Senegal: five things to knowFri, 16 Feb 2024 13:15:05 GMT

A haven of stability in a volatile region, Senegal is in the grips of its worst crisis in decades after its leader Macky Sall provoked accusations of a “constitutional coup” when he postponed presidential elections, a move that has now been overturned by the Constitutional Council.Here are five key facts about the Muslim-majority nation in West Africa:- Peaceful outlier -In a region plagued by jihadist violence and military coups, Senegal has long been the exception: an oasis of democracy and relative calm.It has never seen a coup since its independence from France in 1960, which was achieved without violence.The first president, poet and black rights activist Leopold Sedar Senghor, oversaw the introduction of universal suffrage and a multi-party political system.But two bouts of deadly violence in March 2021 and June 2023, around the arrest and jailing of opposition firebrand Ousmane Sonko, rocked the country’s peaceable image. Sall added to tensions earlier this month when he postponed the February 25 presidential poll, sparking outcry and prompting deadly protests.The historic decision by the Constitutional Council late on Thursday to overturn the postponement pushes Senegal further into uncertainty.- Youth exodus -Senegal is one of the countries in Africa experiencing a massive youth boom, with 41 percent of its population aged under 14 in 2022, according to the World Bank.But with 39 percent of people living in poverty, according to the UN World Food Programme, many young people’s ambition from childhood is to reach Europe.Most take the dangerous Atlantic route to Spain’s Canary Islands, involving days of sailing across treacherous currents in ageing open canoes known as pirogues.The International Organization for Migration counted 14,976 migrants from West Africa reaching the Canary Islands this way between January and September 2023, with 424 people drowning or disappearing during the voyages.- Oil curse or ‘radical change’? -Senegal’s recently discovered reserves of oil and gas estimated at more than one billion barrels and 900 billion cubic metres respectively have raised hopes of future riches and industrialisation.While the amounts are modest in global terms, former energy and oil minister Sophie Gladima insisted in 2022 that they were enough to “radically change the economy and industrial fabric of our country and thereby its future prospects.”But the spectre of the “oil curse” looms large, with Nigeria and Angola providing cautionary tales of what can follow a rush of petrodollars: corruption and instability.- Remembering slavery -When Barack Obama visited Africa in 2013 as US president, one of his stop-offs was to Senegal’s Goree Island, a poignant symbol of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.It was the largest slave-trading centre on the African coast between the 15th and 19th century, according to the UN’s cultural agency.Africans were held at the House of Slaves before passing through a “Door of No Return” to be shipped off the continent as slaves.- Literary awards and ‘Lupin’ -Senegalese writers are having a moment in international literary circles.The first author from sub-Saharan Africa to win France’s top literary award, the Goncourt Prize, in 2021 was Senegalese author Mohamed Mbougar Sarr, with a literary mystery “The Most Secret Memory of Men”.That year the International Booker Prize also went to an author from the Senegalese diaspora, David Diop, for his haunting “At Night All Blood Is Black” about Senegalese soldiers fighting for France in World War I.The country’s musicians have long been the toast of world stages, from Youssou N’Dour, famous for his “7 Seconds” duet with Neneh Cherry, to fellow superstars Ismael Lo and Baaba Maal.Senegal was also home to the late father of African cinema, director Ousmane Sembene, and children of the diaspora have written their names in the stars, like French actor Omar Sy, star of Netflix hit series “Lupin”.