The Toucouleur people, among the early inhabitants of Senegal, converted to Islam in the 11th century, although their religious beliefs retained elements of animism. The Portuguese had some stations on the banks of the Senegal River in the 15th century, and the first French settlement was made at St. Louis in 1659. Goree Island became a center for the Atlantic slave trade through the 1700s, and millions of Africans were shipped from there to the New World. The British took parts of Senegal at various times, but the French gained possession in 1840 and made it part of French West Africa in 1895.
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. The integration of the two countries was never carried out, and the union was dissolved in 1989.
Senegal's first president, Leopold Sedar Senghor, towered over the country's political life until his retirement in 1981. He replaced multi-party democracy with an authoritarian regime. An advocate of "African socialism," Senghor increased government involvement in the economy.
Senghor's protege, Abdou Diouf, who led the country for the next 20 years, initiated further economic and political liberalization, including the sale of government companies and permitting the existence of political parties. In March 2000, opposition party challenger Abdoulaye Wade won 60% of the vote in multi-party elections. Diouf stepped aside in what was hailed as a rare smooth transition of power in Africa. In January 2001, the Senegalese voted in a new constitution that legalized opposition parties and granted women equal property rights with men.
In September 2002, 1,863 passengers were killed when the state-owned Joola ferry sank. The government accepted responsibility for the disaster.
The president removed Prime Minister Idrissa Seck in April 2004. Abdoulaye Wade was re-elected in February 2007 and amended Senegal's constitution over a dozen times increasing executive power and weakening the opposition.
The marabouts, religious leaders of various Senegalese Muslim brotherhoods, exercise strong political influence in Senegal. In 2009, Freedom House downgraded Senegal's status from 'Free' to 'Partially Free', based on increased centralization of power in the executive.
On February 22, 2011, it was reported that Senegal severed diplomatic ties with Iran, saying Tehran supplied rebels with weapons which killed Senegalese troops.
In July 2011, Senegal suspended the repatriation of HissÃ¨ne HabrÃ©. HabrÃ© remained in Senegal instead of returning to Chad, where he earned a sentence of death for crimes against humanity while president.
Despite constitutional term limits, President Wade ran for a third term. His decision sparked violent protests. Wade lost decisively in March 2012 to former prime minister Macky Sall.
Macky Sall officially became president on April 2, 2012. He named Abdoul Mbaye as prime minister, Alioune Badara CissÃ© as foreign minister,Augustin Tine as defense minister, Mbaye Ndiaye as interior minister, and Amadou Kane as finance minister.
In October 2012, President Macky Sall fired the interior and foreign ministers following criticism of the handling of a riot by supporters of a jailed religious leader. Pathe Seck was named interior minister and Mankeur Ndiaye became foreign minister.
In July 2013, Senegalese authorities arrested former Chadian President HissÃ¨ne HabrÃ© in Dakar and put him on trial him for crimes against humanity committed under his rule.
On September 1, 2013 President Macky Sall dismissed Prime Minister Abdoul Mbaye and his cabinet. Aminata TourÃ© was named the prime minister. TourÃ© became the country's second female prime minister.
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