Senegal’s History

Senegal’s long, rich and sometimes dark history starts with a number of prehistoric features, including the megalithic circles of Senegambia. Paleolithic tools and carvings have been found in Eastern Senegal and on the peninsula. The Neolithic archaeological records shows the importance of the area for fishing and trading and tombs date back to the first millennium BCE.

Early Kingdoms of Senegal

When the first kingdoms emerged, the area now known as Senegal formed part of the Ghana empire. The most prominent kingdom in the 14th Century in this area was the Djolof Kingdom, and united many smaller societal groups who formed part of the Wolof ethnic group. It was described as an empire, though it did not depend on conquest of member states. Later the country was annexed to Mali before becoming colonized by the French in the 1800’s.

Islam in Senegal

The Islamic faith was first introduced to Senegal in the 11th Century. Today over 95% of the population is thought to be Muslim. The Sengalese Islamic faith is derived from Sufi mysticism whereby brotherhoods vow obedience to their marabout, their spiritual leader and the person whom inherited the brotherhood founder’s divine grace or barakah. Distinct brotherhoods such as the Mourides brotherhood, Layenes brotherhood, Qadiriyya brotherhood and Tidjanes brotherhood thrive today with huge numbers of followers.

Enslaved people traded to the colonies

Senegal has a terrible past as a centre for slave trading. Historical sites tell the story of horrific human enslavement, including “the door of no return” a doorway opening onto the sea, where thousands of enslaved humans were sailed away from Africa’s coast. Colonial trading started in the 1450’s with Portugal trading with the Americas. French, English and Dutch traders also traded enslaved people from this outpost. English and French forces fought over the island of Goree and St Louis, major trading outposts before eventually falling back under French control after the Treaty of Versailles in 1783.  In 1848 citizens of the French colonial towns Saint Louis, Dakar, Goree and Rufisque were granted full French citizenship, however fully exercising these rights was difficult due to racist social and legal barriers. 


The downfall of the French empire resulted in full voting rights for African representatives in parliament. Independence began in 1959 when Senegal and French Sudan merged to form the Mali Federation. In August of 1960 Senegal finally left the federation of Mali and declared independence.  In 1980 Senegal and Gambia formed the confederation of Senegambia though later dissolved in 1989. The country is often noted as the most stable and safe of African countries. However, separatist groups in Casamance region have clashes with the government since the 80’s. A peace treaty was signed in 2004 and has continued to hold.


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