Archaeological findings throughout the area indicate that Senegal was inhabited in prehistoric times. Islam established itself in the Senegal River valley in the 11th century. In the 13th and 14th centuries, the area came under the influence of the Mandingo empires to the east; the Jolof Empire of Senegal also was founded during this time.
Various European powers – Portugal, the Netherlands, and England – competed for trade in the area from the 15th century onward, until in 1677, France ended up in possession of what had become an important slave trade departure point – the infamous island of Gorée next to modern Dakar.
In January 1959, Senegal and the French Sudan merged to form the Mali Federation, which became fully independent on June 20, 1960. The Federation broke up on August 20, 1960. Senegal and Sudan (renamed the Republic of Mali) proclaimed independence. Léopold Senghor, internationally known poet, politician, and statesman, was elected Senegal’s first president in August 1960.
After the breakup of the Mali Federation, President Senghor and Prime Minister Mamadou Dia governed together under a parliamentary system. In December 1962, their political rivalry led to an attempted coup by Prime Minister Dia. The coup was put down without bloodshed and Dia was arrested and imprisoned. Senegal adopted a new constitution that consolidated the President’s power. In 1980, President Senghor retired from politics, and handed power over to his handpicked successor, Abdou Diouf, in 1981.
Senegal joined with The Gambia to form the nominal confederation of Senegambia on February 1, 1982. However, the envisaged integration of the two countries was never carried out, and the union was dissolved in 1989. Despite peace talks, a southern separatist group in the Casamance region has clashed sporadically with government forces since 1982.
Abdou Diouf was president between 1981 and 2000. Diouf served four terms as President. In the presidential election of 2000, he was defeated in a free and fair election by opposition leader Abdoulaye Wade. Senegal experienced its second peaceful transition of power, and its first from one political party to another.
Senegal remains one of the most stable democracies in Africa. Senegal was ruled by a Socialist Party for 40 years until current President Abdoulaye Wade was elected in 2000. He was reelected in February 2007, but complaints of fraud led opposition parties to boycott June 2007 legislative polls.