society

The orderliness of the Senegalese political system in comparison to many of its west-African neighbours has led some commentators to present the country as a model of African democracy, but journalists still face significant problems. Reporters Without Borders (RWB) has reported on widespread harassment of journalists and the prosecution and imprisonment of people for media offences. In 2008 the editor a daily publication, 24 Heure Chrono, was sentenced to three years imprisonment for “reporting false news” after writing an article in which he said that the President's son was “mixed up in” a money laundering case.[7] Harassment of journalists critical of the government also intensified in some quarters during the protests in the lead up to the 2012 election.[8] Reporters Without Borders rated the country 75 out of 179 in its 2011/12 Press Freedom Index, a rating that recognised significant problems.[9]

Human rights and children's rights

In the run up to the elections of 2012, former-President Wade's decision to stand for election for a third time despite establishing a Constitutional two-term limit led to large scale demonstrations, particularly in Dakar. Human rights organisations were critical of the violent response on the part of the government, especially following the death of one protester who was shot with live ammunition during a march in protest against the setting up of new local authorities. Ill-treatment and torture at the hands of security forces have been widely reported, including deaths in custody.[10]

Of particular concern for children in the country are the problems of child exploitation and child labour. The Committee on the Rights of the Child raised the issue of children in Quranic schools being forced to work or beg in its 2006 Concluding Observations, and Human Rights Watch has reported that as many as 50,000 boys, some as young as four years old, were engaged in forced begging in 2010.[11] Girls are also at risk of exploitation as domestic servants and physical and sexual abuse while working as such.[12]

  1. UNDESA, "Population Statistics 2011"
  2. Constitution of Senegal, Article 1
  3. BBC, "Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade's rise and rule" 26 March 2012
  4. BBC, "Macky Sall Senegal election win 'example for Africa'" 16 March 2012 and "Senegal's Macky Sall: Bit between his teeth" 26 March 2012
  5. The World Bank, "Senegal Country Brief" September 2011
  6. UNDP, "Human Development Indicators: Senegal"
  7. Reporters Without Borders, "World Report: Senegal"
  8. Reporters Without Borders, "Walfadjri media group hounded as President Wade resists pressure to go" 19 July 2011
  9. Reporters Without Borders, "Press Freedom Index 2011/12"
  10. Amnesty International, "World Report 2012: The state of the world's human rights"
  11., "Senegal: Senegal turns to Islam to stop begging by child 'disciples'" 14 January 2011
  12. Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations, October 2006, CRC/C/SEN/CO/2


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