11 things you should know about Senegal, the vibrant pulse of West Africa

Dirty dancing, stunning landscapes and a lively coastal capital city.

The African Higher Education Summit has drawn to a close in Dakar. 

It has been three days of hope and promise for reform in Africa’s higher education sector, and the host country, Senegal, was an ideal location for the summit to happen. Senegal is a country that has positioned itself at the forefront of the African educational reform movement, and Dakar’s location on the fringes of the Atlantic provided a beautiful setting.

The country is quite welcoming towards fellow Africans with visa exemptions - 16 of Africa’s countries - and special rates for many tourist attractions for African citizens. 

It even has its own word to define how seriously it takes hospitality - “teranga”.  

Here are ten more things you may not have known about this vibrant West African nation:

1. The William Ponty School in Senegal was the first institution of higher learning, in the modern sense of higher learning, and not linked to Africa’s traditional institutions, in French sub-Saharan Africa. It was founded in Dakar in 1912 for the training of teachers, and by 1919 a medical school was attached to it. The school was named after Amédée William Merlaud-Ponty, the Governor General of French West Africa (1908–1915). 

2. Located on the end of the Cap-Vert peninsula in Senegal, the Pointe des Almadies is mainland Africa’s most western point. The point is 30 minutes away from downtown Dakar, Senegal’s capital city.

3. One of the most important ports in Africa, the Port of Dakar, also known as the “Gateway to West Africa”, sits on a major crossroads of sea lanes from Europe to South Africa and South America and from North America to South Africa. It’s an important point of access for the region - 70% of Mali’s import goods transit through the Port of Dakar. At 11 meters the Port has a deep draft and a wide access channel, which allows around-the-clock access. In 2012 the volume of goods raked in by the Dakar Port Authority, amounted to almost 12m tons, representing a turnover of 30,824,730,000 CFA francs (approximately $50m).

4. The government hopes to have 20% of the nation’s energy needs met with renewable energy by 2020; sources will include solar, wind and bio-fuels. Currently, biomass and oil products still constitute 93.5% of the energy balance despite the country’s great capacity to generate solar power. Senegal is endowed with a large solar energy resource over most of the country. Also, in regional cross-border cooperation, wind power could be sourced from the coastal regions and hydro power from the Gambia and Senegal Rivers. 

5. Senegal prides itself on being the first country in the world to ratify the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court. In February 2000, a Senegalese court indicted Chad’s exiled former dictator, Hissène Habré, on torture charges and placed him under virtual house arrest.  It was the first time that an African had been charged with atrocities by the court of another African country.

6. Senegal is the only West African country not to experience a military coup. It has also been touted as a democratic success story because it has only had democratic transitions of power, and the last two have been between candidates of different parties. 

7. Prostitution is legal, but comes with rules: prostitutes must be over 21 years of age, carry a sanitary card, and register with the police. It’s still nonetheless very surprising for a predominantly Muslim country. Legalised in 1966, Senegal’s government has been registering prostitutes for decades and the card-carrying system allows them to have medical checks frequently and the World Health Organisation says this has contributed to one of the lowest numbers of AIDS cases in Africa. 

8. CTIC Dakar is the first incubator of its kind devoted to IT entrepreneurs in Francophone West-Africa. A successful example of public-private partnership, the tech hub was initiated by the government of Senegal and supported by infoDev. Today CTIC is charting a course toward financial self-sustainability.

9. Senegal has some of the most beautiful beaches in West Africa - particularly those at Cap Skiring - and they are far from crowded. Combine this with good surf and incredible music and you have a beach bum’s paradise! 

10. Dakar is home to the 50m tall, $27m African Renaissance Monument. A pet project of the country’s former president, Abdoulaye Wade, the statue is the tallest in Africa and not very popular with the locals who describe it as a waste of money and an eye sore. 

11. Senegal is home to one of Africa’s most unique and sexy dances – Sabar dancing.  Performed to the beats of the Sabar drum, Sabar dancing incorporates feelings of feminine sensuality and flirtatiousness. It is a dance of expression that uses every part of the body, from the arms and legs to the eyes and incorporates lots of hip twisting, jumping, arm swinging and high knee lifting. Not to be attempted without supervision. 


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