Discovering the magic of Senegal

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Senegal celebrated its Independence Day a week ago. During this day, they celebrate their independence from France on April 4th, 1960. Since the 15th century, Senegal used to attract the attention of the European colonial powers.

By the end of the 17th century, France controlled the area around modern Dakar. During the 19th century, France extended its control deeper into the mainland, taking over almost all the local kingdoms.

In 1959, Senegal merged with French Sudan to form the Mali Federation. Furthermore, the signature of the transfer of power agreement on 4 April 1960; led to formal independence a couple of months later.

Senegal celebrated a week ago its Independence Day
Senegal celebrated a week ago its Independence Day

The Independence was as the Mali Federation but it was short-lived when Senegal proclaimed it in August of that same year. Léopold Sédar Senghor became Senegal’s first president in September 1960, leading the country until he retired in 1980.

The second president was Abdou Diouf who was also president for twenty years. On this day, there is a parade by the armed forces in Dakar; there are also other festivities. Those festivities include music, parades, and typical food; like the Senegalese Jollof rice, traditionally served with vegetables and marinated fish.

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATION 

Senegal is in Western Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between Guinea-Bissau and Mauritania. The country has a total area of 2,684 km. Senegal, as mentioned before, shares a border with Gambia 749 km; Guinea 363 km; Guinea-Bissau 341 km; Mali 489 km; Mauritania 742 km.

Regarding the climate; Senegal has a tropical; hot, humid; rainy season (May to November) has strong southeast winds; a dry season (December to April) dominated by hot, dry, harmattan wind.

Map of Senegal
Map of Senegal

Among some of its most important natural resources, we can find fish, phosphates, and iron ore. Senegal has two main rivers which they share with Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, and The Gambia.

POPULATION

Most of the citizens live in the west, with Dakar anchoring a well-defined core area; approximately 70% of the population is rural. In July 2021, organizations estimated that 16,082,442 people live in Senegal.

Regarding the ethnic distribution, Senegal has citizens from Wolof 39.7%, Pular 27.5%, Serer 16%, Mandinka 4.9%, Jola 4.2%, Soninke 2.4%, other 5.4% (including Europeans and persons of Lebanese descent).

Senegalese population
Senegalese population

Therefore the country has several languages present across its territory like Wolof, Pular, Jola, Mandinka, Serer, Soninke. Around 97.2% of the population is Muslim, as most adhere to one of the four main Sufi brotherhoods.

The other religion with a presence in Senegal is Christianism with around 2.7% of the population, and most of them are Catholic.

DEMOGRAPHIC PROFILE

The country has a large youth population that keeps growing but has failed to develop successfully the potential of human capital. Senegal’s high fertility rate of 4.5 children per woman continues to bolster the country’s large youth cohort.

Furthermore, that is the reason why more than 60% of the population is under the age of 25. Fertility remains high because of the continued desire for large families, the low use of family planning, and early childbearing.

The birth rate in Senegal is high
The birth rate in Senegal is high

Due to the high illiteracy rate, high unemployment among university graduates, and poverty; the youth, especially women have dim prospects. Senegal historically was a destination country for economic migrants.

The country also has been host to several thousand Mauritanian refugees; since they were expelled from their homeland during its 1989 border conflict with Senegal. Regarding the age structure, as mentioned before, the Senegalese population is young. 40.38% of the population has within 0-14 years, the next one is the group of 25-54 years with 31.95%.

The third group is 15-24 years, with 20.35%. The total median age is 19.4 years. The birth rate is 31.51 births/1,000 population. The estimation of the total growth rate of the population in 2021 was 2.25%. The total literacy rate was 51.9%.

OTHER CRISES  IN SENEGAL

Senegal has severe localized food insecurity, due to localized shortfalls in cereal production. Furthermore, according to the estimations of organizations, about 490,000 people needed humanitarian assistance in June−August 2021.

The reason was the negative effects of adverse weather events (droughts and floods) on cereal and other products of food.

ETYMOLOGY 

The country received that name from the Senegal River, there are many theories regarding the name of the river. The most popular cited theory derives the name from “Azenegue,” the Portuguese appellation for the Berber Zenaga people who lived north of the river.

GOVERNMENT 

Senegal is a presidential republic divided into 14 regions. Moreover, those regions are Dakar, Diourbel, Fatick, Kaffrine, Kaolack, Kedougou, Kolda, Louga, Matam, Saint-Louis, Sedhiou, Tambacounda, Thies, Ziguinchor.

Regarding their constitutions, Senegal has had several in the past. The first one was in 1959, pre-independence. After it, Senegal had one 1963, and the latest constitution was adopted by referendum on 7 January 2001, promulgated on 22 January 2001.

Senegal has a civil law system based on French law; judicial review of legislative acts in the Constitutional Court. The Chief of State is the current President Macky SALL, since 2 April 2012.

Current President of Senegal Macky Sall
Current President of Senegal Macky Sall

Regarding the head of government, on 11 December 2021; the National Assembly approved a constitutional amendment re-establishing the position of Prime Minister. The new Prime Minister will be appointed in early 2022.

Senegalese population directly elects the president by absolute majority popular vote in 2 rounds if needed for a single renewable 5-year term. The last election was in 2019.

Senegal has a unicameral National Assembly or Assemblée Nationale with 165 seats. Regarding the judicial system of Senegal, we can find the highest and subordinate courts. Among the highest courts, Senegal has Supreme Court or Cour Supreme with a president and 12 judges.

Furthermore, the other high court is the Constitutional Council or Conseil Constitutionel, which has 7 members.

FLAG, NATIONAL SYMBOLS, AND NATIONAL HERITAGE SITES 

The flag has three equal vertical bands of green (hoist side), yellow, and also red with a small green five-pointed star centered in the yellow band.

Green represents Islam, progress, and hope; yellow signifies natural wealth and progress; red symbolizes sacrifice and also determination; the star denotes unity and hope.

Flag of the country
Flag of Senegal

The national symbol is the lion and the baobab tree; and as mentioned before, the national colors are green, yellow, and red. The national anthem is Pincez Tous vos Koras, Frappez les Balafons”; Pluck Your Koras, Strike the Balafons.

Moreover, Senegal has a total of 7 World Heritage Sites, 5 of which are cultural, and 2 natural. The Sites are the Island of Gorée (c); Niokolo-Koba National Park (n); Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary (n); Island of Saint-Louis (c); Stone Circles of Senegambia (c); Saloum Delta (c); Bassari Country: Bassari, Fula, and also Bedik Cultural Landscapes (c).

ECONOMY 

The main activities of the Senegalese economy are mining, construction, tourism, fisheries, and agriculture. These activities are the primary sources of employment in rural areas.

Therefore, Senegal’s key exports industries are phosphate mining, fertilizer production, agricultural products, and commercial fishing.

Mining is one of the economic activities of the country
Mining is one of the economic activities of the country

It is important to mention that there are projects of oil exploration. Currently, the country relies heavily on donor assistance, remittances, and foreign direct investment.

The economy registered a growth in 2017, of 7%, due to strong performance in agriculture despite erratic rainfall.

Sall inherited an economy with high energy costs, a challenging business environment, and a culture of overspending. Furthermore, the President announced the Emerging Senegal Plan (ESP).

According to Sall, the Plan had the aim of implementing priority economic reforms and investment projects to increase economic growth.

In the plan, the President included the preservation of macroeconomic stability and debt sustainability. Currently, Senegal receives technical support from the IMF under a Policy Support Instrument (PSI) to assist with the implementation of the ESP.

Fishing is another primary activity for the Senegalese economy
Fishing is another primary activity for the Senegalese economy

According to reports of the IMF, financial markets have signaled confidence in Senegal through successful Eurobond issuances in 2014, 2017, and 2018. Moreover, the ESP has 19 projects to continue the transformation of the economy.

An example of those projects is the Thiès-Touba Highway, the new international airport that opened in December 2017, and upgrades to energy infrastructure.

From 2019 to 2020, the economy registered a slight growth from $54.78 billion to $55.26 billion. The official GDP in the official exchange rate is 23.576 billion.

AGRICULTURE, INDUSTRIES, AND FURTHER ECONOMIC ASPECTS

Among the agricultural products that Senegal has there are groundnuts, watermelons, rice, sugar cane, cassava, millet, maize, onions, sorghum, and also vegetables.

Further description of the industries in Senegal can find agricultural and fish processing, phosphate mining, fertilizer production, petroleum refining, zircon, and gold mining, construction materials, ship construction, and also repair.

Around 6.966 million people are currently active, and most of that number work in agriculture. The rest are distributed in industry and services. Around 48% of the population is currently unemployed.

Agriculture forms a large part of the GDP of Senegal
Agriculture forms a large part of the GDP of Senegal

It is also important to mention that 46.7% of the population lives below the poverty line. In 2017, the country’s debt was at 48.3% of the GDP. The exports did register an important growth from 2.498 billion in 2016 to 5.29 billion in 2018.

The main export partners of Senegal were in 2019, Mali with 22%, Switzerland with 14%, India with 9%, and also China with 7%. Senegal exports gold, refined petroleum, phosphoric acid, fish, and also ground nuts. Furthermore, the imports of Senegal in 2018 were estimated at 8.96 billion.

The import partners are China with 17%, France with 11%, Belgium with 7%, Russia with 7%, and the Netherlands with 7%. Senegal imports refined petroleum, crude petroleum, rice, cars, malt extract, clothing, and apparel.

HISTORY OVERVIEW

The region today known as Senegal was long a part of the ancient Ghana and Djolof kingdoms and an important node on trans-Saharan caravan routes. Senegal was also an early point of European contact; several European countries contested the territory.

Those countries were England, FrancePortugal, and the Netherlands before ultimately coming under French control in the late 19th century.

As mentioned before, Senegal remained a colony of France until 1960; when they gained independence as part of the Mali Federation and later as an independent country.

WHAT TO SEE IN SENEGAL?

Senegal has several interesting spots to visit throughout its territory for the avid people that want to know everything it has to offer. Among the most visited spots, there is Lake Rose, Gorea Island, the African Rebirth Monument, the Slave House; the Djoudj Bird Park, the desert of Lompoul, Delta Salum National Park, the Delta Salum, and the Safari Foret de Bandia.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_hvBxvdu1g

Further interesting spots for tourism in the country are the Africa Art Museum, the Niokolo-Koba National Park, the Lagune de la Somone, the Musee des Civilisations Noire; the Lagune de Barbarie, Ngor Island, Bassari Country, the Plage du Virage, Lodj Sea, and the Île des Oiseaux.

Senegal also has the Ile de Madeleine, the Plage de Yoff, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Victory, the Zoo-Park Hahn, the Ile de Karabane; the Dakar Central Mosque, the Village Des Arts, the Dindefelo Waterfall, Deux Mamelles Lighthouse and Volcano, the Loman Art House, and the Ifan Historical Museum.

CULTURE OVERVIEW 

The country preserves its cultural heritage through oral tradition with some written, mainly by the oldest men of the community; who are at the summit of Senegal’s hierarchical society.

People in rural areas practice actively rites and initiations. Traditional religious beliefs and society recognize the men as heads of the households.

Regarding the cuisine of Senegal, millet, couscous, and rice form the basis of many meals; peanuts and fresh seafood are common sources of protein, and chiles and palm oil are used for flavoring.

Common dishes include thiéboudienne, rice served with a fish and vegetable sauce; yassa au poulet or yassa au poisson, grilled chicken or fish in an onion and lemon sauce; and mafé, a peanut-based stew.

The Senegalese eat the meals communally from a single serving dish; through a code of conduct called fayda to ensure proper sharing. The country also celebrates various Christian and also Islamic holidays.

ART IN SENEGAL 

Moreover, the characteristic of sculpture is abstraction and ideograms. This means that a sculptured gazelle may be represented solely by its horns and its neck, or an elephant may be depicted only by the immense fan formed by its ears and also its trunk.

Due to the fact that Senegalese music is not written down, the imagination of the musician is critical. Griots were once court artists, now are a predominantly hereditary caste of traditional West African troubadour-historians who perform a variety of social and cultural functions.

Those functions go from genealogy and praise-singing to acting as key celebrants of village ceremonies. The griots with a kora recite poems or tell stories, often of warrior deeds, that contain a core of ideas.

Furthermore, the Ballet National du Senegal, founded by Léopold Senghor in 1960 draws on many ethnic traditions. Contemporary Senegalese music combines traditional styles, instruments, and rhythms with those of Western music.

One of the first bands to blend these musical styles was the Star Band. Ibra Kassé established Star Band in the early 1960s. Another internationally known recording artist is Baaba Maal, a Fulani musician who often uses traditional African instruments.

Youssou N’Dour, one of Africa’s most famous recording artists, achieved worldwide fame with his bands Étoile de Dakar and Super Étoile de Dakar.

SENEGALESE LITERATURE AND ART INSTITUTIONS
Former President Leopold Sedar Senghor was part of the Negritude movement
Former President Leopold Sedar Senghor was part of the Negritude movement

President Senghor personified the literature when the  Académie Franƈaise elected him; becoming the first person from sub-Saharan Africa. Senghor was a poet and philosopher, and a politician, with association to Negritude.

Negritude was a literary movement that celebrated the traditional culture of sub-Saharan Africa. There were other practitioners of Negritude like Ousmane SocéDavid DiopSheikh Hamidou Kane, and Abdoulaye Sadji. All of them are known for their imagination reflecting the Senegalese life.

Mariama Bâ, one of Senegal’s few women writers, is known for her novel Une si longue lettre. The first World Festival of Negro Arts was organized at Dakar in 1966. Furthermore, Senegal created other institutions like the Dynamique Museum, the Daniel Sorano Theatre, and the Tapestry Factory of Thiès.

Senegal declared a national holiday, on the day that the team beat France in the World Cup of 2002; which was the first appearance of the country in the competition.

Senegal has one of the most active national sports scenes in West Africa. Dakar has hosted the All Africa Games and several Africa Cup football (soccer) championships.

NATIONAL HOLIDAYS PART 1

Like other countries in the world, Senegal has a variety of national holidays throughout the year. Both cultural, political, and universal.

New Year’s Day:  It is a day off for the general population, and schools and most businesses are closed. Senegal celebrates like the rest of the world, meaning that families hold reunions to wait for the entry of the new year.

Fanal: One long-running tradition that takes place at the end of the year is the Fanal. Buildings, roundabouts, and parks are decorated with lights, there are evening Sabar dance parties and fashion shows, which all lead up to the grand finale: a parade of lights that celebrate the cultural history of Senegal.

Furthermore, the nocturnal parade commences around midnight and is preceded by a theatrical performance of the history of Senegal.

Labour Day: During this day, Senegal organizes numerous processions by organized labor groups all over the country. Children will take part in various competitions organized for them. They get out of school for the day and indulge in a veritable “funfest”.

Ascension Day: Ascension Day is among many Christian holidays officially celebrated in Senegal despite the fact that the country is 95 percent Muslim. Many Muslims will observe the holiday as well, just as Christians in Senegal celebrate Muslim holidays.

Despite differing beliefs, both groups may invite each other over for dinner or send special foods to be delivered to the door of their neighbors.

EID AL-FITR

Eid al-Fitr: the first day after Ramadan ends is a time of feasting and celebration, and the festivities continue for two more days thereafter.

The men typically head off to the mosque for prayer early in the morning in Senegal, while the women stay home to make “ngalakh”, a traditional millet dish with raisins, peanut butter, chocolate, coconut, and more mixed in.

Everyone will socialize and munch on ngalakh just after returning from the mosque. Furthermore, lunch will follow, and later tea or juice may be served.

Other Eid al-Fitr traditions in Senegal include donning your very best set of clothes and making the rounds to friends and neighbors to wish them a blessed Eid.

EASTER MONDAY AND TIPS 

Easter Monday: Easter Monday is a Christian holiday celebrated the day after Easter Sunday. This day (also called Pascha) is generally accounted the most important holiday of the Christian year, observed in March or April each year to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead after his death by crucifixion.

Many Christian communities in Africa celebrate with an Easter Vigil, for which the church is decorated by ‘Vitenge‘ and ‘Kanga‘, clothes formed into shapes including butterflies and flowers. Mass is followed by traditional dances held outside the church and a celebratory meal.

Senegalese are known for their hospitality, and people of other faiths are frequently invited to and attend Easter celebrations in Senegal. Churches may be filled with mostly Christian attendees, but private Easter parties at home may have many Muslim neighbors in attendance.

Senegal also celebrates Easter
Senegal also celebrates Easter

People that attend private celebrations in homes dance all day and all night, blasting out traditional Easter or Senegalese music on the sound system, children running about and playing games, and cookouts.

Moreover, if you have plans of visiting Senegal during Easter there are several proposals. The first one is to shop for Easter sweets and presents in Dakar; look for traditional Senegalese treats like “Five Cent” peanut cookies, thiakry pudding, and banana glace “dessert soup.”

Enjoy traditional Senegalese cuisine. At home Easter parties, listen to and learn Senegalese “mbalax” music and look for locals playing unique instruments such as tamas and sabar drums.

NATIONAL HOLIDAYS PART 2

Furthermore, the profile will offer insight into more national Senegalese holidays.

Whit Monday/Pentecost: is a Christian observance in Senegal that takes place on the fiftieth day of Easter ­­– 49 days after Easter Sunday. Pentecost is the final celebration of the seven-week Easter period.

The name “Whit” Sunday and Monday comes from the white clothes that people have to wear in the baptism on this popular day for baptisms. Those who take Pentecost Monday off from work have a variety of activities to choose from.

Just relaxing at home is common, but locals and travelers may choose to tour the old colonial capital of Saint Louis or get back in touch with nature.

Assumption Day: The Feast of the Assumption of The Virgin Mary is a public holiday in Senegal. The main events of the day, aside from merely getting a day off work, are the special masses held in honor of Mary.

NATIONAL HOLIDAYS PART 3

Grand Magal of Touba: Magal de Touba is a day of a great religious pilgrimage to the city of Touba where a grand celebration, sometimes involving millions of people, takes place. The event is in commemoration of the exile of Sufi religious leader Ahmadou Bamba from Senegal to neighboring Gabon.

Today, Bamba’s followers visit the large mosque in Touba which is Bamba’s tomb to remember his exile and his teachings and to pay their respects to him.

Prophet Mohammed’s Birthday: “Maouloud“, ranks among the biggest and loudest celebrations of the year. There are parties that local families organize that last all night and even up to 5 am the next morning. Drums, music, singing, prayers, and recitations of the Koran by children are all thrown into the mix during these festivities.

Dressing up in your finest clothes and decking out your home with colorful decorations is the general rule. Right after attending the morning mosque, it’s time to return home and prepare delicious foods for a feast with family and friends.

FURTHER HOLIDAYS 

All Saint’s Day: On this day, Christian believers remember known and unknown saints of past centuries. In Mexico, this day receives the name of the day of the dead, where the citizens make altars with everything that their departed loved ones liked.

Senegal Christian population celebrate the all saints day
Senegal’s Christian population celebrates the all saints day

Mexicans put in the altars a path of salt to serve as a beacon for their souls. In Senegal, All Saints’ Day is a major Christian holiday, primarily celebrated by Roman Catholics and Anglicans.

All Souls Day on 2 November is a time when people focus on the fate of the dead and honor them. In Catholic churches, some pray for the dead or make donations to the church to try to help deceased loved ones get out of purgatory faster on All Souls Day.

Christmas: This Christian festivity commemorates the birth of Jesus, and is part of a 22-28 day season in the Christian calendar known as Advent.

On 25 December, you might see Muslims in Dakar, for example, draped with glittering tinsel and selling plastic Christmas trees. Santa Claus decorations dangle in workplaces, shops, and neighborhoods.

On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, many Christians in Senegal will attend Church services. This is to remember the significance of Christmas and to thank God for sending his son Jesus to the world.

WHAT IS NECESSARY TO VISIT SENEGAL IF YOU ARE MEXICAN
Mexicans need their passports and other requirements
Mexicans need their passports and other requirements

Mexicans first require a visa to enter Senegal. Other requirements include a valid passport for at least 6 more months from the entrance moment to the departure; to show the Senegalese migration authorities that you have familiar, working or financial ties in Mexico.

This is to convince them that the tourist will return to his or her country of origin. Another requirement is to have enough money to finance the trip to Senegal. Although is not an official requirement, the authorities recommend that tourists should have the vaccine against yellow fever, cholera, and other illnesses.

Bear in mind that the World Health Organization activated the alarms for each of those illnesses and also dengue. This was due to the elevated number of cases that kept growing exponentially.

REQUIREMENTS FOR A SPANISH TO VISIT SENEGAL

Spanish citizens do not require a visa to enter Senegal when the trips are of a duration less than 90 days. For the rest of the requirements; a Spanish citizen needs a passport or DNI, a visa for a trip longer than 90 days, and the necessary vaccines as mentioned before.

COVID-19 REQUIREMENTS 
Due to the covid-19 pandemic; the Government requested every person that enters the country, to present a negative PCR result. The result has to be a maximum of five days before the trip.

Regarding vaccine certificates, Senegal only approves AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson y Sinopharm.

WHAT IS JEREJEF?

Jerejef is an NGO based in Pamplona. It is an organization that started thanks to a group of volunteers that had the opportunity to know several projects in the country. Furthermore, the word Jerejef comes from the Wolof language, and its meaning is thank you.

Jerejef
Jerejef

Its objective is to prevent human suffering by improving education and health in the little town as they are a small organization. They started the organization because the members saw a need to help people in vulnerable situations.

JEREJEF-UNAV PROJECT IN SENEGAL 

Last year; one NGO based in Pamplona named Jerejef teamed up with a class of International Relations at the University of Navarra; which I was part of. Jerejef requested the students a project to renew a school in a little town in Senegal called Thiale.

After the presentation of the project; Jerejef decided to carry on with it with the assistance of two team members of the students. In the summer they entered a request to the local governments and received partial funding to start the rehabilitation of the school.

Universidad de Navarra
Universidad de Navarra

The objective of the project to renew the school; was to improve the education conditions of the kids, and to be able to increase the capacity of the school to receive more children. This is important to help the government and the country prevent more kids from falling into the hands of the marabouts, and their schools.

For the reasons exposed in the economic and demographic part of the profile, the families have more children than they can support; in hopes of giving them a better life, they send them to the schools of the marabouts.

Jerejef members during a trip in Senegal for humanitarian purposes
Jerejef members during a trip in Senegal for humanitarian purposes

Although some of them are good and have the best interests of the children, many use them for their benefit. The marabouts send the children to beg in the streets, and if they don’t bring back money; then they don’t feed the children or do something worse with them.