Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Senghor Era of Senegal

      The first twenty years of independence in Senegal (1960 to 1980) were presided over by President Leopold Senghor, who was instrumental in the movement for independence and set the course for the country.  Senghor was unusually successful in his peer group of African leaders and Senegal enjoyed a mostly peaceful existence during his reign due to his cooperation with local religious leaders and with France.  Senghor had advocated close ties with France during independence and retained French economic and technical advisors as well as several French garrisons in Dakar.  Senghor faced several crises during his tenure as President but emerged from the 70s in relatively good form and became the first African president to voluntarily retire on 31 December 1980.

The first internal crisis for Senghor was a power struggle that resulted in a foiled coup attempt.  Leopold Sedar Senghor was elected President in 1960 along with Mamadou Dia who became the Prime Minister.  Both were active in politics in Senegal and French West Africa and once in office Senghor continued to focus on exterior issues and Dia focused on the economy.  Dia was more of a socialist and began to implement the radical social economic policies he had advocated in his book Réflexions sur l’Économie de l’Afrique Noire published in 1960.  Dia’s new autocratic socialist reforms affected groundnut production, the principle export of Senegal, by creating rural cooperatives that cut European and Lebanese traders out of the peanut business.  Dia also offended religious leaders by suggesting that Islamic leaders shouldn’t be in politics and should focus instead on being spiritual guides (Diouf, 118).  As the struggle between Dia, Senghor, and the Marabouts intensified the parliament prepared to vote to censure Dia in 1962.  In order to prevent the vote Dia called upon the Senegalese Army to lock the assembly building.  Senghor was notified and ordered the Senegalese Army, who was loyal to Senghor, to instead arrest Dia who was later sentenced to jail “in perpetuity” for treason.  Dia was pardoned 12 years later in 1974 (Whiteman, 2009).

The presence of French armed units in Dakar convinced the Senegalese military to not disobey Senghor during the crisis as the French threatened to intervene and restore Senghor to power if Dia was successful in his coup.  The French military also pressured the Senegalese parliament to support Senghor despite their prior loyalty to Dia (Diouf, 118).

Marabout Key to Success
The Mouride Islamic order was established by Sheik Amadou Bamba in the 1880s and remains the most powerful Islamic order in Senegal and is patronized by all political groups, including current President Wade.  The Mourides are known for devotion to their marabouts (religious leaders) and were used by French colonists to economically and politically control the population.  Marabouts under colonial times established pioneer settlements for the cultivation of peanuts, which evolved into ordinary villages dedicated to the production of peanuts (Barker, 30).  Initially, the villagers would give their crop to the marabout in exchange for blessings and charity.  With time the villagers began to cultivate their own peanut fields but also continued to provide free labor to the marabout.  The marabouts formed an elite network that controlled the economies of villages and exercised political and religious control of a large part of Senegal.  Other Islamic Brotherhoods like the Tijaniyya founded by Malick Sy also economically dominated their followers and top leaders managed large tracts of land used for agriculture and settlement (Ibid, p. 34). 

Upon independence Senghor and Dia won the support of marabouts by promising to allow the marabout economic system to continue as well as that of the traders in Dakar who wanted to maintain close ties to France (Ibid., p. 35).  The government gave the marabouts “access to publically subsidized inputs: fertilizers, mechanical equipment, land carved out from forest reserves, and above all massive amounts of government credit” (Bates, p. 111).  Post-colonial policies allowed the marabouts to continue to exploit their devout followers in peanut production and traders attempted to use the Marketing Board to increase their profits from the trade of peanuts.  The Senegalese economy was based on groundnut production and taxes from peanut trade provided most of the income for the government, which tried to manipulate peanut trade to increase revenues.  After independence in 1960 the government seized control of trade between the oil presser and peanut producer but still allowed small producers to operate independently and trade with French firms (Barker, p.36). 

In 1963 following the attempted coup by Dia Senghor addressed the Mourides in their holy city of Touba and expressed his thanks for their support from the beginning and through the crisis with Dia. Senghor is quoted as saying that he had “always found comfort, advice, and support next to you” (Behrnman, 262). 

Economic Difficulties of Peanuts
Manipulations by the Marketing Board and several years of drought in the 1960s increased hostility of the peasant producers against the state.  During the 1960s the French stopped peanut subsidies to Senegal causing peanuts to be sold at lower prices on the world market (Martin, 3199).  In 1967 the state reduced prices to producers by 15%, implemented a chit system that where producers were only paid after the crop was sold in France (not when the crop was delivered to the Senegalese government or traders), increased debt repayment requirements, and forced proscription of all private peanut buyers in order to shift costs to the producers and away from the government and traders.  Peasants were also under increased financial burdens after following advice from development administrators to invest in animal drawn production (Barker, p.38).  Despite shrinking incomes, increased debt, and decrease in production repayment for loans was required and sometimes coerced through SONAGRAINES, the parastatal that distributed seed and fertilizer and collected the crop for SONACOS, the Senegalese parastatal that processed peanut oil and oil cake (Golub & Mbaye, p. 21). 

Weather challenges continued to challenge the cultivation of groundnut with a series of droughts or insufficient rainfall cutting production. Low rainfall during the 1978-9 season cut production to 50% of the 1976-7 output (Kessler, 60).  In addition valuable agricultural land was lost due to increased desertification and the southern expansion of the desert. 

On 22 March 1967, at the feast of Tabaski, Mustapha Lo attempted to assassinate President Senghor.  Later at his trial Lo claimed he knew the pistol wouldn’t fire and only wanted to show the President he wasn’t as popular as he thought.  Lo, who was related to an imprisoned marabout, was executed on 15 June 1967 (Mbow, 2011). 

Generally given the religious control of groundnut production most resistance was gradual and minimal but by 1970 had reached noticeable levels.  Increasing numbers of producers were selling their crops in Gambia or shifting production to other crops like millet.  In 1970 only 85% of peanut fields in production in 1967 were planted for peanuts and fertilizer use on peanuts had dropped to 13% of the 1967 use.  Marabouts, who rewarded the free service of their followers in their peanut fields with counsel, advised their followers to first look after the care and feeding of their families then their other obligations (Barker, 38).  Social unrest deepened in 1968 with a general strike in 1968 by students and unionized workers.  The strike was suppressed by the military but was followed sporadically by further strikes (Ross, 550). 

In order to buy political favor the government used money from an EEC loan in 1970 to increase the price of peanuts, forgave debts for the year, and abolished the chit system and returned to former system of cash payment on delivery of peanuts (Barker, 38).

Political Evolution
Senegal operated as parliamentary democracy from independence until the Dia coup of 1962, following which the government was reorganized to eliminate the Prime Minister and consolidated powers under the president.  In 1970 the position of Prime Minister was reestablished and Abdou Diouf was selected as Prime Minister (Adamolekun, p. 544).  Diouf later followed Senghor as the second President of Senegal on 1 January 1981. 

The succession of leadership among the Mouride Kalifs (the Kalif is the head of the Mouride brotherhood, directly descended from Shaik Amadou Bamba) has also influenced Senegalese politics as the older Sheiks that supported Senghor died and were replaced by younger leaders who were more hostile to the government.  The Grand Kalif and head of the Mourides, Abdou Lahat, tried to appear more aloof and above government politics in the late 1970s and separate himself from Senghor (Behrman, p. 273).

In 1974 the Parti dèmocratique sénégalaise (PDS) was formed with Abdoulaye Wade as its leader to contest the dominant and only authorized political party, the Union progressiste sénégalaise (UPS).  In response President Senghor asked for a constitutional amendment to allow multiple political parties (Behrman, p. 270).  The constitution was amended in April 1976 to allow three political parties based on ideology: liberal, socialist, and Marxist-Lenninist.  The UPS became the Parti Socialiste (PS), Wade’s PDS assumed the role of the liberal party, and the communist party was legalized as the Parti Africain de l’Indépendance (PAI).  Another constitutional amendment in 1978 expanded the multiparty system further with the addition of the Mouvement Républicain Sénégalais (MRS), a right wing party for Islamic purity (Kessler, pp. 60-61).  In addition there were several illegal opposition groups that were later allowed when President Diouf allowed full multi-party democracy in 1981 (Martin, 3220). 

President Senghor’s cooperation and patronage of the Mourides and the other Islamic marabouts was key to his success in avoiding radical political, social, and economic upheaval in Senegal in the first two decades of independence.  Nearly equally important was the close connection that Senghor maintained with the French that saved him from a coup in 1962 and provided economic support and trade.  However, the withdrawal of  French subsidies in the late 1960s and declining returns on the primary export increased the debt of the Senegalese and the country’s foreign debt necessitating economic reform in the 1980s. 


Adamolekun, ‘Ladipo (1971). Bureaucrats and the Senegalese Political Process.  The Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 9, No. 4 (Dec 1971), pp. 543-559.


Allen, Chris (1995).  Understanding African Politics.  Review of African Political Economy, Vol. 22, No. 65, ROAPE Review of Books (Sep. 1995), pp. 301-320.


Barker, Jonathan (1977). Stability and Stagnation: The State in Senegal. Canadian Journal of African Studies, Vol. 11, No. 1 (1977), pp. 23-42.


Bates, Robert H. (2005).  Markets and States in Tropical Africa.  University of California Press: Berkeley. 


Behrman, Lucy Creevey (1977).  Muslim Politics and Development in Senegal.  The Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 15, No. 2 (Jun 1977), pp. 261-277.


Diouf, Moustapha (1992). State Formation and Legitimation Crisis in Senegal.  Review of African Political Economy, No. 54, Surviving Democracy? (Jul 1992), pp. 117-125.


Golub, Stephen and Mbaye, Ahmadou Aly (2002). Obstacles and Opportunities for Senegal’s International Competitiveness.  World Bank; Africa Region Working Paper Series No. 37, September 2002.


Kessler, Richerd J. (1980). Senegal in Transition.  The World Today, Vol. 36, No. 2 (Feb 1980), pp. 59-64. 


Mbow, Aboulaye. Retour sur la tentative d’assassinat de Senghor et le meurtre de Demba Diop en 1967 : Quand la peine de mort était encore une réalité au Sénégal.  L’Office, Posted 30 Apr 2011 to

Meredith, Martin (2005).  The Fate of Africa. PublicAffairs: Kindle edition. 

Ross, Eric S. (2008).  Culture and Customs of Senegal.  Greenwood Press: Westport, CT, Kindle Edition. 

Van de Walle, Nicholas (2001).  African Economies and the Politics of Permanent Crisis, 1979-1999.  Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK.

Whiteman, Kate. Mamadou Dia: First Prime Minister and key figure in the politics of Senegal. The Guardian, Posted 2 Feb 2009 to

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