Senegal has remained politically stable since its independence from France in 1960. This stability has been in spite of some poor democratic practice at the top level- it was ruled by a socialist party for the first 40 years of independence and since 2000 President Wade has amended the constitution over a dozen times to increase the power of the executive and tighten his individual grip on the country.
Economically, Senegal has been less stable. The government embarked upon a radical economic reform plan in 1994 which began by slashing the value of the Senegalese currency by 50%, thereby curbing inflation. The measures have however been successful, and GDP real growth rate increased an average of 5% annually between 1994 and 2008. As a vocal member of the West African Economic and Monetary Union, Senegal has been trying to get its neighbours to join regional economic initiatives including unified external tax tariffs. Despite its recent growth, 48% of the population is not employed in the formal sector and 54% live below the poverty line.
Islam was first introduced to Senegal in the 8th and 9th centuries AD by Berber merchants from the North. Subsequent waves of Islamicisation converted increasing numbers over the next few centuries, with one of the most prominent appearing in the late-nineteenth century, spearheaded by Amadhou Bamba.
Cheikh Amadhou Bamba converted many Senegalese Kings and their respective subjects, promoting Islam as a rallying point for a pacifist anti-colonial struggle. The French saw him as a serious threat to their colonial mission and exiled him to Gabon (1895-1902) and later, to Mauritania (1903-1907.) His exile turned him into a living martyr and the mythology around him grew. The French realised that he had no intention to initiate a violent struggle against them and concluded that he was more dangerous away from his people, so they allowed him to return to in 1910.
Bamba’s greatest legacy is the Mouride brotherhood, which he founded in 1883 and which functions to this day. It now has a large presence in many Western European cities, where there is a substantial Senegalese migrant population, and provides temporary lodgings and financial support for newly arriving Mouride immigrants. Most street sellers of Senegalese origin in Western Europe are Mourides and they send money back to the brotherhood’s leadership in Touba, Senegal. In Senegal itself, the brotherhood controls large sections of the economy, including the transport sector and peanut plantations. They also hold great political influence. In 2000, the day after President Wade’s election victory, he travelled to Touba to seek the blessing of the Grand Marabout, Serigne Saliou Mbacke.