Surrounded by Mauritania, Mali, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau and surrounding Gambia, Senegal is a small territory with a long and rich political and cultural history.
The Senegal river forms the border with Mauritania and its main tributary marks the frontier with Mali. At the centre, the Saloum flows into the sea via a long estuary full of mangroves. These rivers are subject to seasonal variations, except for the Senegal, which has been developed so as to allow the irrigation of its delta.
Senegal’s geography is not very favourable for agriculture. In fact, even though it is highly irrigated in the south, the majority of the country is in a rather dry Sahelian region. Watercourses are rare and, combined with the flatness of the country (the altitude rarely exceeds 100 m) and the meagre flow of the rivers, this represents a serious natural obstacle to the agricultural development of the regions. Senegal is almost a one-crop economy (the groundnut) and has negligible mineral resources. Fishing, which for a long time was one of the country’s main natural products, is in rapid decline.
Three major ethnic groups (Wolof, Serer and Djoula) make up the Senegalese population, the overwhelming majority of which are Muslim. A common national language, Wolof, is spoken throughout the country, as well as in Gambia. Education is, however, in French.
The Senegalese population is distributed very unequally across the country’s 11 regions. The Dakar region, which occupies 0.3% of the country’s area, is home to nearly 22% of total population. It is estimated that there are 2 million Senegalese working outside the country.
Senegal, which used to be a prosperous country, began to decline at the time of the great droughts of the 1970s. The industrial base was based upon groundnut oil mills, fisheries and, to a lesser extent, cotton. With the crash of world food prices, the over-exploitation of resources and the transformation in food habits in Europe, the main importer of Senegalese products, it collapsed. The government had not realised the extent of this decline in time, and so had not put in place an adequate conversion and restructuring policy. The informal sector continues to dominate economic activity in Senegal.
Having seen its economy contract by 2.1% in 1993, Senegal made a significant recovery, with average real GDP growth of over 5% per year (1995-2007). The country was adversely affected by the global economic slowdown in 2009 and growth in GDP fell below 2%. As a member of the West African Economic and Monetary Union committee, Senegal is working for regional integration with a common external tariff and a more stable monetary policy. The unemployment rate is, however, high and continues to encourage migrants to leave Senegal in search of better employment opportunities in Europe.