Senegal - Facts and Factoids
- Senegal is the westernmost country in the mainland of the Old World, or Afro-Eurasia, and owes its name to the Senegal River, which borders it to the east and north.
- ‘Senegal’ comes from the Wolof “Sunuu Gaal”, which means ‘Our Boat’ and the beautifully painted fishing boats pulled up on the sandy beaches all the down the coast are a highlight of this country.
- The network of protected areas in Senegal covers about 25% of the national territory; there are six national parks, plus other types of protected areas.
- Senegal is a secular state, but Islam is the predominant religion in the country, practised by approximately 94% of the population.
- The country hosted the Paris–Dakar rally from 1979 until 2007. After that, Mauritania was deemed too dangerous to drive through and the event was moved to South America. It was still known as The Dakar.
- The Senegalese are a colourful and beautiful race of people. Most of them are Wolofs, tall, lithe and willowy with high cheek bones. They remind me of the Ethiopians, which I had assumed was a little off- beam, but apparently, they are descendants of the same peoples, who wandered gradually across the Sahara.
- Senegal is known as the Land of Teraanga. This means hospitality (but far more than this I'm assured. Sharing and Caring.)
- The food is less interesting. The menu in Senegal, as down most of this coast, seems to boil down to a choice of chicken yassa (with onions and lemon) or fish. Fortunately, there’s a lot of fish.
Is Senegal Safe to Visit?
Senegal has one of the most stable governments in Africa and is considered a model for democracy in Africa. Senegal is the only country in West Africa never to have experienced a military coup. This is a relatively safe country to travel in, but pickpocketing and street crime are common in parts of Dakar, and Casamance, in the south, is still a little volatile, after the separatist movement there was subdued, by integrating the insurgents into the Senegalese army.
A Very Brief History of Senegal
Arab traders began to move into the area now known as Senegal in the ninth and tenth centuries. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to take an interest in Senegal in the mid-fifteenth century. But it was the French who took control in 1677, via the infamous slaving island, Gorée, although full scale colonization did not occur until the nineteenth century. There were ongoing altercations with the British and the Dutch. At one point the British seized St Louis, the French capital and this, and Gorée, were only returned on condition the French gave up slavery.
This remains a highly Francophile country. French is the official language (though everyone also speaks Wolof) and French chic and cuisine is the order of the day. Much of the food that is piled high is imported from France.
Is Senegal a Poor Country?
Senegal’s main income comes from fish, phosphates, groundnuts(peanuts) and tourism. In rural areas, 66 percent of the population are considered poor, as compared to 23 percent of the residents of capital Dakar. Nearly 75 percent of the population works in the agricultural sector, which is regularly threatened by drought.
What is There to See and Do in Senegal?
My first trip was a beach holiday at Saly
Senegal has a great deal to offer. On my second trip I'm travelling north to south, coming over the border on the coast at Mauritania:
- To the excellent bird park at Djoudj
- To the goregous ex capital of French West Africa, St Louis and the capital of the country, Dakar, taking in some of the route of the old Dakar rally along the coast
- Visiting the game parks
- And less well developed Casamance in the south
Getting into Senegal
The border post, coming from Mauritania, is remarkably straightforward - I collect a stamp in my passport and a new guide – Mountaga, who is waiting on a bench by the immigration office.