5 Things to Know About Senegal

Senegal on Sunday goes to the polls in a presidential election that aims to draw a line under the worst political crisis in the country in decades.

Outgoing president Macky Sall’s last-minute decision to defer the vote in February sparked clashes that left four dead in a country traditionally seen as a beacon of stability in West Africa.

Here are five key facts about the country of 18 million:

Peaceful outlier

Senegal is one of the few African countries not to have suffered a coup since winning its independence on April 4, 1960.

The country has elected four presidents by universal suffrage since 1963 and experienced two peaceful transitions of power, in 2000 and 2012.

But in the past three years the country’s stable image, which it has used to promote itself as a prime sun holiday destination for Europeans, has taken a battering.

Dozens of people died in a bitter standoff between the state and opposition firebrand Ousmane Sonko.

Sall’s decision to postpone the presidential poll caused another deadly flare-up.

The Constitutional Council overturned the postponement, in a move hailed as proof of the strength of Senegal’s democratic institutions.

Youth exodus

Senegal is experiencing a massive youth boom, with 41 percent of its population aged under 14 in 2022, according to the World Bank.

But with 39 percent of people living in poverty, according to the UN World Food Programme, many young people’s ambition from childhood is to reach Europe.

Most take the dangerous Atlantic route to Spain’s Canary Islands, involving a week of navigating treacherous currents in open canoes known as pirogues.

In 2023, the overall number of migrants reaching the Canaries tripled to almost 40,000, the Spanish government said.

Over 900 others drowned in the attempt, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Oil curse or radical change?

Senegal’s recently discovered reserves of oil and gas, estimated at more than one billion barrels and 900 billion cubic metres respectively, have raised hopes of future riches and industrialisation.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) had predicted 8.8-percent economic growth for 2024 because of the start of oil and gas production — more than double the estimated 2023 figure.

But the spectre of the “oil curse” looms large, with Nigeria and Angola providing cautionary tales of what can follow a rush of petrodollars: corruption and instability.

Remembering slavery

When Barack Obama visited Africa in 2013 as US president, one of his stop-offs was to Senegal’s Goree Island, a poignant symbol of the trans-Atlantic slave trade that draws a steady stream of visitors.

Goree was the largest slave-trading centre on the African coast between the 15th and 19th century, according to the UN’s cultural agency.

Africans were allegedly held at the House of Slaves before passing through a “Door of No Return” to be shipped off the continent as slaves.

Literary awards and ‘Lupin’

Senegalese writers are having a moment in international literary circles.

The first author from sub-Saharan Africa to win France’s top literary award, the Goncourt Prize, in 2021 was Senegalese author Mohamed Mbougar Sarr, with a literary mystery “The Most Secret Memory of Men”.

That year the International Booker Prize also went to an author from the Senegalese diaspora, David Diop, for his haunting “At Night All Blood Is Black” about Senegalese soldiers fighting for France in World War I.

The country’s musicians have long been the toast of world stages, from Youssou N’Dour, famous for his “7 Seconds” duet with Neneh Cherry, to fellow superstars Ismael Lo and Baaba Maal.

Senegal was also home to the late father of African cinema, director Ousmane Sembene, and children of the diaspora have written their names in the stars, like French actor Omar Sy, star of Netflix hit detective series “Lupin”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button

Adblock Detected

Please consider supporting us by disabling your ad blocker