SENEGAL AT A GLANCE
Senegal has a rich and colorful history. Many African empires gained prominence in the region, the most important of which was Tekrur, a powerful trading state along the Senegal River that flourished from the 10th through the 12th centuries. Islam first entered the region through these contacts. The groups residing in the region sent slaves and gold north across the desert in exchange for salt and weapons.
Europeans began to arrive in the mid-15th century, beginning with the Portuguese and followed later by the French, English, and Dutch. The Europeans competed intensely for Senegal’s lucrative slave trade, and by the end of the 17th century, the French had established forts at Dakar and throughout the Senegal River Valley, while the English had seized the mouth of The Gambia River.
Although they established a colony at this early date, the French needed an additional two centuries to extend their dominion beyond their forts and coastal cities. They faced stiff resistance from African leaders throughout the country, with Islam or traditional kingdoms often becoming a rallying point against French domination. By the end of the 19th century, France controlled most of Senegal north of The Gambia, but groups south of The Gambia continued to resist into the early years of the 20th century.
French colonial rule, as elsewhere in Africa, was primarily a system of political and economic exploitation. The French introduced the peanut to Senegal as a cash crop in the mid-19th century, and soon Senegal was France’s most profitable African colony. France typically ruled peacefully in Senegal until African demands for independence became too strong to ignore in the years following World War II.
On April 4, 1959, Senegal and French Sudan (present-day Mali) combined to form the Mali Federation, which became fully independent in June 1960. April 4 remains the date that Senegal annually commemorates its independence. Because of internal political and economic differences, the federation was dissolved when Senegal seceded in August 1960, and Senegal and Mali became separate, independent nations.
Senegal’s first president, Léopold Sedar Senghor, was one of the leading figures of the independence movement. He was also a highly respected French-language poet and the only African ever elected to the prestigious and powerful Académie Française. His writings on negritude, a political philosophy that champions the strengths of African ideals, remain important in contemporary African political science.
PEACE CORPS/SENEGAL HISTORY AND PROGRAMS
History of the Peace Corps in Senegal The Peace Corps program in Senegal began in 1963 with the assignment of 15 English teachers to secondary schools around the country. In the ensuing years, the program has evolved to better address the changing needs of the Senegalese people. Currently, approximately 150 Volunteers work throughout the country. The 3,000 Volunteers who previously served in Senegal have left in place a positive legacy that will help those who will follow to benefit from the respect and positive perceptions of being a Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal.
History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in Senegal
In the beginning, the predominant Peace Corps project was teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL), while rural development played a secondary role. Current programming efforts integrate the goals of the government of Senegal with the goals of the Peace Corps, placing special emphasis on meeting basic human needs. Currently, Peace Corps/Senegal has projects in small enterprise development, ecotourism, agroforestry, agriculture, and health education.
Peace Corps/Senegal assigns Volunteers primarily to small-scale activities aimed at training rural individuals or communities to tackle their own development problems and priorities. Some Volunteers are also placed in more urban settings and may help coordinate the efforts of Volunteers with nongovernmental organization (NGO) partners. This policy reflects Peace Corps/Senegal’s adherence to a philosophy of grassroots sustainable development and coincides with a growing recognition by the government of Senegal that a centralized, top-down development approach is neither effective nor affordable. Much of our work focuses on helping communities achieve progress on meeting the Millennium Development Goals adopted by the government of Senegal.
As Senegal’s population has grown at an annual rate of 2.5 percent, the number of children seeking to attend school has risen dramatically. The population of Senegal is young, with an average age of 21.8 years for men and 22.6 years for women. School enrollment has grown to more than 80 percent, and though boys’ enrollment still outnumbers girls, that gap is decreasing. The government devotes 40 percent of its national expenditures to support education, but the needs remain greater than the progress being made. In particular, the demand for qualified and adequately-trained teachers exceeds the supply. Many teachers are placed in front of classes with inadequate preparation and lacking the resources and materials to effectively teach.