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Named for the Senegal River, which borders it on the east and north, the Republic of Senegal has a coastline on the Atlantic Ocean, and boundaries with Mauritania, Mali, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, and the Gambia, the latter of which is surrounded by Senegal to the north, east and south.

The landscape of the West African country is mostly flat, with rolling hills in the west, that transition to foothills in the southeast, where its highest point is found. The Casamance River extends into the southern region of the country, while the Saloum River, with several islands, is in the center of the country. The climate of Senegal is tropical, with dry and humid seasons, near the coast, but the northern regions have a hot desert climate, while a hot semi-arid climate can be found in the central part of the country.

A little more than half the population of Senegal is rural. About 50,000 Europeans, largely French, as well as some Lebanese, live in Senegal, mainly in the cities. In recent years, the country has taken in tens of thousands of refugees from Mauritania. Although French is the official language of Senegal, it is used only by the minority of the population, those who are literate. Most Senegalese speak an indigenous language as a first language, mostly Wolof.

Archaeologists believe that Senegal was inhabited in prehistoric times. Islam became established in the region in the 11th century and, today, approximately 95% of the country's people are Muslims, with perhaps 4% Christians, and the rest following indigenous religions, mostly in the southeast.

In 1959, Senegal merged with French Soudan to form the Mali Federation, which became independent in 1960. Later that same year, the Federation disintegrated, and Senegal proclaimed its independence, while Soudan became Mali.

After the breakup of the Mali Federation, Senegal was governed by a president and a prime minister, under a parliamentary system. However, in 1962 the prime minister orchestrated an attempted coup, and was arrested. Senegal adopted a new constitution that consolidated power in the hands of the president, and the country has enjoyed peaceful successions of power ever since.

Senegal is a republic with a strong presidency, a bicameral legislature, and a mostly independent judiciary. Multiiple political parties are part of the country's political system. It is one of only a few African countries that have never experienced a successful coup.

Senegal is divided into fourteen regions, each with the same name as their regional capital: Dakar, Diourbel, Fatick, Kaffrine, Kaolack, Kédougou, Koida, Louga, Matam, Saint-Louis, Sédhiou, Tambacounda, Thiès, and Ziguinchor.

Senegal is a semi-arid country in the westernmost portion of Africa. With limited natural resources, the country's economy is based on fish, phosphates, peanuts, tourism, and the service sector, so it is highly vulnerable to variations in rainfall and commodity prices. Because these variables tend not to be reliable, the country depends heavily on foreign assistance.

Senegal is active in the United Nations and other world organizations, and enjoys good relations with its neighbors. There is a problem with a large number of refugees from Mauritania living in Senegal, but the two governments are in negotiations on a solution.

Senegal has a well-trained and effective military, which receives most of its training, equipment, and support from France and the United States. Senegal has participated in several international peacekeeping missions for the United Nations and the African Union, as well as to assist its neighbors. Senegal was the only sub-Saharan nation to send a contingent to participate in Operation Desert Storm.

The educational system in Senegal is based on the French system. According to its constitution, public education is free and compulsory up to the age of sixteen. However, due to a low demand for public (secular) education, and limited resources, the law is not strongly enforced. Many children attend Islamic schools instead, but the objective of some of these schools, particularly the Koranic Schools, is to teach children to be good Muslims, and are often lacking in non-religious instruction.

However, for those who attend, Senegal's public school system includes preschool, primary school, middle school, and high school programs, with multigrade teaching utilized in areas of low population density. University instruction is in French, but there are several available, both public and private.

As of 2002, the overall literacy rate in Senegal was just over 39%, but there was a large disparity between males and females. More than 50% of men were literate, while fewer than 30% of women are literate.



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