Expedition Journal


Geography and Climate

Population, Ethnic Groups, Culture and Religion

Fauna and Flora

Resource Links
Lesson Plans
Check out the Route Maps

Send us an Email
Camping Information


Be sure to receive your Expedition Updates!

Lend a Helping Hand

You can help make the Virtual Classroom available to students by making a donation today.



World of Wonders Project:
The West Africa Expedition






Click on either map to see it in detail



Origin of the name Senegal Official name is Republic of Senegal.  The origin of the name is confusing.  Some believe that the country is named after the river of the same name that runs along its northern border before entering the Atlantic Ocean.  Other believe the name Senegal comes from the African Wolof Tribe name of a dugout canoe in the land of Teranga (hospitality). 



Click on each link below to learn more about the symbols.
  • Capital - Dakar
  • National Flag -
  • National Anthem -  Pincez Tous vos Koras, Frappez les Balafons
  • Coat of Arms -  
  • National Motto - "Un Peuple, Un But, Une Foi" (French)
    "One People, One Goal, One Faith"
  • Independence from France - August 20, 1960
  • Independence Day celebrated  - April 4th



(Click on any map to see it in detail)
Senegal is divided into 14 Regions, which are then divided into 34 Departments
The Regions are:




Language Official languages are French and Wolof, with Pulaar, Jola, and Mandinka also spoken.



Archaeological findings throughout the area indicate that Senegal was inhabited in prehistoric times. Islam established itself in the Senegal River valley in the 11th century. In the 13th and 14th centuries, the area came under the influence of the Mandingo empires to the east; the Jolof Empire of Senegal also was founded during this time.
In 1677 the Dutch settlers are expelled by the French and the coast of Senegal becomes a French colony. Between 1758 and 1779 and between 1809 and 1816 Senegal is occupied by Britain. Between 1840 and 1865 France conquers the whole of Senegal. The island of Gorée becomes a separate colony in 1854, named Colony of Gorée and Dependencies, also including Gabon. In 1859 Gorée is reincorporated into Senegal. Senegal becomes a constituent part of French West Africa in 1904.

Inside French West Africa Senegal becomes in 1946 a French overseas territory. After the dissolution of French West Africa in 1958, Senegal gets autonomy as the Republic of Senegal. Mamadou Dia of the UPS becomes prime minister. Senegal becomes part of the Mali Federation in 1959, but shortly after the independence of the Mali Federation in 1960 Senegal leaves the Federation.

Senegal becomes thereby a separate independent republic. The country is a one-party state lead by the Union Progressiste Sénégalaise (Senegalese Progressive Union, UPS), since Progressive Union of Senegal. The leader of this party, Léopold Sédar Senghor, becomes president. Leopold Sedar Senghor, internationally known poet, politician, and statesman, was elected Senegal's first president in August 1960. Senghor and prime minister Mamadou Dia govern together under a parliamentary system. In 1962 their political rivalry leads to an attempted coup by Dia. Although this is put down without bloodshed, Dia is arrested and imprisoned. and Senegal adopts a new presidential constitution.

In 1974 Senegal sets steps towards a multi-party system. The UPS is renamed Parti Socialiste du Sénégal (Socialist Party of Senegal, PSS) in 1976. The main opposition party is the liberal democratic Parti Démocratique Sénégalais (Senegalese Democratic Party, PDS) and at the same time In 1980 Senghor decides to retire from politics and he handed power over in 1981 to his handpicked successor, Abdou Diouf. Diouf slowly develops the country into a presidential democracy. In 1982 a separatist rebellion of the Mouvement des Forces Démocratiques du Casamance (Movement of Democratic Forces of the Casamance, MFDC) starts in Casamance. Only as late as 2000 the opposition succeeds in winning the presidential elections and Abdoulaye Wade, of the PDS, becomes president. Senegal experiences its second peaceful transition of power and its first from one political party to another.

The French colonies of Senegal and the French Sudan were merged in 1959 and granted their independence as the Mali Federation in 1960. The union broke up after only a few months. Senegal joined with The Gambia to form the nominal confederation of Senegambia in 1982, but the envisaged integration of the two countries was never carried out, and the union was dissolved in 1989. The Movement of Democratic Forces in the Casamance (MFDC) has led a low-level separatist insurgency in southern Senegal since the 1980s, and several peace deals have failed to resolve the conflict. Nevertheless, Senegal remains one of the most stable democracies in Africa.

Government Government

Senegal is a republic with a presidency; the president is elected every five years.  The current president is Abdoulaye Wade, re-elected in March 2007.  The president of the republic determines national policy and appoints the prime minister and his council of ministers. As presently constituted, the constitution does not give the president the authority to dissolve the National Assembly or to veto legislation. However, if the National Assembly is requested to reconsider a measure it has enacted, the bill must be passed again by a three-fifths majority before it becomes law. The president also may ask the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of a proposed law. With the consent of the president of the National Assembly and the Supreme Court, the president of the republic may submit any proposed law to national referendum. 

Legislative power is exercised by the 120-member (formerly 140-member) National Assembly, elected to serve five-year terms. The Assembly elects the 16 members of the High Court of Justice from among its ranks. Members of the Council of Ministers may not be Assembly members, and are appointed by the prime minister in consultation with the president. The former senate, established in 1998, had 60 members, 48 elected by an electoral college (legislators and local, municipal and regional councilors), and 12 appointed by the president.



Predominantly rural and with limited natural resources, the Economy of Senegal gains most of its foreign exchange from fish, phosphates, groundnuts, tourism, and services. Its agricultural sector is highly vulnerable to variations in rainfall and changes in world commodity prices. Dakar, as the former capital of French West Africa, is also home to banks and other institutions which serve all of Francophone West Africa, and is a hub for shipping and transport in the region.

Natural resources: Fish, peanuts, phosphate, iron ore, gold, titanium.

Agriculture products: Peanuts, millet, corn, sorghum, rice, cotton, tomatoes, green vegetables; cattle, poultry, pigs; fish

Industries: Agricultural and fish processing, phosphate mining, fertilizer production, petroleum refining, construction materials.  

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: Metric weights and measures are used.

Geography and Climate


The country's total area is 196 190 km² of which 192 000 km² is land and 4 190 km² is water, making the nation slightly smaller than Britain or the U.S. state of South Dakota.

Senegal is bordered to the west by the North Atlantic Ocean. The nation's longest border is with Mauritania to the north, an 813 km border along the Senegal River. To the east is the 419 km border with Mali. In the southeast is Guinea (330 km border) and to the southsouthwest is Guinea-Bissau (338 km), both borders running along the Casamance River.  The small nation of The Gambia is completely surrounded by Senegal. The Gambia penetrates more than 320 km into Senegal, from the Atlantic coast to the center of Senegal along the Gambia River, which bisects Senegal's territory.

Well-defined dry and humid seasons result from northeast winter winds and southwest summer winds. Dakar's annual rainfall of about 610 mm (24 in) occurs between June and October when maximum temperatures average 27 °C (82 °F); December to February minimum temperatures are about 17 °C (63 °F). Interior temperatures are higher than along the coast, and rainfall increases substantially farther south, exceeding 1.5 m (60 in) annually in some areas.

The lowest point in Senegal is the Atlantic Ocean, at sea level. The highest point is an unnamed feature near Nepen Diakha in the Fouta Djallon foothills at 581 m (1900 ft).

Climate: tropical; hot, humid; rainy season (May to November) has strong southeast winds; dry season (December to April) dominated by hot, dry, harmattan wind


Senegal has 6 vegetation zones: sahel, Sahel-Soudan, Soudan, Soudan-Guinea, tropical rainforest, and mangrove. The following chart gives an idea of this, but the zones are not labeled as above (aldough these are the official vegegatation names):

There are four areas on the World Heritage List:

  • Island of Gorée near Dakar
  • Djoudj National Bird Santuary
  • Niokolo-Koba National Park
  • Island of Saint-Louis
  • Stone Circles of Senegambia, unesco


Culture and Religion


Senegal has an estimated 2008 population of nearly 13 million, about 70 percent of whom live in rural areas.

The largest ethnic group is the Wolof, who made up 43.3% of the total population in 1998; they live mainly in the northwest. The Pular rank as the second-largest group, constituting 23.8%. Closely related to the Wolof are the Serer (14.7%), in west-central Senegal, who are skilled peanut cultivators, and the Lebu, mostly fishermen and farmers, concentrated in the Dakar area.

Other important groups are the Diola of Casamance, making up 3.7% of the populace; the Mandink, in the southeast and in Casamance, accounting for 3%; the Soninke constituting 1.1%; the Tukulor, who live predominantly in the northeast; and the Fulani (Peul) and Bambara, scattered throughout the country. Europeans and Lebanese make up about 1% of the total population; other various groups constitute the remaining 9.4%.

The religious division is Muslim 94%, Christian 5% (mostly Roman Catholic), indigenous beliefs 1%

Fauna and Flora

Fauna and Flora

Vegetation varies in different areas of Senegal, depending on the average rainfall. The most tropical part of southern Casamance has mangrove swamps and remnants of high forest, including oil palms, bamboo, African teak, and the silk-cotton tree. The dry thornland of the northeast has spiny shrubs, especially acacia, including the gum-bearing species. Most of Senegal is savanna. Trees, which are widely spaced in this region, include the African locust bean, tallow tree, and gingerbread plum, along with cassias and acacias. The lion and leopard are rare, occasionally found in the northeast, as are chimpanzees, elephants, hippopotamuses, and buffalo. The wild pig, hare, guinea fowl, quail, and bustard are widely distributed. Insects and birds are abundant, and there are numerous lizards, snakes, and other reptiles.

Encyclopedia of the Nations

Environment Environment

Approximately 46% of Senegal is classified as semiarid. Much of the land is threatened with desertification because of overgrazing, inadequately controlled cutting of forests for fuel, and soil erosion from overcultivation. According to a UN report, at least 4.5% of Senegal's forests have been eliminated. By 1985, the total amount of land subject to deforestation was 193 square miles. Between 1983 and 1993, an additional 4.4% of the nation's forest and woodland was lost. Dakar suffers from such typical urban problems as improper sanitation (especially during the rainy season, when sewers overflow) and air pollution from motor vehicles. The nation has 26 cubic kilometers of renewable water resources with 92% used for farming activity and 3% used for industrial purposes. About 92% of the nation's city dwellers and 65% of the people living in rural areas have access to safe drinking water. Senegal's cities produce about 0.6 million tons of solid waste per year. Important environmental agencies include the Ministry of Scientific and Technical Research, which is responsible for coordinating all research and development in Senegal.

Senegal has six national parks, covering about 4% of the country's total area; game in forest reserves is classified by law as partially or completely protected, but poaching remains a problem. As of 2001, 11% of Senegal's total land area was protected. In 2001, 13 mammal species and 6 bird species were endangered. Fifteen types of plants were threatened with extinction. Endangered species include the western giant eland and four species of turtle (green sea, olive ridley, hawksbill, and leatherback). The Sahara oryx has become extinct in the wild.

Encyclopedia of the Nations

We thank our West Africa Expedition Sponsors
Please visit their websites




Contact us for information regarding sponsorship opportunities.  

Join the Virtual Classroom. Complete the free registration form for your classroom today.

Support the expeditions.  Your donation will help to continue the research, documentation and Virtual Classroom web site presentation of these wonderful cultures and experiences to the broadest possible audience. To find out how you can help, please follow this link to our Helping Hand page.  

Thank you, now it's time to explore!