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Background Information | Senegal |

Senegal Background Information Historical Trends Political Development Emigrant Population Citizenship / Irregular Migration Refuge and Asylum Current Developments References

Background Information

Felix Gerdes

/ 4 Minuten zu lesen

In Europe and elsewhere, there is a widespread image of Africa as a continent in crisis, whose population seeks en masse to find a route to Europe. The example of Senegal, however, illustrates that African migration is far more complex a phenomenon.

To begin with, migration to and from Senegal has, until recently, primarily been in connection with other African states. Historically, Senegal was not a country of origin, but rather the destination of migrants. There is, however, evidence of a turnaround since the 1990s, with Senegal becoming more and more a country of emigration and new target regions emerging for Senegalese migrants. As a result, Senegal is facing a range of new challenges.

One thing that goes largely unnoticed by the European public is the country's need to manage immigration. Moreover, there needs to be a political response to the population's growing readiness to migrate. At the same time, there is increasing pressure from European states on African authorities to contain migration outflows. But in some African states as well – and here the Ivory Coast and Gabon are of particular importance to Senegal – immigration is increasingly met with rejection, giving rise to conflict both in domestic politics and in bilateral relations. Finally, there are the questions of how to deal with increasing migrant money transfers (remittances) as well as the economic potential of migrants abroad and those who return.

Background InformationSenegal

Capital: Dakar
Official language: French
Area: 196 192 km2
Population (2007): 12 400 000 (Population Reference Bureau)
Population density: 63 inhabitants per km2
Population growth (2005): +2.4 %
Labour force participation rate (2005): 70.9 % (Senegal, ANSD) to 75.1 % (UNFPA)
Foreign population as a percentage of total (2006): 2.8 % (UNFPA)
Foreign workers as a percentage of total labour force: Not known
Unemployment rate (2001/02): 5.6 % (Senegal, ANSD)
Religions (2002 census): 94 % Muslim (Sufis), 5 % Roman Catholic, 1 % indigenous religions (CIA)

Factors Influencing Migration

Migration from Senegal has increased in the last decade. This development has taken place against a background of economic and demographic revolution, which has to be recognised in order to understand the problems associated with this migration. Since the mid-1970s, Senegal has been in a state of economic crisis, which intensified in the 1990s. Between 1990 and 1999 the gross domestic product per head sank by 28.1%. The crisis had a negative impact on private-sector and political integration capacities alike. The chances of employment within the civil service have dwindled markedly, while development in the private sector is too weak to bring any significant relief to the labour market. There is, in addition, high population growth, leading to the near-quadrupling of the population of Senegal since the country achieved independence in 1960; the population is also a great deal younger now compared to then, with roughly half the population currently under the age of 18. As a result, a larger number of young people with poor professional prospects stream onto the labour market each year.

International migration was initially a reaction to this crisis situation and has meanwhile become the standard model of social advancement. Whereas formerly the state functionary symbolised individual success, now it is the international migrant. This is demonstrated, among other things, by Senegalese pop songs, in which the migrant is celebrated as a modern hero. Accordingly, young people's "career planning" is increasingly directed towards the international labour market. Simultaneously, there are more opportunities to migrate as a result of the now firmly established and wide-ranging networks of migrants who have gone before. Interestingly, despite these networks, few would-be migrants know anything about everyday life in Europe. As a result, the cliché of "Paradise Europe" and the image of the migrant as the embodiment of success are diametrically opposed to the actual experiences of the average Senegalese person abroad.

These experiences in the destination country are often marked by a loss of quality of life in comparison with the situation in Senegal, isolation, financial need, exploitation, discrimination, and strong social pressure for financial support from the migrant's family, who is generally convinced of the migrant's wealth. Highly-skilled migrants are mostly overqualified for the posts in which they are employed in the destination country, and this also has an adverse effect on their sense of well-being. A large proportion of Senegalese migrants in Germany, for example, would not, in the present circumstances, choose to migrate to Europe again, nor would they advise other would-be migrants to do so. Nonetheless, an unrealistic image of Europe persists in Senegal, as it does in many parts of Africa.

The explanation for the fact that migration continues despite repeatedly unfulfilled expectations is found in the social contexts in which migrants move. In general, migrants are subject to their family's expectations of support. The social obligation to share their wealth increases, of course, when other members of the family have financed the move. The pressure to succeed is enormous. Whereas a lack of economic success is not deemed unusual in Africa, for a migrant in Europe it is perceived as failure and brings with it social contempt. There is hardly any talk of the misfortunes migrants suffer, especially in the case of those who have been deported quickly from the destination country; difficult living conditions in the destination country are concealed. Any complaints on the part of the (apparently) successful are considered self-pity and are not socially acceptable. By contrast, the "successful" migrant who demonstrates generosity according to traditional standards is idealised within the family and neighbourhood. Generally speaking, the family has, at best, an unclear conception as to how the money from which they live has been earned.



  1. Another form of migration, the traditional migration of nomadic groups, is not entered into any further here as it represents a specific and highly complex subject area which is, however, of secondary importance for Senegal.

  2. See Lahlou (2004). Economic growth has accelerated since then. After a crisis, such developments often lead to a temporary increase in emigration as expectations are abnormally exaggerated and increased means are available for financing a journey.

  3. See Riccio (2005).

  4. See Marfaing (2003).

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Felix Gerdes studied political science and sociology in Hamburg und Dakar. Since 2005 he has been pursuing doctoral studies at the University of Hamburg, where he works for the Research Centre on War, Armament and Development at the Institute of Political Studies.