Located in the westernmost part of Africa, Senegal is home to more than 15 million people. The country occupies a land area of about 197,000 square kilometers, and its main exports include petroleum, gold powder, and cement clinkers. This former French colony has a flag with shades of green, yellow, and red – and a motto that goes “One People, One Goal, One Faith.”
1. Senegal was part of the French colony.
By the middle of the 15th century, the Portuguese became the first to step foot on the Western African country. Because of its strategic coastal position, the Netherlands and Great Britain also fought for control of the nation – but it was the French who eventually succeeded in 1677.
Although it became an area for purchasing slaves, the French managed to abolish the system by the 1950s – only after centuries of the inhumane practice. Such followed an inward move by the French, with Governor Louis Faidherbe eventually invading the ethnic mainland empires of Baol, Waalo, Cayor, and Jolof.
2. It was part of the Mali Federation before it became its own country.
On April 4, 1959, the Mali Federation – an amalgamation of Senegal and French Sudan – was granted by France the power to self-govern. A year later, the nations finally became independent of their French colonizers. The union was short-lived though, as a stand-off between the Malian and Senegalese armies led to the withdrawal of the latter from the federation. By August 20, the Mali Federation was no more. Instead, it became Mali and Senegal.
3. The nation’s official language is French.
One of the French influences that the Senegalese have imbibed in them is the language. An interesting fact about Senegal is that French remains to be the national language of the country, although 10-15% of men and only about 2% of women can write and read French. The other 21%, on the other hand, possess some basic knowledge about the French language.
The other languages spoken in Senegal depend on the tribe or location. Wolof, the lingua franca of the country, is widely used in Dakar. In Casamance, Jola is the dialect of choice. These are just 2 of the 39 tribal languages are utilized in the country.
4. Senegal takes pride in its tradition of storytelling.
Before the advent of the written language, the history and tales of ancient Senegal were passed down through music and storytelling. But even with the advent of high-tech record-keeping, the country continues with the anecdotal tradition, a fun Senegal fact. This is done by griots, a job that is inherited from the elders. Although this is the case, those who assume the post undergo years of instruction and training. As the voice of society, griots are considered leaders in their communities.
5. It plays home to the tallest statue in Africa.
Standing at 49 meters tall, the bronze African Renaissance Monument is perched on one of the hills of Collines des Mamelles. Spearheaded by the former President Abdoulaye Wade and designed by Pierre Goudiaby, the towering statue overlooks the Atlantic Ocean.
Despite its size, it was belittled by most when it was unveiled on April 4, 2010 – the day of Senegal’s 50th year of independence from France. Some view it as cartoon-like and devoid of natural African features, while some think of it as an “economic monster.” It cost $27 million to build, which was paid in kind (specifically land parcels) to the contractor, the North Korean Mansudae Overseas Projects Company.
6. Islam is the country’s major religion.
An interesting fact about Senegal is that about 96% of the population are Sufi Muslims. Islam has been in Senegal since the 11th century, beginning with the conversion of King War Jabi in 1040. The religion was used to denote power and by the 17th century, most of the elites and merchants were Muslim.
Coming in a far second is Catholicism, which is the religion of 4% of the country. A minimal percentage practices animism, while some follow the Serer religion, also known as the a ƭat Roog.
7. Senegal is the birthplace of the mbalax.
The 1970s saw the emergence of Mbalax – a dance music genre – in the urban neighborhoods of Senegal. It draws inspiration from the njuup music of the Serers, an ethnoreligious group. Mbalax makes use of the Wolof language (instead of the usual French,) which is coupled with sabar drum rhythms in the background. Famous Mbalax musicians from Senegal include Etoile de Dakar and Raam Daan, to name a few.
8. Its first president is Léopold Sédar Senghor.
Following its separation from Mali, Senegal elected Léopold Sédar Senghor as its first president. Considered as one of the most prominent intellectuals of Africa, Senghor is also a poet and cultural theorist. He and two others developed the concept of Négritude, which emphasized the uniqueness of African traits, characteristics, and values.
Senghor, who wrote the country’s national anthem, was elected president on September 5, 1960. He held the post for a whopping 20 years.
9. Senegal is slated to host the first Olympic games in Africa.
In 2022, Senegal will play host to the Summer Youth Olympics. Should this push through, Senegal will take the honor of being the first African country to host the Olympics, an interesting Senegal fact.
Also known as Dakar 2022, the Olympic games will feature a total of 244 events from 35 sporting disciplines. The games will take place in several existing venues such as the Dakar Olympic Club, Dakar Swimming Pool, Iba Mar Diop Stadium, Dakar National Wrestling Arena, and Dakar Arena. New infrastructures will also be constructed for the Olympic games.
10. Homosexuality is illegal in the country.
Unfortunately, Senegal is one of the few countries where homosexuality remains unlawful. According to President Macky Sall, gay sex will never be legalized in the country – at least while he’s still in command.
According to Article 319 of the Senegalese Penal Code, the commission of an ‘immoral’ act will follow imprisonment of 1 to 5 years, with a fine ranging from 100,000 to 1.5 million Francs.
Senegal is filled with the remnants of colonialism – including language and some ways of life. Despite this, it strives to be its own country with its unique practices – ranging from the old (grios storytelling) to the new (Mbalax music).
I hope that this article on Senegal facts was helpful. If you are interested, visit the Country Facts Page!