Senegal Population

By | March 23, 2021

Senegal Society

Senegal Society

Alphabetized adults: 51.9% (2019, HDR)

Major religions: Islam 95%, Christianity 4%

Urban population: 47.7% (2019, HDR)

Life expectancy (female / male): 69.9 / 65.8 years (2019, HDR)

Gender Inequality Index: Rank 130 of 162 (2019, HDR)

Number of births: 4,6 / woman (2018, World Bank)

Infant mortality: 31.8 / 1000 live births (2019, HDR)

Ethnicity and languages

As one of 16 countries located in Western Africa according to itypetravel, Senegal is characterized by great ethnic and linguistic diversity. More than 20 ethnic groups with a corresponding number of languages and subordinate dialects live on Senegalese territory.

The traditional settlement areas had crystallized and consolidated in various migration movements in pre-colonial times. Today, due to the renewed large migration movements in the rural areas and especially in the cities, there is a greater mixing. The peaceful coexistence of different ethnic groups and religions is generally a hallmark of Senegalese society, and today in almost every family one can find “married” members of different ethnic groups (although certain ethnic groups such as the Fulbe consider pure ethnic cohesion higher than others).

As in many West African societies, there is a ” joke relationship” (“parenté à plaisanterie”), a traditional means of resolving tensions. Members of different ethnic groups or family clans (ie bearers of the same family name) refer to one another as slaves or use picturesque swear words.

The figures on the various ethnic groups are contradictory, but this is also due to the fact that, due to this degree of mixing, it is often no longer possible to define clearly for those affected. It is the same with the determination of the number of speakers of Senegalese languages, the number of actual speakers is often much higher because counts often do not take into account the multilingualism of the individual speakers.

Bassari - colorful costumes and modern footwear

Bassari – colorful costumes and modern footwear

Wolof women in Dakar

Wolof women in Dakar

Many Serians are Christians

Many Serians are Christians

The numerically largest ethnic group are the Wolof, followed by the pulaar / fulspeaking Fulbe (referred to as Peulh in Senegal) and Toucouleur (who are seen as one or two different ethnic groups in Senegal, depending on how they are viewed).

Wolof originally only live in Senegal, Gambia and Mauritania, the Fulbe are distributed in various groups across West Africa. Other important ethnic groups are the Serer, the diolas residing in the Casamance, and various Mandingo groups. The very small ethnic group of the Bassari (about 1% of the total population) has preserved a very original way of life in what was once a secluded hill country and is now often shown to tourists with its colorful clothes and dances.

Most of the Senegalese ethnic groups (an exception are the Diolas in the Casamance) were strictly stratified and divided into a complicated caste system. You were born into these castes, social mobility was impossible. With the Wolof, for example, there was initially a basic distinction between free and unfree (slaves). Within the free there were the nobles, the farmers, fishermen and other non-artisans, and the artisans (blacksmiths, leather workers, woodworkers and weavers). At the bottom of this ladder and at the same time outside stood the griots, the singers and storytellers who passed down the genealogy and history of families or villages while being ostracized and feared. This actual subdivision no longer exists today, but a strong social stratification can still be felt in society today and the old caste categories influence social and industrial relations. Especially marriages outside of one’s own caste are met with a lot of resistance.

There are also “white” minorities such as Mauritanians and Lebanese who have lived in Senegal for several generations. As a rule, these are active in trade and often they move in isolated circles and there is no great mixing with the other Senegalese.

A special feature of Senegal is the dominance of an indigenous African language. Although French is the official state language, the general vehicle language is Wolof, which is spoken by around 90% of the population. Radio and television now also broadcast a considerable part of their programs on Wolof, so that some ethnic groups complain about the creeping “Wolofisation” of Senegalese society.

There are around 20 recognized and codified “national languages” (“langues nationales”) in Senegal, with increased literacy efforts for six of them (Wolof, Ful / Pulaar, Serer, Soninke, Diola, Mandingue). Despite various lip service at national and international level, the autochthonous languages have never made it into mainstream schools. The “national languages” have been pushed around between different ministries for years and can be found alternately in culture or, as is currently the case, in the school system.

Anyone interested in the Wolof language will find dictionaries, online language courses and a Wolof language Wikipedia on the Internet.

Population development

Age structure of the population 2020

Age structure of the population 2020

The population density of 87 residents / km² (estimate for 2021) has no meaning in the case of Senegal. In the Greater Dakar area, which accounts for only one percent of the area of the country lives almost a quarter of the population. The coastal areas and the areas behind them represent the most densely populated areas, but the further one penetrates into the eastern hinterland, the thinner the settlement becomes. While in the departments of Thies, Diourbel, Fatick and Kaolack about two thirds of the population live in only 19% of the area, in Tambacounda it is only 6% of the population in about 30% of the area.

Senegal shows a high degree of urbanization – above all the metropolis Dakar, which occupies a unique position in the country and is exposed to major traffic and environmental problems. The annual influx to the capital is estimated at around 100,000 people.

Since the severe droughts of the 1970’s, the rural exodus has not stopped. For 2019, the urban population is given at 47.7% (HDR), with an average urbanization rate of 3.73% annually for the years 2015-2020, making Senegal the front runner among the states of West Africa.

The population is concentrated in the western parts of the country, especially on the coast. Dakar has 4,849 residents per km², while the population density in the eastern regions is just under 15 residents per km².

Not only residents of the surrounding areas migrate to the Senegalese cities, but also many migrants from neighboring countries.

The average population is very young at 18.5 years, in 2019 8.8 million (of 21.6 million) were under 15 years old (HDR).