Senegal | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2014

2014 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Ratings Change: 


Senegal’s civil liberties rating improved from 3 to 2 due to improvements in the media environment and for freedom of assembly since President Macky Sall took office in 2012.




After reactivating the Court of Repression of Illicit Enrichment (CREI) and establishing the National Anti-Corruption Commission (OFNAC) in 2012, President Macky Sall intensified his fight against corruption in 2013. Several members of the former ruling party were under investigation. Karim Wade, a former government minister and the son of former president Abdoulaye Wade, was arrested in April on charges of the corrupt acquisition of up to $1.4 billion while in office. The CREI re-indicted Karim Wade and prolonged his detention in October, which his lawyers and some human rights advocates claimed was not allowed under the legal code. Sall has also targeted corruption in his own administration, including by responding to a drug-trafficking scandal within the police. He publicly declared his assets in 2012 as required by the constitution and has worked both informally and through legislation to encourage similar behavior among other public officials.

Senegal received widespread praise in July for setting up the Extraordinary African Chambers that the government had authorized in 2012 to try former Chadian dictator Hissene Habré for offenses committed in Chad under his regime, and for indicting Habré for torture, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. However, Senegal’s judiciary remains dependent on the executive branch in practice, with no new reforms implemented in 2013.

In June, Sall drew criticism from human rights advocates for publicly expressing his opposition to the decriminalization of homosexuality, a position he shared with large segments of Senegalese society.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 


Political Rights: 33 / 40 (+1) [Key]

A. Electoral Process: 11 / 12

Members of Senegal’s 150-seat National Assembly are elected to five-year terms; the president serves seven-year terms with a two-term limit. A 100-member upper house that had been created in 2007 was abolished in 2012. The president appoints the prime minister; Sall in September 2013 fired Prime Minister Abdoul Mbaye and appointed Justice Minister Aminata Touré to the post.

The National Autonomous Electoral Commission (CENA) is the domestic monitor of elections. It is nominally independent, but its members are appointed by the president on the advice of other public figures, and it is financially dependent on the government, which funds its monitoring and oversight operations. The Interior Ministry organizes the elections.

In January 2012, ahead of the February presidential election, Wade’s candidacy for a third term was validated the Constitutional Council, whose members he had appointed. Wade had previously failed to secure passage of a constitutional amendment allowing him to run for a third term and lowering the threshold for victory in the first round of a presidential election from 50 percent to 25 percent. Nevertheless, the council upheld his argument that his first term had not counted toward the two-term limit, which was imposed the year after he first took office.

The presidential campaign period featured significant violence and intimidation, but the election ultimately resulted in a peaceful transfer of power. After placing second in the first round, Sall—a former member of Wade’s Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS) who had previously served as his prime minister and campaign director, and as the president of the National Assembly—garnered support from other opposition parties in the March runoff. He took 66 percent of the vote, and Wade quickly conceded defeat.

In the July 2012 parliamentary elections, Sall’s United in Hope coalition, which included his Alliance for the Republic party, captured 119 of the 150 seats, followed by the PDS with 12. About a dozen parties divided the remainder.

Both the presidential and National Assembly elections were declared free and fair by international observers.


B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 13 / 16

There is a significant opposition vote, and there are viable opportunities for the opposition to win presidential, legislative, and local offices. Opposition figures are active in politics, and there are over 200 registered political parties, which operate freely. The March 2012 presidential election marked the second victory by an opposition candidate in 12 years.

The opposition still faces certain disadvantages when competing with incumbents, namely major inequalities in financial resources. There is no public financing of political parties in Senegal, and international funding of parties is illegal. The ruling party can deploy a vast set of state resources to attract and maintain support, whereas opposition party leaders must often rely on personal wealth.


C. Functioning of Government: 9 / 12 (+1)

Corruption has long been a serious problem in Senegal and provoked growing public outrage during Wade’s second term. Upon his election in 2012, Sall began a public works audit to investigate corruption under the Wade administration. In 2013, Sall intensified his efforts to reduce corruption and improve governance in Senegal. He used the CREI and the OFNAC to monitor current officials and pursue corruption charges against members of the previous government.

Sall has been praised for his crackdown on corruption and is supported in these efforts by the World Bank, but the selection of cases is not always viewed as objective. Recent investigations have focused on allegations of corruption by PDS politicians close to Wade, although Sall himself was Wade’s close associate until 2008. In April 2013, Karim Wade was arrested, and the CREI investigated charges that he had embezzled up to $1.4 billion while in office. By the end of 2013, he had been re-indicted and was still in detention, despite criticism of the re-indictment by his lawyers and some human rights advocates. Several other PDS officials prominent during Abdoulaye Wade’s last years in office were under investigation.

Although PDS officials denounce investigations into their colleagues as political revenge,

Sall has fought corruption within his own administration as well. In July 2013, the director general of the police, Abdoulaye Niang, was accused of complicity in drug trafficking in his former position as director of the Central Office for the Repression of Drug Trafficking (OCRTIS). Both he and his accuser, current OCRTIS director Cheikhna Cheikh Sadibou Keïta, were temporarily relieved of their duties as the investigation continued. The Directorate for the Inspection of Security Services (DISS) presented the results of its investigation to Sall, and the council of ministers discussed the case at the end of July; the DISS report cleared Niang and implicated Keita. By the end of 2013, the public prosecutor had issued a ruling that echoed the findings of the DISS. Separately, in April, the Division of Criminal Investigation (DIC) promptly pursued a complaint filed by then prime minister Mbaye about trafficking in false passports within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Sall publicly declared his assets in 2012 as required by the constitution. He invited government ministers and National Assembly members to do so as well, sparking public debate. In July 2013, the council of ministers began discussing a legislative text that would require asset declarations by a wide range of public officeholders. Senegal was ranked 77 out of 177 countries and territories surveyed in Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Private resource-extraction companies provide local development funds to the government, but there is little transparency regarding who manages the funds or how the money is spent.


Civil Liberties: 46 / 60 (+3)

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 15 / 16 (+1)

The constitution guarantees freedom of speech, and freedom of expression overall appears to be less restricted under Sall than during the end of Wade’s presidency. The country has a number of free and independent media outlets in addition to state-controlled or affiliated radio stations, newspapers, and one state television channel. Several privately owned newspapers have existed for decades and are widely read. Access to the internet is not restricted. Independent journalists regularly critique the government, and libel, blasphemy, and security laws are generally not used to silence them.

However, criminal defamation laws are still in place, and a notable exception to the general improvement in freedom of the press was the August 2013 sentencing of the editor of the private newspaper Le Quotidien and an intern reporter to one month in jail for defamation in an article about the former foreign minister. The defendants were also ordered to pay fines of $2,000 each and, along with the paper’s publisher, a total of $20,500 in damages. An appeal was filed, and the paper remained in operation at year’s end. Earlier, in April, the DIC questioned several PDS members about possible “offenses to the chief executive” after they told the media that Sall had laundered money and included gay politicians in the government. Bara Gaye, youth leader of the PDS, was detained in May for offense against the head of state after a speech at a regional PDS meeting. At the end of 2013, he was still awaiting a trial verdict in prison.

There is no state religion, and freedom of worship is constitutionally protected and respected in practice. Muslims make up about 94 percent of the population. The country’s Sufi Muslim brotherhoods are influential, including in the political arena. Academic freedom is legally guaranteed and generally respected.


E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 11 / 12 (+1)

Freedom of assembly is constitutionally guaranteed and respected in practice. The Interior Ministry must approve opposition leaders’ requests to lead protests and demonstrations, and it sometimes dictates the hours and locations at which such activities can occur. It is also standard practice for the administration to deploy security forces to monitor demonstrations. PDS supporters in 2013 protested Karim Wade’s incarceration, among other complaints about Sall’s government, and were not harassed by the police. The authorities’ tolerance of such demonstrations represented an improvement over the repression of protests and violence against participants that occurred under the previous administration during 2011 and early 2012.

Freedom of association is legally guaranteed, and the Sall administration did not impede nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) from operating in 2013. NGO and political party leaders must register their organizations at the Interior Ministry. Although workers’ rights to organize, bargain collectively, and strike are legally protected for all except security employees, the labor code requires the approval of the Interior Ministry for the initial formation of a trade union.


F. Rule of Law: 10 / 16

The law guarantees fair public trials and defendants’ rights. The judiciary is formally independent, but inadequate pay and lack of tenure expose judges to external influences and prevent the courts from providing a proper check on the other branches of government. The president controls appointments to the Constitutional Council. Sall has promised to shift power away from the executive, but has not yet implemented reforms. Geographic, educational, bureaucratic, and financial hurdles hinder public access to the courts.

Senegalese prisons are overcrowded, an issue the minister of justice spoke out against in October 2013. The Dakar-based NGO Tostan cites poor living conditions, inadequate sanitation, and limited access to medical care as problems faced by prisoners in the country.

Sall agreed in mid-2012 to try Hissene Habré, the former Chadian dictator, for crimes committed under his regime in Chad in the 1980s. Habré had long resided in Senegal. In February 2013, the government set up the Extraordinary African Chambers, and by July it had indicted Habré for crimes against humanity, torture, and war crimes.

The low-level separatist conflict in Senegal’s southern Casamance region continues, but did not lead to further large-scale displacement of the population in 2013.

Individuals of lower castes in Senegalese society are still sometimes subject to discrimination. Consensual same-sex activity is a criminal offense, and most of the population opposes its decriminalization. Sall expressed his unwillingness to change the law in a widely publicized joint press conference with U.S. president Barack Obama during a June 2013 visit by Obama to Senegal. Members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community face societal discrimination, physical attacks, and police harassment.


G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 10 / 16 (+1)

Citizens generally enjoy freedom of travel and residence. The civil code facilitates the ownership of private property, but the enforcement of land registration and tenure is not consistent in rural areas. The government provides compensation when it expropriates land.

Women are not able to obtain credit as easily as men, early marriage remains an issue, and women who marry foreigners forgo Senegalese citizenship for their children. Some elements of Islamic and local customary law, particularly regarding inheritance and marital relations, discriminate against women. Rape, female genital cutting, and domestic abuse persist, and reports of violence against women more generally are on the rise. At a September 2013 workshop on combating gender-based violence, Prime Minister Aminata Touré and Justice Minister Sidiki Kaba both spoke about procedures and reforms undertaken by the government that they said would aid victims. First implemented in the July 2012 National Assembly elections, a 2010 gender parity law has resulted in women holding 64 seats in the 150-seat legislature, but there is not parity in the selection of assembly vice presidents and committee chairs.

The U.S. State Department’s 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report cites estimates that over 50,000 children attending daaras (Koranic schools) are required to beg in the streets, and states that other forms of forced labor and sex trafficking are also current concerns. Child labor is a problem in the gold mines of eastern Senegal.


Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)

X = Score Received

Y = Best Possible Score

Z = Change from Previous Year

Full Methodology