Geography and Landscape
Senegal (officially: République du Sénégal or Sounougal in Wolof) is located in West Africa and borders the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Mali to the east, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau to the south, and Mauritania to the north. On the territory of Senegal is the country Gambia. The archipelago of Cape Verde is located about 500 kilometers off the coast. Senegal measures 196,722 km2.
Senegal is generally very flat. There is a hilly landscape in the southeastern border area with Mali and Guinea, which varies in height from an average of 300 to 400 meters. Senegal's highest point is near Nepen Diakha in the southeast and measures 581 meters.
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Four major rivers flow through Senegal: the Senegal (1750 km), the Casamance, the Saloum and the Gambia. The Senegal River forms Senegal's northern border.
In Senegal, a number of landscape types can be distinguished from north to south.
In the north is the Sahelsteppe with short grasses, shrubs and a tree here and there.
Under the sahelsteppe we find a thorn bush savanna with thorn bushes, grasses and groups of trees.
Then follows a parkland savanna with long grasses, large shrubs and more and more trees. The forest savanna runs over from Gambia to the south of Senegal and is characterized by long grasses, groups of trees and palms.
Tropical jungle is found in the southwest of the Casamance region. The coast and the river basins look green with e.g. mangrove forests.
The hills of Cap Vert are the remains of an old volcanic island. The Petite Côte north of Cap Vert has beautiful sandy beaches. Behind the beaches are extensive sand dune areas that extend up to 20 km inland. To the south of Joal, the coast becomes swampy and there are many creeks, interspersed with wide river estuaries.
The national symbols of Senegal are the lion and the baobab or monkey bread tree.
Climate and Weather
Senegal is in a transition zone in terms of climate. The north is strongly influenced by the Sahara desert. The rainy season in the north is only short and just enough to make agriculture and especially the important peanut cultivation possible. The rainy period runs from July to mid-October. Average annual rainfall increases from north to south and inland to the coast, almost always in the form of downpours that can last several hours. Due to the very high humidity in combination with the high temperatures, this period, called hivernage, is not the most pleasant time.
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In the southwest of the Casamance an average of 1500-2000 mm of precipitation falls per year. In the north falls only 300-400 mm. In the area around the capital Dakar ± 500 mm falls per year.
The climate in the coastal strip from Dakar to the south is somewhat more moderate due to the influence of the sea. In December during the day about 22°C until May / June about 35°C. It cools down considerably at night. The hottest months are May / June and October on the coast, and March to June and October inland. In the interior, temperatures in the summer months can reach between 40 and 50°C. Kaolack is the hottest city in Senegal; In the afternoon it is usually around 38°C.
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In the Sahel zone, the nights can be chilly and the temperature can drop to 10-15° C. In the afternoon the temperature can rise again to 40 degrees. Along the Senegal River, the dry season lasts 8-10 months, in the Casamance five months. The driest area is around St. Louis in the north, where an average of 345 mm falls per year. From January to March the "harmattan", a fresh desert wind, often blows. The disadvantage is that this wind often carries thick red dust from the Sahara.
Plants and Animals
The southern edge of the Sahara bisects the north and east of Senegal. Due to the ongoing desertification, the flora and fauna has undergone major changes over time. The rich animal and plant life will most likely never return.
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Due to the drought and the advancing desert, the north of Senegal has a savannah landscape with low grasses, shrubs and some acacias. Fruit trees and palms are already found a little further south. Mangrove forests are found in the estuaries of the Saloum and the Gambia. Mangrove forests, palm tree forests and tropical rainforest are found in the Casamance. And there are also mango trees, kapok trees and kola nut trees.
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The most characteristic tree of Africa is particularly found in the dry regions: the baobab or monkey bread tree, which is also the national tree of Senegal. The baobab grows to about 20 meters high and can live for more than 1000 years. The tree plays a role in many African myths and legends. The bark, the fruits, the leaves, the wood, almost everything from this tree is used by the population.
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The kapok tree is very prominent in the southern half of Senegal; if only because the kapok tree can reach more than 50 meters in height. In the more humid areas bamboo grows, which is used to make furniture and yard fences, among other things. The evergreen mangrove tree can reach a height of 25 meters and grows in salt and brackish water.
In the flowering and blossom time bougainvillea, hibiscus and oleander, among other things, provide fantastic colors in the landscape.
Large wild animals can only be found in the Niokolo Koba (8000 km2) national park. Lions, the national animal of Senegal, elephants, buffaloes and gazelles live there. The impressive, but rare Derby eland can still be found here. More than 300 bird species, 70 species of mammals and 60 species of freshwater fish have been counted in the park.
Crocodiles and hippos can still be found on the banks of the Gambia River. Smaller mammals such as deer, warthogs, hyenas, anteaters and mongoose are common.
Monkey species such as velvet monkeys, hussar monkeys, baboons and Colobus monkeys can be found all over the country.
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There are plenty of snakes in Senegal; pythons and poisonous vipers, cobras, green and black mambas are a threat to humans and animals. Large monitor lizards are hunted by the population, a delicacy!
Termite mounds can be found everywhere. Termites are the favorite food of the aardvark and giant pangolin. Furthermore, beautiful butterflies, creepy cockroaches and poisonous caterpillars.
There are many types of fish in the markets along the coast: sea bass, swordfish, tunas, sharks and barracudas. Crabs, lobsters, rays and squids are also caught in abundance.
In addition to Niokolo Koba, Senegal has five more official national parks. The Parc National de la langue de Barbarie protects sea turtles that lay their eggs on the shore.
The Parc National des Oiseaux de Djoudj is one of the top ten most important bird areas in the world.
Antiquity and kingdoms
Nomads were the first inhabitants of the great river area in West Africa. They lived there for thousands of years before the beginning of our era and lived off hunting, fishing and some primitive agriculture. Many megalithic stone circles from the 7th to the 8th century can be found throughout Senegal. Who these early inhabitants were and where exactly these people came from is still uncertain. It is believed to be away from Egypt and Sudan.
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From the beginning of our era, West Africa had several kingdoms. The first flowering period began under the kingdom of Ghana. This kingdom fell apart in the eleventh century due to internal quarrels and conquests of Muslim Berber tribes from Morocco and Algeria. The Ghanaian empire was succeeded by the kingdom of Mali in the thirteenth century. However, the Malinkés or Mandinkas were already expelled in the 14th century and fled to the area of the Gambia River, where they still live. The Malinkés were succeeded by the kingdom of Djolof (Wolof), which soon disintegrated into three smaller kingdoms, Cayor, Baol and Waalo. At the end of the 15th century, the Peul leader Tenguela founded the strict Islamic state of Fouta Toro. Internal conflicts quickly disintegrated this state. In all these kingdoms it was noticeable that the power of the king was limited and the people had a lot to say at the local level.
Portuguese, Dutch, English and French
In the meantime, the time of the great voyages of discovery began and that would have a major influence on the history of Africa, and therefore also for Senegal. In 1444, the Portuguese arrived on the Cap Vert peninsula, where Dakar is now located. An island in the bay was occupied and called "Ilha de Palma". With the arrival of the first Europeans, one of the darkest pages in the history of the African continent also began, the slave trade to America and the West Indies. It is estimated that some 20 million slaves were shipped to the New World. The slave trade was controlled alternately by the French, Dutch and English. The English abolished slavery in 1807, the French in 1848.
At the beginning of the 17th century (1617), the Dutch bought the island from a local chief. The Portuguese had long since left it. They called the dock there "Goede Reede", which is actually still the name of the island. However, the name has been corrupted to Gorée over the centuries. The Dutch built two forts (Fort Oranje and Fort Nassau) and several buildings for the storage and transhipment of goods. Dutch trade rule declined considerably after 1650 and fell into the hands of the French and the English. Gorée was conquered by France in 1677.
Until 1814, Gorée and other coastal towns were alternately in French and English hands. In 1814 West Africa came after the Gambia (England) and Guinea-Bissau (Portugal), largely in the hands of France. From 1848, Senegal's four largest cities were considered part of France and were therefore entitled to send envoys to the parliament in Paris. In the interior of Senegal, the Marabout Wars raged between 1850 and 1880. Fanatical Muslims tried to forcibly impose Islam on the animist Wolof, Sérèr, and Malinké population.
Colonization by France
From the mid-nineteenth century, the French took a more thorough approach. They now wanted not only to exploit the West African territory, but to submit it completely to their authority. An exponent of this new approach was the French governor Louis Faidherbe.
A French Christian elite emerged that was opposed by the Muslim population. The 1860 Battle of Medina in Eastern Senegal was won by the French led by Faidherbe. After this, West Africa was further colonized by the French. Dakar was founded in 1857. It was only after France expanded the port of Dakar into a naval support point that Dakar began to grow rapidly.
After the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/1871, the French conquered more and more parts of Senegal. The last part of Senegal was captured by the Battle of Kansala in 1868. The definitive boundaries were set at the Berlin Conference in 1884/1885. The French called the area Afrique Occidentale Française - French West Africa.
By 1895, the whole of Senegal was under French control. Dakar became the capital of all of French West Africa in 1902, an area that ran from Mauritania to Niger.
From colony to independent state
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After World War II, all residents of Senegal were offered full citizenship and the right to vote by France. An Assemblée Territorial was introduced which sent delegates to the French Parliament.
In the late 1950s, French President De Gaulle designed the Commonwealth Construction (Communauté Française), of which the colonies could become autonomous members. Foreign policy and defense remained a matter for the French government. In 1959, the then Catholic leader and poet Léopold Sédar Senghor entered into a federative alliance with Mali. In June 1960 this federation became independent. However, the federation was short-lived and fell apart after a few months. Both countries continued as separate republics and Senghor was elected the first president of the Republic of Senegal. Ultimately, he would hold this position for 20 years. In 1963, Senghor abolished the premiership and made the president the head of state with absolute power. In December 1969, the constitution was amended, re-establishing the position of Prime Minister, and in 1970 Abdou Diouf became the first Prime Minister.
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From 1974 opposition parties were allowed again. In the 1978 elections, Senghor was re-elected and the ruling Parti Socialiste Sénégalais (PSS) emerged victorious from the polls. At the end of December 1980, Senghor unexpectedly announced his resignation. Abdou Diouf succeeded him. In 1982, Senegal and Gambia founded the Senegambia confederation, which, however, was dissolved by Senegal in 1989.
Ultimately, seventeen parties were active in 1985. After the 1983 elections, Diouf was accused of fraud and this led to various bloody confrontations with mainly students in the years that followed. In 1989, under Diouf's leadership, the PSS embarked on a number of reforms, including a new electoral law, the admission of more opposition parties and more freedom of the press. From 1989 to 1992 major problems arose with neighboring Mauritania. After a border dispute in which Senegalese were killed, almost all Mauritanians fled Senegal, afraid of being murdered. In retaliation, Mauritania expelled all Senegalese.
In April 1991, Habib Thiam became Prime Minister, including former opposition leader Abdoulaye Wade and other members of the opposition in his administration.
In Casamance province, the MFDC separatist movement is fighting for Senegal's secession. Ceasefire agreements were agreed in 1991 and 1993, but these were regularly violated by the MFDC.
Violent demonstrations broke out in Dakar in February 1994, organized by a coalition of five opposition parties. The protests were directed against the increased prices caused by the devaluation of the CFA franc by as much as 50 percent! Many people from opposition parties were then arrested. In March 1995, President Abdou Diouf incorporated the main opposition leader, Abdoulaye Wade, into his government, making three of the four main opposition groups part of his government.
Negotiations between the government and the MFDC were complicated in 1995 by internal strife: the military leaders no longer recognized the authority of the secretary general, Diamacoune Senghor. After the rapprochement between the government and the MFDC came to a halt in 1996, fatal incidents were again reported in the Casamance.
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Presidential elections took place in 2000. Diouf made a third run for president. Despite signs that the elections would turn into chaos, they followed a calm course. In the first round, Diouf got only 41% of the vote and a second round had to be involved to get a decision. Abdoulaye Wade won the second round with 58.5% of the vote while Diouf was stuck at 41%. The transfer of power was exemplary, and Senegal euphoric. The April 2001 parliamentary elections helped the Wade-led coalition achieve the desired majority in parliament (89 seats out of 120). This coalition now has a broad mandate to bring about the promised "sopi" (Wolof for change). In February 2007, Wade won the presidential election again, followed by his party's victory in the July 2007 parliamentary elections. In April 2008, parliament changed the constitution, allowing Hissene Habre to try the former leader of Chad. Senegal is supported in this by the African Union. During local elections in March 2009, the opposition won several cities, including Dakar. In April, Prime Minister Cheikh Hajibou Soumare resigns, Karim the president's son is admitted to the new government. In April 2010, Senegal will celebrate its 50th anniversary of its independence.
Macky Sall has been President of Senegal since April 2, 2012, and Aminata Toure has been Prime Minister since September 3, 2013. In September 2011, the Prime Minister dismissed the House of Lords for cost savings. According to the opposition, its position is weakened in this way. In July 2013, Senegal arrests the former president of Chad, Hissene Habre, in Dakar. He is on trial on charges of crimes against humanity during his regime. In September 2014, Karim Wade, the ex-president's son, is on trial. He is accused of corruption. In March 2015 he was sentenced to six years in prison. In March 2016, voters determined in a referendum that the term for a presidency will be five instead of seven years from now on. In August 2017, President Sall's coalition achieved a two-thirds majority in parliamentary elections. Sall was re-elected in February 2019, his term expiring in 2024. A month after the election, the National Assembly voted to abolish the office of Prime Minister. Opposition organizations and civil society have criticized the decision for further concentration of power in the executive at the expense of legislative and judicial powers.
Senegal had 14,668,522 inhabitants in 2017. The population grows by about 2-3% per year and by 2.39% in 2017. The distribution of ages is very uneven. More than 40% of the population is younger than 15 years. Only 3% of the population is over 65 years old. The life expectancy of the Senegalese is on average about 62 years.
The population density is approximately 75 inhabitants per km2. Currently about 47% of the population lives in the cities. Greater Dakar currently has nearly 3 million inhabitants. Other large cities are Thiès, Kaolack and Ziguinchor.
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The largest population group is the Wolof (approx. 41.6%), who mainly live in the big cities and the regions of Dakar and Thiès.
The other population groups are much smaller in number. The Sérèr are mainly farmers and mainly live in the regions of Thiès and Fatick.
The Peul were trading nomads and pastoralists living in the north, center and southeast. Most Peul no longer travel around but live in the Senegal Valley and the Casamance. They are notable for their light skin color. The Toucouleur are farmers and live in the north along the Senegal River.
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The Diola live in the Casamance. Due to the isolated location, historical and religious background, and increasing settlement of the Wolof in the Casamance, the area where the Diola live is a source of conflict. There are also about 15 smaller tribes in Senegal.
As a result of the centuries of French rule, many French, Syrians and Lebanese still live in Senegal, who are mainly active in small and medium-sized businesses and in the service sector. Small groups of Malians, Gambians, Guineans, Cape Verdeans and Guinea-Bissauers also live there. Many refugees from neighboring countries also live in Senegal. About 250,000 Senegalese live abroad, mainly in France.
Although French is spoken and written by only a small part (about 15%) of the population, it is the official (administrative) language of Senegal according to the constitution.
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The official explanation for maintaining French as the main language is that it ranks above all other languages, thus favoring none of them. The main language of the people is Wolof. For half of the population it is the first language and for 30-40% of the population it is used as a second language, making Wolof the main means of communication between the various population groups.
Other official languages are Sérèr, Pulaar, Diola, Mande and Soninké. There are also about twelve smaller tribal languages. Most Senegalese speak and understand three or more languages. Arabic is the language of instruction in the Koranic schools.
The word "Senegal" probably comes from Sounougal, the Wolof name for the Senegal River.
The various languages spoken in Senegal are quite different from each other. Just look at the pronunciation of some numbers:
Peul (Fula): sappo
Peul (Fula): temedere
Peul (Fula): wujenere
Mandinka: wili kiling
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Officially about 90% of the population is a follower of Islam. In contrast to the Arabic form of Islam, where the imam plays a very important role, there is a clear Islamic organization in Senegal. Most Muslim Senegalese belong to one of the Brotherhoods. A brotherhood is headed by a caliph. Leaders and teachers (marabouts) have much, and often political, power. For example, the voting advice of marabouts in elections can influence the result. Half of the Senegalese Muslims belong to the Tidian Brotherhood. President Diouf belongs to this brotherhood.
About 35% belong to the Brotherhood of the Mouriden. The Mouriden are somewhat more fanatical in the teachings of Islam than the Tidians and possess a lot of political and economic power. The oldest brotherhood in Senegal is that of the Qadiriya, which has millions of followers all over the world and has Baghdad as its religious center.
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Between five and ten percent of the population, especially Diola and Sérèr, is Roman Catholic. Catholics mainly play a role in education and health care.
Despite the fact that almost all Senegalese adhere to an official religion, animism still plays a major role in the life of the population. Animism is a primordial belief in which it is believed that all earthly things, such as trees, animals or even stones, have their own spiritual power. Spirits of ancestors, gods, fetishism, initiation rites, superstitions and talismans also play a role in the religious world of the Senegalese. Convinced animist groups are found in the southeast and in the Casamance.
Religious conflicts between the different groups are rare. The constitution states that church and state must remain separate and religious parties are therefore prohibited.
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The largest mosque in West Africa is in Touba.
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The Senegalese state institution is very similar to the French one. The president, elected for seven years (now Five) by universal suffrage, is very powerful. He can appoint and dismiss the prime minister and the ministers. He is mainly concerned with foreign affairs and defense.
The Parliament, the Assemblée Nationale, is elected for a period of five years and has 120 members.
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Senegal is divided into ten "regions", each with its own parliament since 1996, which is subdivided into 30 departments. These departments are subdivided into 89 arrondissements. A region is headed by a governor who is accountable to the Home Secretary. The departments are administered by a prefect, the districts by a sub-prefect.
Senegal is still an active member of the French Commonwealth of Nations, the Francophonie. For the current political situation see chapter history.
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Education in Senegal is still in its infancy. About 60% of children only attend primary school for a few years. There is a shortage of everything: too little money and therefore too few teachers, too few schools and too few teaching materials. Moreover, the French school system is adhered to, which does not match the perception and language background of most children. Girls in particular, who are quickly burdened with the household, are the victims of this problem.
Schools have started teaching Wolof or other tribal languages on a small scale. Literacy courses in their own language are also given to adults in rural areas. Yet about 63% of the population is still illiterate.
In the Quranic schools, emphasis is placed on Arabic, which is not very useful for gaining a good position in society.
Secondary education is mainly found in Dakar and in some large cities. There is hardly any technical and domestic further education. Construction, industry, and household skills must be learned on the job. There are two universities, in Dakar and St. Louis. The University of Dakar in particular suffers from a chronic shortage of money. Students with wealthy parents attend classes in France or the United States.
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The economy of the developing country Senegal is among the weakest in the world. The main source of income at the moment is oil and fishing, followed by the cultivation of peanuts and the extraction of phosphate. The economy is therefore highly dependent on climate fluctuations and prices on the world market. Tourism is becoming increasingly important. Development money and money from Senegalese who work abroad also provide a lot of income. Agriculture may be the largest employer, but it does not bring in so much foreign money in proportion. Dangers to the Senegalese economy lie in the bureaucracy, the still great French influence, the many low-skilled people, few natural resources, corruption and an inadequate electricity grid.
Total exports were $ 2.3 billion dollars in 2017. Total imports were $ 5.2 billion in 2017. The main trading partners are France, other EU countries, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Japan, Spain and the United States. The Gambia and Mali play an important role for 'informal trade'. The informal sector is becoming increasingly important for the individual citizen due to the increasing unemployment, almost 50% of the population. It is often the only chance to make some money. Many young men go to other African countries or to Europe to make a living there. Child labor is still a very common phenomenon.
Electricity is generated with imported fuels. In cooperation with Mali, Senegal is building hydropower plants in the Senegal River.
The GDP in Senegal is around $ 3,500 per year per capita (2017).
Agriculture and animal husbandry
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Agriculture suffers greatly from the lack of water, the heat and the nutrient-poor soil. Hence, only about 15% of the land area is used for agriculture and horticulture. About one third of the agricultural area is used for the cultivation of peanuts. Senegal is Africa's largest producer of this fruit. However, the cultivation of peanuts has not been going so well in recent years. Some domestic problems are the ever-shifting rain limit and the advancing desert, and the monoculture, which means that land is being exploited. Competition from abroad is also leading to a sharp decline in exports and plummeting prices. Yet about 1 million people are still dependent on peanut cultivation.
A lot of sugar cane is grown in the north of Senegal, which is however wholly owned by a French company.
Other products grown for trade are rice and cotton.
Fruit growing, especially in the Casamance, offers many possibilities. Conditions are that the quality, transport and preservation must improve.
For its own food needs, cassava, maize, millet, long beans and rice are grown.
Livestock farming as an economic product is not much. The millions of goats and cattle are kept for personal use only. It is mainly the Fula nomads who do this work.
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Fishing is increasingly important to Senegal. Most foreign money comes in through fishing and half a million people (including many women) work in this sector. The fishing grounds off the West African coast are among the richest in the world. Mainly sardines, tuna and shellfish are caught. The sale of fishing rights to foreign fishing vessels generates extra money. There is a great danger that so much is being fished by foreigners that there is a threat of overfishing.
Mining and industry
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Senegal does not have many natural resources. Lime and phosphate are extracted for export. Phosphate in particular makes an important contribution to exports. Salt is extracted north of Dakar. Iron ore and some gold are mined in the east of the country.
In 1996 natural gas was found in the area of Thiès and there are several places where oil is politicized.
Industry can only be found around Dakar; refining peanuts into oil, slaughterhouses, fish processing industry, a beer brewery and a large cement factory. Printers, construction companies, weaving mills, furniture makers, car workshops and blacksmiths work for the local market only.
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Dakar has a well-equipped, modern port that is served by most shipping companies. Millions of tons of goods are converted every year and the vast majority of Senegalese exports go through the port of Dakar. After the port of Abidjan (Ivory Coast) it is the largest in West Africa. It is the loading and unloading port for Mali, Mauritania and Guinea-Bissau. Inland shipping is not much.
Two railway lines run through Senegal, from Dakar to St. Louis and from Dakar to Barmako in Mali. Passenger and freight trains run only a few times a week.
Dakar Airport is Senegal's main airport. Air Sénégal International operates domestic flights only, calling at the airports of St. Louis, Ziguinchor and Cap Skirring.
The road network is extensive and well maintained by African standards.
Holidays and Sightseeing
Tourism has been a real growth sector in recent years. Slightly more than half of the tourists come from France. About 20% comes from African countries. The rest comes mainly from Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium. The high season falls in the winter months.
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The capital Dakar has several museums and lively markets. From Dakar you can make an excursion to Île de Gorée, slaves were transported to America through the slave house. The whole island is a monument against the slave trade.
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Senegal also has a number of national parks. The Niokolo-Koba National Park is located in the southeast of Senegal. There are more than 1500 different kinds of plants, 70 kinds of mammals and about 300 kinds of birds.
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Saly-Portudal is a thriving holiday center with its sunny beach, recreational activities such as horse riding, water sports, quad biking and golf resorts. Around Saly-Portugal are some small coastal villages such as Saly, Popenguine, Toubab Dialao, Pointe Sarene and Mbodiene, which offer beautiful lodges with less tourist activities, but where you are completely immersed in the local culture.
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Derksen, G. / Gambia, Senegal
Dirkx, J. / Reishandboek Senegal
Else, D. / The Gambia and Senegal
Gambia en Senegal
Hesseling, G. / Senegal/Gambia : mensen, politiek, economie, cultuur
Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen
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