Senegal is one of Africa’s most stable electoral democracies and has undergone peaceful transfers of power between rival parties since 2000. However, politically motivated prosecutions of opposition leaders and changes to the electoral laws have reduced the competitiveness of the opposition in recent years. The country is known for its relatively independent media and free expression, though defamation laws continue to constrain press freedom. Other ongoing challenges include corruption in government, weak rule of law, and inadequate protections for the rights of women and LGBT+ people.
- Senegalese authorities declared a COVID-19-related state of emergency in March, and legislators allowed President Macky Sall to issue decrees on several matters for a three-month period. People in several cities held sometimes-violent demonstrations over COVID-19 curfews and travel restrictions in early June, prompting the government to loosen its policies. While the state of emergency expired in July, some measures were reintroduced in August. The World Health Organization recorded nearly 19,000 cases and 402 deaths at year’s end.
- In September, then community development minister Mansour Faye, who was accused of mismanaging the government’s COVID-19 food aid program, vowed to ignore any summons from the country’s anticorruption watchdog. Despite concerns over the program’s management, Faye was made infrastructure minister in November.
- In November, President Sall appointed Idrissa Seck, the second-place contestant in the 2019 presidential contest, to chair a government economic council. Two ministries were also assigned to Rewmi members; the move was perceived as part of an effort to clear the field of political opponents.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||3.003 4.004|
The president is chief of state and head of government, and is directly elected to a maximum of two consecutive terms. In 2016, the presidential term was reduced via referendum from seven years to five, effective after the end of President Macky Sall’s term in 2019.
In the February 2019 presidential election, Sall, of the Alliance for the Republic (APR), defeated four challengers including former prime minister Idrissa Seck of the Rewmi Party and Ousmane Sonko of the Patriots of Senegal for Ethics, Work, and Fraternity (PASTEF) party. Sonko, a former tax inspector, was backed by many young Senegalese frustrated by the Sall administration’s policies.
While international observers declared the election credible, it was marred by the exclusion of two prominent opposition politicians, Khalifa Sall and Karim Wade, who might have seriously challenged President Sall. In January 2019, just weeks before the polls, the Constitutional Council ruled they were both ineligible to run for president because they had been convicted in separate, politically fraught corruption cases.
That May, lawmakers approved a controversial constitutional reform that abolished the post of prime minister, and Sall promptly signed it. The move, which had not been a component of Sall’s reelection platform, prompted an outcry from critics who accused him of seeking to consolidate power. Separately, that December, President Sall suggested that he could attempt to run for a third term in 2024. In March 2020, two high-profile supporters again raised the possibility of a third term for Sall.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||3.003 4.004|
Members of Senegal’s 165-seat National Assembly are elected to five-year terms—105 are elected in single-member districts, and 60 by proportional representation. In the July 2017 parliamentary elections, the ruling United in Hope (BBY) coalition won 125 seats, followed by Abdoulaye Wade’s Winning Coalition–Wattu Senegaal with 19. Khalifa Sall’s Mankoo Taxawu Senegaal coalition took 7, and 11 groups divided the remainder. International observers deemed the elections credible despite significant procedural errors and logistical challenges.
New biometric voting cards were distributed to only 70 percent of eligible voters before the 2017 elections. To address the problem, the Constitutional Council approved the Sall administration’s plan to allow voters to use alternative forms of identification. Some voters were allegedly disenfranchised because of difficulties related to the identification measures, which were approved just four days before the elections.
Local elections, originally due in 2019, were delayed when President Sall entered a dialogue with opposition parties that May. However, that process subsequently stalled, and local elections were consequently not held in 2020.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||3.003 4.004|
The National Autonomous Electoral Commission (CENA) administers elections. Although the CENA is nominally independent, its members are appointed by the president. The opposition criticized the government for making important changes ahead of the 2017 legislative balloting, including the introduction of the new biometric voting system, without engaging in dialogue or building political consensus. The changes were approved in January 2017, only six months before the elections, which observers argued did not provide sufficient time for logistical information about the new electoral framework to be disseminated in a coordinated fashion.
A new electoral law passed in 2018 requires all aspiring presidential candidates to collect signatures from at least 0.8 percent of the overall electorate before their names could appear on the ballot, and all groups presenting National Assembly lists to obtain signatures from 0.5 percent of voters in at least seven regions. The government asserted that the legislation was necessary to reduce the proliferation of parties that field candidates. Of the 27 candidates who submitted the required signatures prior to the 2019 presidential election, only 5 were approved by the Constitutional Council that January. That June, a European Union election observation mission said the controversial requirement could pose “serious political and organizational problems” in upcoming local elections.
In May 2019, opposition parties and the Sall administration entered talks aimed at resolving voter-roll concerns and reviewing the overarching voting process. However, neither of these goals were reached by the end of 2020, due in part to boycotts from opposition participants.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||3.003 4.004|
Registration requirements for new political parties are not onerous, and registered parties can organize and operate without government interference. However, opposition candidates still face major financial inequities when competing with incumbents. There is no public financing for political parties, but the ruling party deploys a vast set of state resources to garner support, whereas opposition leaders are often forced to rely on personal wealth to finance party operations or on political alliances to access power.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||3.003 4.004|
The opposition can increase its support or gain power through elections. However, the 2018 electoral law was criticized by opposition leaders for making it more difficult for candidates to appear on the ballot, and was widely seen as a move to clear the field and ensure President Sall’s reelection in 2019.
The prosecutions of some of President Sall’s most prominent political opponents in recent years has also reduced the competitiveness of the opposition. In January 2019, the Constitutional Council ruled that Khalifa Sall, a former mayor of Dakar, and Karim Wade, the son of former president Abdoulaye Wade, were both ineligible to run in the 2019 presidential election because both had been sentenced to prison terms for corruption. Karim Wade, sentenced in 2015, received a pardon in 2016, and subsequently went into exile in Qatar. Although Khalifa Sall was supposed to serve a five-year prison sentence for embezzlement, he was eventually pardoned by President Sall in September 2019.
The opposition’s ability to compete with President Sall was also lessened by the president’s decision to appoint opposition figures to government posts. In November 2020, for example, Sall appointed Rewmi Party presidential candidate Idrissa Seck as head of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council. Two cabinet portfolios were also offered to Rewmi members during the reshuffle.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||3.003 4.004|
People’s political choices are largely free from domination by groups that are not democratically accountable. Despite the constitutional separation of religion and state, Sufi Muslim marabouts exercise some influence on voters and politicians, particularly on subjects like homosexuality, marriage, and abortion rights.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||3.003 4.004|
Female representation in the cabinet is relatively poor, with only eight women holding cabinet positions after a November 2020 reshuffle. Women are better represented in the National Assembly, holding 71 seats and representing 43 percent of the body as of December 2020. This is partially due to a 2010 law requiring gender parity on candidate lists. Women’s overall rate of participation in politics, such as voting and engaging in local political activities, is nevertheless lower than men’s.
Due to high levels of discrimination and social stigma, LGBT+ people have no meaningful political representation.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||3.003 4.004|
President Sall, his cabinet, and national legislators determine government policies. However, power is concentrated in the executive branch, and the National Assembly is limited in its ability to check the president. The executive has blocked certain parliamentary inquiries into its activities. In May 2019, lawmakers approved a controversial measure to abolish the post of prime minister, which Sall promptly signed. In April 2020, the National Assembly passed COVID-19-related legislation allowing Sall to issue decrees on economic, budgetary, financial, legal, health, and safety matters for three months.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||2.002 4.004|
Corruption remains a serious problem, and high-level officials often act with impunity. The Sall administration reactivated the Court of Repression of Illicit Enrichment in 2012, while the National Office for the Fight against Fraud and Corruption (OFNAC), an anticorruption watchdog, was created later that year. However, relevant laws are unevenly enforced and enforcement actions are sometimes viewed as politically motivated. The corruption case against Khalifa Sall, for example, was widely perceived as an effort to neutralize one of the president’s most powerful opponents.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||3.003 4.004|
The government generally operates with openness. However, authorities frequently award contracts without any formal tender process, and do not always publicly release contracts or bilateral agreements before they are signed.
Some COVID-19-related decisions were also made opaquely. OFNAC received complaints over the nontransparent process for distributing pandemic-related food aid but then community development minister Mansour Faye, who was accused of mismanagement, vowed to refuse any OFNAC summons in September 2020. Despite these concerns, Faye was appointed infrastructure minister in November.
A 2014 law requires confidential asset disclosures by cabinet members, top National Assembly officials, and the managers of large public funds; the president’s asset disclosures are made public.
|Are there free and independent media?||2.002 4.004|
The constitution guarantees freedom of speech, and Senegal is home to many independent television and radio stations and print outlets. Although the overall media situation has improved considerably since President Sall was elected in 2012, several subsequent developments have clouded this positive picture. A controversial press code, proposed in 2017, seeks to increase punishments for defamation offenses, though it remained unsigned by the president in 2020. The 2018 Code on Electronic Communications was ostensibly passed by the National Assembly to guard against disinformation on the internet.
On New Year’s Eve 2019, the Audiovisual Regulatory Council (CNRA) suspended television channel Sen TV for seven days. While observers believed the suspension was related to the channel’s decision to host PASTEF leader Ousmane Sonko, the CNRA claimed that Sen TV’s decision to air cosmetic-depigmentation advertisements prompted the suspension.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
There is no state religion, and freedom of worship is constitutionally protected and respected in practice. Muslims constitute 96 percent of the population.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||4.004 4.004|
Academic freedom is guaranteed by the constitution and generally respected in practice.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||3.003 4.004|
Private discussion is generally open and free. However, individuals have occasionally been arrested for social media posts deemed offensive by the government.
In 2018, the National Assembly passed an electronic-communications bill, which included a vaguely worded provision expanding the regulatory power of the government over social media companies. Rights activists expressed concern that the law could be used to shut down, tax, or surveil communications on popular social media platforms.
In January 2020, President Sall proposed an internal security bill that would ostensibly be used to combat online terrorist propaganda and communications. The bill, which was reportedly adopted later that month, was criticized by the Association of ICT Users, which warned that the act would limit the freedom of expression.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||2.002 4.004|
The constitution guarantees freedom of assembly and peaceful demonstrations, but the Ministry of the Interior must approve protests in advance. The government has often cracked down on assembly rights by banning protests around tense political moments and violently dispersing some demonstrations. The government also reserved the right to limit assemblies under a COVID-19-related state of emergency issued in March 2020. While the state of emergency expired in July, some assembly restrictions were reintroduced in August after an increase in COVID-19 transmission and remained in force through year’s end.
Senegalese in several cities, including Dakar and Touba, held demonstrations opposing COVID-19 restrictions in early June 2020. Some demonstrations turned violent, with clashes reported between participants and security forces. After a two-day period of rioting, Interior Minister Aly Ngouille Ndiaye announced that over 200 people had been arrested and also announced a loosening of pandemic-related curfew restrictions.
Assembly rights of LGBT+ groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that support people living with HIV and AIDS are limited.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||4.004 4.004|
NGOs generally operate without interference from state or nonstate actors, though the ability of LGBT+ groups to function is impeded by assembly restrictions.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||3.003 4.004|
Workers, apart from security employees, have rights to organize, bargain collectively, and strike, though the right to strike is impinged by legal provisions that ban pickets and sit-down strikes, among other activities. Trade unions must be authorized by the Ministry of the Interior, and unions lack legal recourse if registration is denied.
In June 2020, the Union of Justice Workers launched a strike, claiming the government was not fulfilling its obligations under a 2018 agreement, but the union suspended its action in September.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||2.002 4.004|
The judiciary is formally independent and enjoys a relatively good reputation, but the president controls appointments to the Constitutional Council, the Court of Appeal, and the Council of State. Judges are prone to pressure from the government on matters involving high-level officials. The Higher Council of the Judiciary, which recommends judicial appointments to the executive branch, is headed by the president and minister of justice, which critics argue compromises its independence.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||2.002 4.004|
The law guarantees fair public trials and defendants’ rights, but arbitrary arrest and extended detention remains a concern. Though the government is obligated to supply attorneys to felony defendants who cannot afford them, this representation is inconsistent in practice. Lengthy pretrial detention remains a problem. The judicial system’s reach does not consistently extend to rural areas, which more often rely on traditional methods of conflict resolution.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||3.003 4.004|
Individuals are generally protected from the illegitimate use of physical force. However, Senegalese prisons are overcrowded, and human rights groups have documented incidents of excessive force and cruel treatment by prison authorities. In an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19 through the prison system, President Sall pardoned over 2,000 prisoners—a fifth of the prison population—in April 2020.
A low-level separatist conflict in the Casamance region is ongoing, though attacks by the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance have lessened since a de facto cease-fire was reached in 2012.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||2.002 4.004|
The caste system is still prevalent among many of Senegal’s ethnic groups. Individuals of lower castes are subject to discrimination in employment. Women face persistent inequities in employment, health care, and education.
Same-sex sexual activity remains criminalized. While these laws are rarely enforced, LGBT+ people risk violence, threats, and mob attacks, as well as discrimination in housing, employment, and health care.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||3.003 4.004|
Citizens generally enjoy freedom of movement and can change their residence, employment, and educational institution without serious restrictions, though the threat of land mines and rebel activity has hindered travel through parts of the Casamance region.
Movement was restricted under COVID-19-related measures, which were introduced in March 2020. A curfew was introduced that month but was loosened in May. Movement between regions besides Dakar was also restricted that month, though the government loosened restrictions in June after protests were held in several cities. The state of emergency expired in July, though some measures were reintroduced in August and remained in effect through year’s end.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||3.003 4.004|
The civil code facilitates ownership of private property, and property rights are generally respected. Commercial dispute-resolution processes can be drawn out. Property title and land-registration protocols are inconsistently applied, though the government has worked to ease property acquisition and registration. Husbands are legally regarded as heads of households. Traditional customs limit women’s ability to purchase property, and local rules on inheritance make it difficult for women to become beneficiaries.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||3.003 4.004|
Rates of female genital mutilation (FGM) have declined due in part to campaigns to discourage the practice, but it remains a problem. The government launched a plan to reduce early marriage in 2016, given that almost one in three Senegalese girls married before age 18.
Rape was considered a misdemeanor before President Sall signed into law a measure criminalizing rape in January 2020; this followed 2019 demonstrations which were prompted by the murder of a 23-year-old woman during an attempted rape.
The law allows abortion only to save a woman’s life, and abortions for medical reasons are difficult to obtain in practice.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||2.002 4.004|
Child labor remains a problem, particularly in the informal economy, and laws restricting the practice are inadequately enforced. Forced begging by students at religious schools is common, and teachers suspected of abuse are rarely prosecuted.
According to the 2020 edition of the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report, the Senegalese government has engaged in ongoing efforts to build a trafficking database and provide support for vulnerable children facing homelessness. However, the report also noted that the authorities rarely investigate or prosecute traffickers who orchestrate forced begging, and convicted traffickers rarely receive sufficiently long prison sentences.
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Global Freedom Score71 100 partly free