Senegal | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2005

2005 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Trend Arrow: 

Senegal received an upward trend arrow due to improved security in the southern Casamance region.


For the fourth time in as many years, President Abdoulaye Wade replaced his prime minister in 2004. Security improved in the southern Casamance region following two decades of a separatist rebellion.

Since independence from France in 1960, Senegal has escaped military or harshly authoritarian rule. President Leopold Senghor exercised de facto one-party rule under the Socialist Party for more than a decade after independence. Most political restrictions were lifted after 1981. Abdou Diouf, of the Socialist Party, succeeded Senghor in 1981 and won large victories in unfair elections in 1988 and 1993.

Wade's victory in the presidential poll in 2000 - his fifth attempt to win the presidency - overturned four decades of rule by the Socialist Party. Wade captured 59.5 percent of the runoff vote, against 41.5 percent for Diouf. The election was judged to have been free and fair by international observers.

The people of Senegal adopted a new constitution by an overwhelming majority in January 2001, reducing presidential terms from seven to five years, setting the number of terms at two, and giving women the right to own land for the first time. President Wade dissolved the National Assembly, which had been dominated by the former ruling Socialist Party, and elections were held in April. A coalition led by Wade won 89 of the 120 seats available, followed by the Socialist Party with 10; smaller parties captured the remainder of seats.

Peace accords between the government and the separatist Movement of the Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC) were signed in 2001. Casamance is separated from much of the rest of Senegal by Gambia; its geographic isolation helped contribute to a feeling of marginalization that sparked the conflict in 1982. Ethnically, the people of Casamance identify more with their southern neighbors in Guinea-Bissau than with northern Senegalese. Although the conflict has not come to a definitive end, armed resistance has all but ceased. Security in the Casamance region improved in 2004 and efforts were underway at resuming development there.

Wade replaced Prime Minister Idrissa Seck in April 2004 with Macky Sall. Sall is a former interior minister and a leading figure in Wade's Senegalese Democratic Party.

Senegal's population is mostly engaged in subsistence agriculture. The country's economy has enjoyed modest growth since the mid-1990s. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund in April 2004 granted $850 million in debt service relief to Senegal because of the country's political stability and structural reform efforts.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Citizens of Senegal can change their government democratically. Changes to the 1992 Electoral Code lowered the voting age to 18, introduced secret balloting, and created a nominally fairer electoral framework. The National Observatory of Elections, which was created in 1997, performed credibly in overseeing the 1998 legislative polls and the presidential elections in 2000. There are more than 75 legally registered political parties in Senegal. Elections for the 120-seat unicameral National Assembly are held every five years. The president is elected by popular vote every five years. The prime minister is appointed by the president.

Senegal was ranked 85 out of 146 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2004 Corruption Perceptions Index. Although the government has initiated reforms to strengthen the rule of law and improve transparency, corruption remains a problem.

Freedom of expression is generally respected, and members of the independent media are often highly critical of the government and political parties. There are about 20 independent radio stations, some of which broadcast in rural areas. The government does not carry out formal censorship, but some self-censorship is practiced because of laws against "discrediting the state" and disseminating "false news" that President Abdoulaye Wade has promised to repeal. International press freedom organizations maintain that media rights have become more restricted under Wade. It is not unusual for journalists to be detained for questioning by authorities and pressured to reveal confidential sources. There are no official impediments to Internet access.

Journalists in July 2004 conducted a news blackout to protest the jailing of the publications director of the independent daily newspaper Le Quotidien. Authorities arrested Madiambal Diagne and charged him with publishing confidential documents, spreading false information, and committing acts likely to cause public unrest. Most private radio stations played songs and extracts of interviews given by Diagne instead of their regular programs, and newspapers reprinted the two articles that led to Diagne's arrest that were about alleged fraud in the customs service and government interference in the judiciary. Diagne was granted provisional release after being held for two weeks. International press freedom groups called on the government to remove all criminal penalties for press offenses from Senegalese law.

Religious freedom in Senegal, which is 94 percent Muslim, is respected. Rivalries between Islamic groups have sometimes erupted into violence. Academic freedom is guaranteed and respected.

Freedom of association and assembly are guaranteed, but authorities have sometimes limited these rights in practice. Human rights groups working on local and regional issues are among many nongovernmental organizations that operate freely.

Although union rights to organize, bargain collectively, and strike are legally protected, there are some restrictions on freedom of association and the right to strike. Most workers are employed in the informal business and agricultural sectors. Nearly all of the country's small industrialized workforce is unionized, and workers are a potent political force.

Poor pay and lack of tenure protections create conditions for external influence on a judiciary that is, by statute, independent. In high-profile cases, there is often considerable interference from political and economic elites. Uncharged detainees are incarcerated without legal counsel far beyond the lengthy periods already permitted by law.

There are credible reports that authorities beat suspects during questioning and pretrial detention, despite constitutional protection against such treatment. Prison conditions are poor. Reports of disappearances and extrajudicial killings in connection with the conflict in Casamance occur less frequently than in previous years. Sidi Badji, one of the last remaining separatist hard-liners, died in 2003.

In December 2003, Amnesty International said the government should swiftly and impartially bring to justice those responsible for disappearances in Casamance. It reported that between 1992 and 2001, about 180 people had disappeared in Casamance. It blamed about 100 of the disappearances on the army and about 80 on the MFDC. Thousands of people were forced to flee their homes because of the rebellion; many have begun to return.

Constitutional rights afforded women are often not honored, especially in the countryside, and women have fewer opportunities than men for education and formal sector employment. Despite governmental campaigns, domestic violence against women is reportedly common. Many elements of Sharia (Islamic law) and local customary law, particularly those regarding inheritance and marital relations, discriminate against women. Although Senegal banned female genital mutilation in 1999, it is still practiced among some ethnic groups. The government and nongovernmental organizations have been working to educate the population about the health risks of the practice.