- Senegal was the largest, most important, and most democratic French colony in West Africa. Senegal was used as a jumping-off point for further colonial conquests during the scramble for Africa. A European presence in the area dates to the mid-fifteenth century, when the Portuguese established trading bases along the coast for commerce in gold and slaves. By the seventeenth century, the Portuguese had given way to the French and British who operated coastal forts on the Senegal and Gambia Rivers, respectively. During the next two centuries Anglo-French conflicts caused the French forts to repeatedly fall into British hands until the end of the Napoleonic Wars permanently restored French control over St Louis, Gorée, Dakar, and Rufisque.Interest in the interior remained limited until the arrival of Governor Louis Faidherbe in 1854. Driven by a desire to make Senegal financially self-sustaining through the creation of plantations and convinced by his own experiences as an army officer in Algeria that peaceful coexistence with Muslims was impossible, Faidherbe acted on his own initiative and repeatedly provoked border conflicts with al-Hadjj Umar’s neighboring Tukolor Empire as a means of expanding the French presence into the interior. France subsequently spent the period from Faidherbe’s 1865 retirement until the mid 1880s, digesting its holdings in Senegal and creating an export economy centered around peanuts, ivory, and gum arabic. Once the Scramble for Africa began, however, French forces simultaneously completed the conquest of Senegal and then joined with counterparts from the French Congo and Algeria in a bid to conquer the interior and establish a band of French held territory stretching from the Atlantic Coast to the Nile River.In addition to its financial importance, Senegal also occupied a unique place as the most democratic colony in French Africa. Although the majority of Senegalese were considered subjects and were ruled directly by French colonial administrators, the policy of assimilation meant that from the mid-nineteenth century, Africans born in the so-called Four Communes of Dakar, Gorée, Rufisque, and St Louis were French citizens with full voting rights, eventually culminating in the 1914 election of Blaise Diagne as the first African member of the French National Assembly. Senegal’s unique political status was further strengthened in 1895 when Dakar was selected as the capital of the newly created federation of French West Africa.See also <
>; < >.FURTHER READING:Clark, A. F. From Frontier to Backwater: Economy and Society in the Upper Senegal Valley (West Africa), 1850–1920 . Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1999;Crowder, Michael. Senegal: A Study of French Assimilation Policy . London: Methuen, 1967;Johnson, G. Wesley. Double Impact: France and Africa in the Age of Imperialism . Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1985;Manning, Patrick. Francophone Sub-Saharan Africa 1880–1995 . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.KENNETH J. OROSZ
Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.