Senegal, 108th globally in GDP ranking — and 151st, in GDP per capita — nevetheless has one of the most well-developed tourism infrastructures in the African continent, including a new international airport outside of its capital city, Dakar. Once the capital of French West Africa, with banking and other institutions still serving the area, the country has a newly minted commitment from Senegalese-born entertainer Akon — to build a 2,000-acre futuristic “Akon City” complete with its own cryptocurrency, development to commence in July.
Senegal is home to a number of ethnic groups, the Wolof making up nearly 50% of the country’s population, with another 24% Fula and 15% Serer. The latter are deemed an ethno-religious group as their indigenous religion is still practiced today, and syncretised with Catholicism in a way similar to Cuba’s Yoruba, Haiti’s Santeria, or Ecuador’s overly of Pachamama onto the Virgin Mary. While French is the official language owing to earlier colonialism, languages of these groups are widely spoken — even in the capital of Dakar, where Wolof is more likely to be encountered.
Though Senegal is constitutionally a secular nation, more than 95% identify as Muslim — and Islamic schools are more popular than the French education system. The Serer indigenous religion is still practiced, though most often syncretised with Catholicism, and a small percentage identify as adherents of Protestantism or other religions. Education is free and compulsory to age 16, though there is still a high degree of illiteracy, with a current literacy rate of 51.9% overall — 64.81% for males and an appalling 39.8% for females, despite a long history of valuing schools for girls.
Women of Senegal have been making steady progress, though gender roles remain largely dictated by both tradition and religion. One area of success is parliament, due in large part to a quota system implemented in 2010: women hold 42.7% of the total seats, ranking 3rd in Africa and 7th in the world for same. They are the only Muslim-majority country with such a record — often accredited to a longstanding Sufi tradition of encouraging the development of girls and women. The World Bank places Senegal’s female participation in the labour force at 35%, however, with income disparity a key issue. Amsatou Sow Sidibe, former — and future — presidential candidate, aims to become the country’s first female president.
The culture of Senegal places an exceptionally strong emphasis on hospitality. Creative expression, in the form of both traditional and contemporary arts, is also highly valued; Senegal is particularly known for its musical contributions to the world. Oral tradition in the form of storytelling, with the professional storyteller known as griot, is another key element of Senegalese culture.
Senegalese people have a history of colonialism by both Dutch and French, the latter of which remains a significant cultural influence; prior to that time, they were also engaged in the Atlantic slave trade. Having reasserted their independence in 1960, they are a young nation with a quasi-democracy, who have remained largely stable since that time — with a strong work ethic and focus on the development of their nation and their society.