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.
- Widespread protests erupted in March following the arrest of prominent opposition leader Ousmane Sonko on charges of rape; Sonko denied the allegations, calling his arrest politically motivated. An estimated 14 people were killed and approximately 590 injured during the demonstrations, which were characterized by high levels of violence against protesters by security forces.
- Over the course of the year, hundreds of protesters rallied to protest against LGBT+ rights, demanding that the government increase criminal penalties for same-sex sexual activity. Draft legislation that would lengthen prison sentences for people convicted of same-sex sexual activity and impose criminal penalties on those who finance or publicly support “any activity relating to the LGBT+ agenda” was introduced in December.
- In June, the National Assembly revised several laws, allegedly to combat terrorism. Local and international rights groups condemned the legislation, saying that the amendments are overly broad, and could be used to silence dissent and expand police surveillance powers.
|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.
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.
In November 2021, the Council of Ministers adopted a draft revision of the Constitution that would reintroduce the position of prime minister, which had been abolished in May 2019. Further draft amendments reintroduced the accountability of the government to the National Assembly—a provision that had also been removed in 2019—and restored the president’s power to dissolve the legislative body. Though the National Assembly voted to adopt the revisions in December, they had not come into force by year’s end.
|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, with 105 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. Some voters were allegedly disenfranchised because of difficulties related to securing alternative identification measures, which were approved just four days before the elections.
Local elections have been repeatedly delayed since 2019, and were again postponed in March 2021, when the National Assembly voted to reschedule the polls for January 2022.
|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.
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. Of the 27 candidates who submitted the required signatures prior to the 2019 presidential election, only 5 were approved by the Constitutional Council. That June, a European Union (EU) election observation mission said the controversial requirement could pose “serious political and organizational problems” in upcoming local elections. In April 2021, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice found that the provision violated the right to free participation in elections and ordered Senegal to “remove all obstacles” within six months. Despite the ruling, the government had not removed the electoral sponsorship requirement by year’s end.
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 2021, 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. In January 2021, the Minister of the Interior threatened to dissolve PASTEF, which had succeeded in raising about 125 million CFA francs ($206,400) within a few days to finance its political activities.
|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 previously been sentenced to prison terms for corruption.
In March 2021, prominent opposition leader Ousmane Sonko was arrested on charges of rape, leading to widespread protests. Sonko repeatedly denied the allegations, saying that the charge was a politically motivated attempt to exclude him from the 2024 presidential race. Sonko remained under judicial supervision throughout the year, and has been denied permission to leave the country.
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, when he appointed several Rewmi Party members to his cabinet.
|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. Women are better represented in the National Assembly, holding 70 seats and representing almost 43 percent of the body. 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 late 2021, the National Assembly voted to reinstate the position of prime minister, though it had not been restored by year’s end.
|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. Anticorruption 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. The National Office for the Fight against Fraud and Corruption (OFNAC), an anticorruption watchdog, 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. Despite these concerns, Faye was appointed infrastructure minister in November 2020, and later became minister for water and sanitation.
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 constrained press freedom. A controversial law enacted in January 2021 allows for prison terms of up to two years for defamation and three years for publishing “fake news” likely to “discredit public institutions” or ”prejudice public decency.”
In March, internet service was disrupted and major social media outlets such as WhatsApp and YouTube were partially blocked for a few days as clashes between protesters and riot police intensified following the arrest of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko. The Audiovisual Regulatory Council (CNRA) also briefly suspended two television stations for their coverage of the protests, saying that such coverage “could threaten national stability or social cohesion.”
|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 June 2021, the National Assembly amended the penal code and the code of criminal procedure, allegedly to combat terrorism. Opposition parties and civil society groups protested against the laws, saying they were too broad and could be used to silence dissent and expand police surveillance powers.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||1.001 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 that July, some assembly restrictions were reintroduced in August and remained in force through year’s end. Though most COVID-19-related assembly restrictions were lifted by March 2021, some remained in place; the government continued to ban demonstrations throughout the year, citing the possible spread of COVID-19. In September, civil society group Noo Lank defied the ban to hold a protest against Dakar’s high cost of living, resulting in the arrest of several protesters.
The March arrest of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko sparked large protests across the country. The demonstrations, which lasted several days, were marked by violent clashes between protesters and security forces. Numerous human rights violations were committed by security forces during the demonstrations, with an estimated 14 people killed and approximately 590 injured.
Assembly rights of LGBT+ groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that support people living with HIV and AIDS are limited.
Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 because authorities used lethal force in response to opposition protests in March and cited the pandemic to selectively suppress other demonstrations during the year.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||3.003 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. Draft legislation introduced in December 2021 seeks to impose criminal penalties on those who finance or publicly support “any activity relating to the LGBT+ agenda,” proposing prison sentences of up to five years for those convicted. If approved, the draft law would effectively criminalize the operation of LGBT+ rights NGOs in the country altogether.
In June, the National Assembly passed revisions to the penal code and code of criminal procedure—ostensibly intended to strengthen Senegal’s antiterrorism laws—that include provisions allowing NGO leaders to be criminally charged for alleged offenses committed by their organizations. Local and international rights groups have also condemned the legislation, saying that the amendments are overly broad and could lead NGOs and their employees to self-censor in fear of being targeted for their work.
Score Change: The score declined from 4 to 3 because a broad new antiterrorism law imposes criminal liability on NGO leaders for alleged offenses by their organizations and because of official pressure on NGOs that advocate for the rights of LGBT+ people.
|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.
|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?||2.002 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 (MFDC) have lessened since a de facto cease-fire was reached in 2012.
The protests that erupted in March 2021 following the arrest of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko were characterized by high levels of violence, much of which was directed at protesters by Senegalese security forces using disproportionate force; an estimated 14 people were killed and nearly 600 were injured during the demonstrations. Officers accused of using excessive force had not been held accountable for their actions by year’s end.
Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 because the March protests entailed widespread violence that affected public security, and officers accused of using excessive force were not held accountable for their actions.
|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. During 2021, demonstrators rallied multiple times in support of a draft law that proposed increasing prison sentences for those found guilty of same-sex sexual activity and introducing criminal penalties for those who contribute to “any activity relating to the LGBT+ agenda.”
|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 by a COVID-19-related state of emergency, which was introduced in March 2020. The state of emergency expired that July, though some measures were reintroduced in August and remained in effect through year’s end. In January 2021, movement was restricted when the government declared a COVID-19-related state of health disaster in the regions of Dakar and Thiès. The state of health disaster ended in March following several days of antilockdown demonstrations, during which at least 10 people died.
|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. Throughout 2021, a number of groups that consider abortion contrary to national values, including religious organizations, campaigned against legalizing abortion in cases of rape and incest.
|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 2021 edition of the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report, the Senegalese government has engaged in ongoing efforts to implement a trafficking database and provide support for vulnerable children facing homelessness. However, the report also noted that the authorities inconsistently applied penalties to alleged traffickers and did not investigate or prosecute traffickers who orchestrate forced begging.
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Global Freedom Score68 100 partly free