FEARS of drought across the Sahel and quarrelsome neighbours have rubbed the gloss off Senegal - once the flagship of France's west African colonies. The wide streets and colonial buildings of Dakar and Saint Louis are in elegant decay. The tattered economy isinreverse. Dependence on one export crop - peanuts - is a main reason for this state of affairs. Failure of the international development process is another, despite regular injections of aid. The fortunes of one group of Senegalese people, the Tukulor, who live in the once-fertile middle reaches of the Senegal river, illustrates what has happened.
Futa-Toro, the home of most Tukulor people, is in the south Sahel climate belt. It gets little rain. But twice a year the Senegal river floods its banks, making possible two annual harvests of millet and sorghum. There used to be abundance: millet was exported by the Tukulor. But now Futa-Toro is one of the poorest parts of Senegal.
In the mid 17th century the French settled Saint Louis at the mouth of the Senegal river. They traded up-river in slaves and gum arabic (used in cloth printing) and eventually penetrated Futa-Toro to establish agricultural settlements in the valley. From the middle of the 19th century the French concentrated on peanuts as an export crop, and peanut production grew rapidly in the south and west. But Futa-Toro was too remote to be included in the peanut boom.
Cash had to be found for French taxes and new manufactured goods, but there was nowhere in Futa-Toro to earn it. So the Tukulor left the land in search of jobs.
In the 1960s unemployment in Dakar reached 40 per cent, putting an even greater strain on an economy already burdened with a massive civil service structure - inherited from the French when Dakar was the capital of the whole of French West Africa. And the lush tourist industry - Dakar's balmiest weather coincides with the European winter - contrasts cruelly with the squalor of the Black Moslem parts of the city and the beggars that cluster in the Place de (Independence. From city to countryside the contrasts deepen. The economy and a growing elite is cushioned from drought by revenue from phosphates and a fairly well-advanced industrial sector. Not so the peasant - lurching from season to season and saving for the pilgrimage to Mecca.
But trade unions have helped the people to fight back. In 1968 there was a general strike to protest against falling peanut prices and wage freezes: a revolution was only averted by a show of force by French troops. And more recently the government has had to reverse sweeping price-rise decisions because of country-wide protests.