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new internationalist
issue 228 - February 1992

Country profile: Senegal

Where is Senegal? When the international powers-that-be, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, said in the early 1980s that Senegal needed structural adjustment, it produced some hollow laughter. For Senegal has been coping with its own deep structural imbalances since independence in 1960. This was when the French West African Federation (AOF) broke up, and left Senegal on its own.

For over 30 years Senegal has been trying to adjust to the loss of its hinterland (now seven other independent countries), and to support the vast former federal capital, Dakar, containing one quarter of the country's population. It has also never really been able to scale down what was once a federal civil service to that of one country with fairly meagre resources.

Senegal does have talented, industrious people, who are also highly politically conscious. This has meant that despite the poverty, the country pioneered pluralism (multi-party system and a free press) when it was unfashionable in Africa. It has not been without upsets though - the most recent being the crisis and riots around the 1988 elections, but these have been digested, and there are now new attempts at a broader political consensus.

The main economic problem has been dependence on groundnuts. Efforts have been made to diversify into fishing, tourism and phosphates (Senegal's only mineral), but groundnuts are still the main export earner. Compared with agriculturally richer countries further south, Senegal has always had to survive near the margin, suffering from the advance of the Sahara desert.

As yet there is also no benefit from the $1 billion Senegal River scheme. Two giant dams have been built, and added to the already crippling external debt of Senegal, Mauritania and Mali. The whole scheme has been held up by the serious tension from 1989 onwards between Senegal and Mauritania, following riots and attacks on property. There was a parallel exodus of Senegalese from Mauritania, entangled in that country's racial politics. Many are now in refugee camps along the Senegal river.

The same year saw the break-up of the eight-year old Senegambian Confederation, as well as border conflict with Guinea-Bissau. The feeling of isolation in West Africa has encouraged a greater feeling of 'Senegal first', departing from the country's long tradition of openness to foreigners, especially from neighbouring countries. This has not prevented President Abdou Diouf (who succeeded the first President Leopold Senghor over ten years ago) from pursuing regional unity.

Senegalese are increasingly aware that the special historical relations with France, which Senegal has known how to exploit to the maximum, do not contain the long-term answer to their problems.

Kayo Whiteman



LEADER: President Abdou Diouf

ECONOMY: GNP per capita: US $650 (US $20,910) Agriculture is the main occupation with food crops being millet, rice, maize and beans. About 40 per cent of land is taken up with the main export crop, groundnuts/peanuts.
Main imports include capital goods and food.

PEOPLE: 7.2 million

HEALTH: Infant mortality rate 84 per 1,000 live births (US 9 per 1,000)

CULTURE: The previous colonising power was French, independence came in 1960. There are seven major ethnic groups.
Languages: Officially French but Oulof is most widely spoken, there are other major language groups including Serer, Diola and Toucouleur.
Religion: Islam predominates; also Catholicism and animism.

Sources: The State of the Worlds Children 1992, World Development Report 1991 and Africa Review 1990.

Last profiled in March 1981



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INCOME DISTRIBUTION [image, unknown]
Inequalities grow as the economic crisis deepens.

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LITERACY [image, unknown]
Only about 28 per cent of adults literate despite effort to increase school enrolments.

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SELF-RELIANCE [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Dependent on exporting peanuts and international aid. Indebtness rising.

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FREEDOM [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Press and trade unions flourish. No political prisoners reported.

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POSITION OF WOMEN [image, unknown]
Women do most of the farming and have little representation in any power base.

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LIFE EXPECTANCY [image, unknown]
Average 48 years but lower in the countryside where health services less adequate.

1981: [image, unknown]



Politics now

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Multi-party democracy.


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New Internationalist issue 228 magazine cover This article is from the February 1992 issue of New Internationalist.
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