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Senegal - Introduction

Senegal is francophone Africa’s strongest democracy. Senegal, an African republic that gained full independence in 1960, owes its existence more to political action than to cultural and social forces. The foreign colonial power of France brought Senegal's various peoples together as a territorial group under Western influence.

Senegal is exceptional among African states. First, Senegal is unique in its preservation of a form of multiparty democratic politics since independence, in contrast to many other African countries where democracy faltered. Second, the country is singular for its creation of effective state power, having established an especially successful institutional network for the assertion of an authentic (”empirical”) statehood over most of the national territory. Finally, Senegal is exceptional because of its ethnic harmony.

Senegal’s political stability has, in many ways, been a shining light in what has otherwise been a difficult post-independence struggle for most of sub-Saharan Africa. The March 2000 election was a model for all young democracies. What had been expected to be an election surrounded by civil unrest with contested results fortunately turned out to be a transparent and peaceful transfer of power from a long-governing political party to another, restoring hope among the majority of Senegalese, especially the young. Senegal entered a new phase full of hope, as well as uncertainty.

Senegal wields influence disproportionate to its modest size, resource endowment, and population. Since the 11th Century, it has been a contact zone with “white Africa” to the north of the Senegal River and a point of penetration of Islam. Located on the Atlantic Ocean at the western end of the African continent, Senegal has also been a hub for trade with Europe and America. Senegal has always been one of the most stable countries in Africa, able to exert influence equivalent to the economic and military powers of South Africa, Nigeria, and Egypt, and often cited as an example to others.

Since 1982 an armed separatist movement in the impoverished Casamance region of southern Senegal, known as the Mouvement des Forces Democratiques de Casamance (MFDC) has been fighting for independence. Negotiations with the Dakar government have been hindered by constant splits and leadership disputes within the MFDC. Much of the apparently rebel activity is little more than banditry. A framework peace agreement was signed in December 2004, but its implementation has not been complete owing to further splits in the MFDC. One faction opposed to the agreement was involved in 2006 in armed clashes with the Senegalese army, and armed banditry continues in the area. On 14 January 2007 the historic leader of the MFDC, Fr Augustin Diamacoune Senghor, died in a hospital in Paris.

Senegal has a good record on Human Rights. The press, civil society organisations and political parties generally exercise their activities freely. In recent years however some concern has been expressed over intimidation of journalists, some of whom have been charged with disseminating 'false news'. Several journalists and opposition politicians were detained or arrested in the first half of 2006 in connection with revelations of alleged government corruption. In July 2004, Madiambal Diagne, Managing Editor of "Le Quotidien" was arrested for publishing confidential reports, false information and incitement to rebellion. He was released after 18 days of detention following a campaign by civil society organisations. The controversial "Ezzan" Law, which grants an amnesty for some politically motivated crimes, was passed on 7 January 2005.

The president is the supreme commander of the armed forces, the highest military decision-making body is the National Defense Commission. The government set up the Ministry of Defense, the army set up the General Staff, under the jurisdiction of the seven military areas. The implementation of compulsory military service, service period of two years. The Senegalese military force receives most of its training, equipment, and support from France and the United States. Germany also provides support but on a smaller scale. Military noninterference in political affairs has contributed to Senegal's stability since independence.

Senegal has well-trained and disciplined armed forces consisting of about 17,000 personnel in the army, air force, navy, and gendarmerie. In 2006 the total strength of 13620 people, in addition to the gendarmeie 5000 people. The Army had 11900 people, consisting of infantry department, engineering battalion, the Presidential Guard, artillery groups, reconnaissance squadrons, paratroopers and other troops. The Navy had 950 personnel, and Air Force 770 people.

Senegal has participated in many international and regional peacekeeping missions. Its history of participation in peacekeeping is impressive. Most recently, Senegal provided peacekeeping forces for the African Union (AU) mission in Darfur, Sudan (AMIS), the UN mission in Liberia (UNIMIL), and the UN mission in Cote d’Ivoire (UNOCI), where Lieutenant General Abdoulaye Fall, who is now Chief of Defense of the Senegalese Armed Forces, was the Force Commander. In 2000, Senegal sent a battalion to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to participate in MONUC, the UN peacekeeping mission, and agreed to deploy a U.S.-trained battalion to Sierra Leone to participate in UNAMSIL, another UN peacekeeping mission.

A Senegalese contingent was deployed on a peacekeeping mission to the Central African Republic in 1997, and in 1994, Senegal sent a battalion-sized force to Rwanda to participate in the UN peacekeeping mission there. In 1992 Senegal sent 1,500 men to the ECOMOG peacekeeping group in Liberia, and in 1991, it was the only Sub-Saharan nation to send a contingent to participate in Operation Desert Storm in the Middle East.

In August 1981, the Senegalese military was invited into The Gambia by President Dawda Kairaba Jawara to put down a coup attempt. In August 1989, Senegalese-Gambian military cooperation, which began with the joint Senegalese-Gambian efforts during the 1981 coup attempt, ceased with the dissolution of the Senegambian Confederation. Senegal intervened in the Guinea-Bissau civil war in 1998 at the request of former President Vieira.

Street crime is very common in Senegal, particularly in urban areas. Pick pocketing and street crime, including in taxis and occasionally violent, are common in parts of Dakar, particularly around Place de l’Independence, the central area of the Plateau, the Western Corniche, and at the airport. This type of crime is especially common in the run up to religious festivals. Recent examples have included attackers grabbing bags while driving scooters or motorbikes. Fake greeters are known to operate at the airport.

The Casamance region of south-western Senegal (between the southern border of Gambia and the northern border of Guinea-Bissau) remains affected by a small number of incidents involving armed separatist groups and banditry. There have been periodic clashes between the Senegalese army and suspected elements of the armed separatist group MFDC (Movement of the Democratic Forces of Casamance) over the last few years resulting in injuries and deaths. However these types of attacks are infrequent and where they have occurred, have not been aimed at foreigners.

Water supplies often carry disease-causing microorganisms. Malaria and other tropical diseases are common in Senegal, especially during the rainy season (June-September). There are occasional outbreaks of cholera.

Several hospitals and clinics in Dakar can treat major and minor injuries and illnesses; however, medical facilities outside Dakar are extremely limited, and unprepared to handle major injuries. There is inadequate inpatient psychiatric care and limited office-based psychiatric treatment in Dakar.

Motorbikes, van taxis ("cars rapides"), and public transportation can be dangerous due to overloading, careless driving, inadequate maintenance, and the lack of basic safety equipment such as seat belts. Drivers tend to exceed speed limits, follow other vehicles closely, ignore lane markings, and attempt to pass even when facing oncoming traffic. Roadways are poorly lit and poorly marked, and many sections have deteriorated surfaces. Due to limited street lighting, pedestrians are difficult to see at night. Drivers in both rural and urban areas may frequently expect to encounter and share the road with motorcycles, bicyclists, pedestrians, livestock, and animal carts.

While some main roads are of good quality, other roads can be poor especially during the rainy season from June to September. Torrential rains can cause floods and landslides.

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