Senegal is known as the “Gateway to Africa” due to its location on the westernmost point of the continent and served by multiple air and maritime travel routes. Senegal is bordered by Mauritania in the north, Mali to the east, Guinea to the southeast, and Guinea-Bissau to the southwest. Senegal also borders The Gambia, along the banks of the Gambia River, separating Senegal’s southern region of Casamance from the rest of the country. Senegal also shares a maritime border with Cape Verde. Senegal’s economic and political capital is Dakar. It is the westernmost country in the mainland and owes its name to the Senegal River, which borders it to the east and north. The name “Senegal” comes from the Wolof “Sunuu Gaal”, which means “Our Boat or “our canoe.” The country also lies at an ecological boundary where semiarid grassland, oceanfront, and tropical rainforest converge; this diverse environment has endowed Senegal with a wide variety of plant and animal life.
UNESCO Heritage sites in Senegal include:
There are seven UNESCO Heritage sites in Senegal. In fact The first sites from the continent were inscribed in 1978, when the Island of Gorée of Senegal and the Rock-Hewn Churches of Ethiopia were chosen during the list’s conception. The seven sites are:
1. The Island of Gorée
The island was the largest slave-trading center on the African coast from the 15th to the 19th century.
2. Island of Saint-Louis
The French colonial settlement from the 17th century is on an island in the mouth of the Sénégal River. It played an important role in the culture and economy of West Africa.
3. The Bassari Country and its Bassari, Fula and Bedik Cultural Landscapes
Is a well-preserved multicultural landscape which emerged from the interaction of human activities and the natural environment. It aggregates three geographical areas: the Bassari–Salémata area, the Bedik–Bandafassi area and the Fula–Dindéfello area, each one with its specifics morphological characteristics.
In 2012, the Bassari Country with its Bassari, Fula and Bedik Cultural Landscapes was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.
4. Saloum Delta
The area has sustained human life thanks to fishing and shellfish gathering, for which there are 218 shellfish mounds across the site.
5. Stone Circles of Senegambia
The groups of stone circles are among over 1,000 different monuments along the Gambia River. Used as burial grounds, they were erected between the 3rd century BCE and the 16th century CE.
6. Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary
The Senegal River delta wetland area consists of streams, lakes, ponds and backwaters. It is the home to 1.5 million birds, including the great white pelican, the purple heron, the African spoonbill, the great egret, and cormorants. The sanctuary also features crocodiles, African manatees, and other typical Sahelian species.
7. Niokolo-Koba National Park
was declared a Senegalese national park on 1 January 1954. Expanded in 1969, it was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1981 as a UNESCO In 2007 it was added to the UNESCO List of Endangered World Heritage sites. The forests and savannas bordering the Gambia River have a diverse fauna, including Derby eland, chimpanzees, lions, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. The park was listed as being endangered for low mammal populations, the construction of a dam, and management problems.
The Senegal region was long part of the ancient Ghana and Djolof kingdoms and an important node on trans-Saharan caravan routes.
It was also an early point of European contact and was contested by England, France, Portugal, and the Netherlands before ultimately coming under French control in the late 19th century. It remained a colony of France until April 4th 1960, when, under the leadership of the writer and statesman Léopold Senghor, it gained its independence—first as part of the short-lived Mali Federation and then as a wholly sovereign state according to Encyclopedia Britannica.
In 1980, President Senghor decided to retire from politics and transferred power in 1981 to his hand-picked successor, Abdou Diouf. Senghor moved to France, where he died at the age of 96. Senegal joined with the Gambia to form the Senegambia Confederation on February 1st. 1982. However, the union was dissolved in 1989. Despite peace talks, a southern separatist group (Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance or MFDC) in the Casamance region has clashed sporadically with government forces since 1982 in the Casamance conflict. In the early 21st century, violence has subsided and the current President Macky Sall held talks with rebels in Rome in December 2012.
Senegal has mineral deposits consisting primarily of phosphates of lime and aluminum phosphates. Some mineral reserves include petroleum deposits discovered off the Casamance coast, high-grade iron-ore reserves, gold reserves and natural gas reserves located both onshore and offshore. The salt works of Kaolack have considerable production potential. Electric energy is produced and distributed by the Senegalese Electric Company (Société Sénégalaise d’Électricité. Prior to 1980s all energy produced in Senegal was generated by thermal plants. Cheaper hydroelectric energy became available with the construction of hydroelectric projects on the Sénégal River undertaken with Mauritania and Mali, with dams at Diama in Senegal (completed in 1985) and Manantali in Mali (completed in 1988) according to Encyclopedia Britannica. Senegal’s economy is centered mostly on commodities and natural resources. Major industries are fish processing, phosphate mining, fertilizer production, petroleum refining, construction materials, and ship construction and repair. As in most African nations, agriculture is a major sector, with Senegal producing several important cash crops, including peanuts, sugarcane, cotton, green beans, tomatoes, melons, and mangoes.
Senegal has about ten ethnic groups. The Wolof are the largest single ethnic group at 43%; the Fula and Toucouleur (also known as Halpulaar’en, literally “Pulaar-speakers”) (24%) are the second biggest group, followed by the Serer (14.7%), then others such as Jola (4%), Mandinka (3%), Maures or (Naarkajors), Soninke, Bassari and many smaller communities (9%). French is the only official language in the country, but a backlash in the form of a rising Senegalese linguistic nationalist movement supports the integration of Wolof, the common vernacular language of the country, into the national constitution.
Senegal cuisine according to chef Pierre Thiam’s cookbook, Yolele “cooking is a celebration in Senegal; of how we have gloriously melded the old with the new, the native with the global.” This is evident in the country’s flavorful soups, stews, rice dishes, salads, and fritters both savory and sweet, in which ingredients like seafood, peanuts, hot peppers, and tropical fruits and vegetables abound. Popular dishes are; Thiebou jen (jolof rice) – The national dish, Poulet or Pousson Yassa, Maffe. Popular fresh juices are made from bissap, ginger, buy (pronounced ‘buoy’, which is the fruit of the baobab tree, also known as “monkey bread fruit”), mango, or other fruit or wild trees (most famously soursop, which is called corossol in French). Desserts are very rich and sweet, combining native ingredients with the extravagance and style characteristic of the French impact on Senegal’s culinary methods. They are often served with fresh fruit and are traditionally followed by coffee or tea.
Senegal is known across the continent for its musical heritage, due to the popularity of mbalax, which originated from the Serer percussive tradition especially the Njuup. It has been largely popularized globally an internationally by Youssou N’Dour, Omar Pene and Baaba Maal. Other popular international renowned Senegalese musicians are Ismael Lô, Cheikh Lô, Orchestra Baobab, Akon Thione Seck, Viviane, Titi and Pape Diouf.