Background: 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 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. Senegal was ruled by a Socialist Party for 40 years until current President Abdoulaye WADE was elected in 2000. He was reelected in February 2007 and has amended Senegal's constitution over a dozen times to increase executive power and to weaken the opposition, part of the president's increasingly autocratic governing style. Senegal has a long history of participating in international peacekeeping and regional mediation.
Location: Western Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between Guinea-Bissau and Mauritania
Area land: 192,530 sq km
Area water: 4,192 sq km
Coastline: 531 km
Country name conventional long form: Republic of Senegal
Country name conventional short form: Senegal
Country name former: Senegambia (along with The Gambia), Mali Federation
Population: 12,643,799 (July 2011 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 43.3% (male 2,748,457/female 2,722,633); 15-64 years: 53.9% (male 3,200,056/female 3,611,173); 65 years and over: 2.9% (male 166,577/female 194,903) (2011 est.);
Population growth rate: 2.557% (2011 est.)
Birth rate: 36.73 births/1,000 population (2011 est.)
Death rate: 9.26 deaths/1,000 population (July 2011 est.)
Net migration rate: -1.9 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2011 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.03 male(s)/female; under 15 years: 1.01 male(s)/female; 15-64 years: 0.98 male(s)/female; 65 years and over: 0.87 male(s)/female; total population: 0.99 male(s)/female (2011 est.);
Infant mortality rate: total: 56.42 deaths/1,000 live births; male: 62.94 deaths/1,000 live births; female: 49.7 deaths/1,000 live births (2011 est.);
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 59.78 years; male: 57.85 years; female: 61.77 years (2011 est.);
Total fertility rate: 4.78 children born/woman (2011 est.);
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate: 0.9% (2009 est.);
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS: 59,000 (2009 est.);
HIV/AIDS - deaths: 2,600 (2009 est.);
Nationality: noun: Senegalese (singular and plural); adjective: Senegalese;
Ethnic groups: Wolof 43.3%, Pular 23.8%, Serer 14.7%, Jola 3.7%, Mandinka 3%, Soninke 1.1%, European and Lebanese 1%, other 9.4%;
Religions: Muslim 94%, Christian 5% (mostly Roman Catholic), indigenous beliefs 1%;
Languages: French (official), Wolof, Pulaar, Jola, Mandinka;
Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write; total population: 39.3%; male: 51.1%; female: 29.2% (2002 est.);
GDP (purchasing power parity): $23.86 billion (2010 est.); $22.96 billion (2009 est.); $22.56 billion (2008 est.);
GDP (official exchange rate): $12.66 billion (2010 est.);
GDP - real growth rate: 3.9% (2010 est.); 1.8% (2009 est.); 3.3% (2008 est.);
GDP - per capita (PPP): $1,900 (2010 est.); $1,900 (2009 est.); $1,900 (2008 est.);
GDP - composition by sector: agriculture: 14.9%; industry: 21.4%; services: 63.6% (2010 est.);
Population below poverty line: 54% (2001 est.);
Household income or consumption by percentage share: lowest 10%: 2.5%; highest 10%: 30.1% (2005);
Labor force: 5.53 million (2010 est.);
Labor force - by occupation: agriculture: 77.5%; industry and services: 22.5% (2007 est.);
Unemployment rate: 48% (2007 est.);
Budget: revenues: $2.726 billion; expenditures: $3.315 billion (2010 est.);
Industries: agricultural and fish processing, phosphate mining, fertilizer production, petroleum refining; iron ore, zircon, and gold mining, construction materials, ship construction and repair;
Industrial production growth rate: 3.8% (2010 est.);
Electricity - production: 1.88 billion kWh (2007 est.);
Electricity - consumption: 1.384 billion kWh (2007 est.);
Electricity - exports: 0 kWh (2008 est.);
Electricity - imports: 0 kWh (2008 est.);
Statistics: CIA World Factbook.
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In this interview, Air Force Colonel Birame Diop talks about the Senegal military's effort to integrate women into its armed forces, the many facets of that challenge, and how Senegal is one African country that has been able to avoid a coup.
By creating public awareness of important religious issues for women, the status quo in Senegal is being challenged.
The drug trade is fast turning large parts of West Africa into areas that are all but ungovernable, with major implications for international security.
It has been six years since such serious riots in Senegal, generally a beacon of stability in West Africa. And if nothing is done, said one participant, "Other big protests will follow."