The French conquest of Sénégal in western Africa began in 1659 with the establishment of Saint-Louis followed by the French capture of the island of Gorée from the Dutch in 1677, but would only become a full-scale campaign in the nineteenth century. The territory was a part of French West Africa (Afrique occidentale française, AOF) — a federation of eight French colonial territories in Africa: Mauritania, Senegal, French Sudan (now Mali), French Guinea, Ivory Coast, Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso), Dahomey (now Benin) and Niger from 1895 until 1960. The capital of the AOF was Dakar in Senegal. On April 4, 1959, Senegal and the French Sudan merged to form the Mali Federation, which became fully independent on June 20, 1960. Due to internal political difficulties, the Federation broke up on August 20, when Senegal and French Sudan (renamed the Republic of Mali) each proclaimed independence.
The territory of modern Senegal has been inhabited by various ethnic groups since prehistory. Organized kingdoms emerged around the seventh century, and parts of the country were ruled by prominent regional empires such as the Jolof Empire. The present state of Senegal has its roots in European colonialism, which began during the mid-fifteenth century, when various European powers began competing for trade in the area. The establishment of coastal trading posts gradually led to control of the mainland, culminating in French rule of the area by the nineteenth century, albeit amid much local resistance.
Senegal is named after the Senegal River, the etymology of which is contested. One popular theory (proposed by David Boilat in 1853) is that it stems from the Wolof phrase sunu gaal, which means “our canoe” (or pirogue), resulting from a miscommunication between fifteenth-century Portuguese sailors and Wolof fishermen. The “our canoe” theory has been popularly embraced in modern Senegal for its charm. It is frequently used in appeals to national solidarity (e.g. “we’re all in the same canoe”), frequently heard in the media.
Modern historians believe the name probably refers to the Sanhaja, Berbers who lived on the northern side of the river. A competing theory is that it derives from the medieval town of “Sanghana” (also spelled as Isenghan, Asengan, Singhanah), described by the Arab geographer al-Bakri in 1068 as located by the mouth of the river. Some Serer people from the south believe the river’s name is derived from the compound of the Serer term Sene (from Roge Sene, Supreme Deity in Serer religion) and O Gal (meaning “body of water”).
According to some historians, French merchants from the Normandy cities of Dieppe and Rouen traded with the Gambia and Senegal coasts, and with the Ivory Coast and the Gold Coast, between 1364 and 1413. Probably as a result, an ivory-carving industry developed in Dieppe after 1364. These travels however were soon forgotten with the advent of the Hundred Years War in France.
Various European powers, such as Portugal, the Netherlands, and England then competed for trade in the area of Senegal from the 15th century onward. The Portuguese first established a post on the island of Gorée in 1444, from where they organized a slave trade. The island was captured by the Dutch in 1588, where they established defensive forts and developed trade further.
In 1659, France established the trading post of Saint-Louis, Senegal. The European powers continued contending for the island of Gorée, until in 1677, France led by Jean II d’Estrées during the Franco-Dutch War (1672–1678) ended up in possession of the island, which it would keep for the next 300 years. In 1758, the French settlement was captured by a British expedition as part of the Seven Years’ War, but was later returned to France in 1783, following French victory in the American Revolutionary War.
The states of the Wolof and Sereer, neighboring the two colonial outposts, were particularly involved with the slave trade, having strong military organizations geared to supplying slaves to the Europeans.
Conflicts erupted with the Muslims to the north, as when Marabout Nasr al Din attacked Mauritania and the Wolof across the border in 1673, but he was defeated through an alliance between local forces and the French.
During the Napoleonic Wars, Great Britain captured Gorée in 1803 and Saint-Louis in 1809, and proclaimed the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, to which the new French monarchy had to agree upon recovering the two posts. The nineteenth century thus saw a decline in slave trade, and the rise of commodity production instead. The trade of acacia gum, used for dyes for high-quality textiles and for medicine production, became paramount. Peanut cultivation also proved to be a valuable resource for the area.
In the Franco-Trarzan War of 1825, the French started to assert control of the mouth of the Senegal river against the rival state of Trarza.
In the 1850s, the French under the governor Louis Faidherbe, began to expand their foothold onto the Senegalese mainland, at the expense of the native kingdoms. From 1854, Faidherbe started to establish a series of inland forts up the Senegal River. In 1855, he conquered the Kingdom of Waalo. A counter-attack by the Toucouleur in 1857 led to the Siege of Medina Fort in which the Toucouleur failed. By 1860, the forts built between Médine and St. Louis allowed Faidherbe to launch missions against the Trarza Moors in Waalo (north of the Senegal river), who had previously collected taxes on goods coming to Saint-Louis from the interior. Faidherbe also started the westernization of the area by developing banks, civil administration, and also established an accord with Senegal’s religion, Islam.
Expansion continued under Governor Louis Brière de l’Isle from 1876 to 1881. Through diplomatic and military efforts, Briere reinforced French control on the Senegal river, the “Peanut Basin” and the Guinea Coast in favor of the development of millet, peanut and cotton trade. He also developed railroad projects that would facilitate further expansion as far as French Sudan (modern Mali).
From 1880, France endeavored to build a railway system, centered around the Saint-Louis–Dakar line that involved taking military control of the surrounding areas, leading to the military occupation of mainland Senegal. The construction of the Dakar-Niger Railway also began at the end of the nineteenth century under the direction of the French officer Gallieni.
The first Governor General of Senegal was named in 1895, overseeing most of the territorial conquests of Western Africa, and in 1904, the territories were formally named French West Africa, of which Senegal was a part and Dakar its capital. Gabon would later become the seat of its own federation, French Equatorial Africa (AEF), which was to border its western neighbor on the modern boundary between Niger and Chad.
After the Fall of France in June 1940 and the two battles of Dakar against the Free French Forces in July and September 1940, authorities in West Africa declared allegiance to the Vichy regime, as did the colony of French Gabon in AEF. While the latter fell to Free France already after the Battle of Gabon in November 1940, West Africa remained under Vichy control until the Allied landings in North Africa (operation Torch) in November 1942.
Following World War II, the French government began a process of extending limited political rights in its colonies. In 1945, the French Provisional Government allocated ten seats to French West Africa in the new Constituent Assembly called to write a new French Constitution. Of these five would be elected by citizens (which only in the Four Communes could an African hope to win) and five by African subjects. The elections brought to prominence a new generation of French-educated Africans. On October 21, 1945, six Africans were elected, the Four Communes citizens chose Lamine Guèye, Senegal/Mauritania Léopold Sédar Senghor, Ivory Coast/Upper Volta Félix Houphouët-Boigny, Dahomey/Togo Sourou-Migan Apithy, Soudan-Niger Fily Dabo Sissoko, and Guinea Yacine Diallo. They were all re-elected to the 2nd Constituent Assembly on 2 June 1946.
In 1946, the Loi Lamine Guèye granted some limited citizenship rights to natives of the African colonies. The French Empire was renamed the French Union on October 27, 1946, when the new constitution of the French Fourth Republic was established. In late 1946, under this new constitution each territory was for the first time (excepting the Four Communes) able elect local representatives, albeit on a limited franchise, to newly established General Councils. These elected bodies had only limited consultative powers, although they did approve local budgets.
The Loi Cadre of June 23, 1956, brought universal suffrage to elections held after that date in all French African colonies. The first elections under universal suffrage in French West Africa were the municipal elections of late 1956. On March 31, 1957, under universal suffrage, territorial Assembly elections were held in each of the eight colonies (Togo as a UN Trust Territory was by this stage on a different trajectory). The leaders of the winning parties were appointed to the newly instituted positions of Vice-Presidents of the respective Governing Councils — French Colonial Governors remained as Presidents.
The Constitution of the French Fifth Republic of 1958 again changed the structure of the colonies from the French Union to the French Community. Each territory was to become a “Protectorate”, with the consultative assembly named a National Assembly. The Governor appointed by the French was renamed the “High Commissioner”, and made head of state of each territory. The Assembly would name an African as Head of Government with advisory powers to the Head of State. Legally, the federation ceased to exist after the September 1958 referendum to approve this French Community. All the colonies except Guinea voted to remain in the new structure. Guineans voted overwhelmingly for independence.
In 1960, a further revision of the French constitution, compelled by the failure of the French Indochina War and the tensions in Algeria, allowed members of the French Community to unilaterally change their own constitutions. Senegal and former French Sudan became the Mali Federation (1960–61), while Ivory Coast, Niger, Upper Volta and Dahomey subsequently formed the short-lived Sahel-Benin Union, later the Conseil de l’Entente.
Scott #146 was released in 1935, part of an eventual set of 30 definitives bearing only two different designs (Scott #142-171). The 5 centimes orange red engraved stamp, perforated 12½ x 12, pictures the Faidherbe Bridge, a road bridge over the Sénégal River which links the island of the city of Saint-Louis in Senegal to the African mainland. The metal bridge is 1,664.5 feet (507.35 meters (1,664.5 ft) long and 34 feet (10.5 m) wide. It has eight spans, of which the longest five are 256.8 feet (78.26 m).
Until the nineteenth century, access to the island was made by boat. After the introduction of a ferry that could transport 150 passengers, Louis Faidherbe quickly saw that the system was clearly overrun and decided to construct the first bridge over the Sénégal River. The governor of Senegal, Henri de Lamothe decided to take a loan worth five million gold francs to construct a new metallic bridge in Saint-Louis. After the construction company was selected, they all decided to construct a new metallic bridge with a section capable of turning 90 degrees to allow the passage of ships. The bridge was opened on July 14, 1897. In the 2000s, a US$27 million rehabilitation plan was begun.
Opened on July 2, 1865, the bridge had a total length of 2,230 feet (680 m); the floating part of the bridge had a length of 1,150 feet (350 m) and a width of 13 feet (4 m). The floating part was formed from 40 metal pontoons which supported a wooden deck. Three of these pontoons were specially designed so that it could be created a 66 feet (20 m) gap so that large vessels could pass. The bridge was named Faidherbe Bridge by a decree of Napoleon III of France.
The opening in 1885 of the Saint-Louis–Dakar railway increased the traffic over the bridge. The railway reached all the way to Sor and all the goods hauled between the coast and the railway station had to cross over the bridge. To prevent the breakdown of the bridge a special decree was given so that the maximum weight for a vehicle that crosses the bridge to be less than one and a half tons. With all its difficulties the bridge remained in service 32 years, until 1897 when it was dismantled.
In the opening of his speech in the General Council of Senegal, Governor Henri de Lamothe proposed that the country should take a loan for infrastructure development. The council agreed on a loan worth five million gold francs, much of the money being for the construction of a metallic bridge between Saint-Louis and Sor. The loan was approved on November 2, 1892, by the French president Marie François Sadi Carnot. A French bank, CDG, agreed to give the loan with a low interest of only four percent.
The auction was organised by the Ministry of Colonies, which sent five officers to Senegal for evaluation. After examining each one these offers the Faidherbe Bridge Committee selected two of them, from Nouguier, Kessler et Cie, and from Société de Construction de Levallois-Perret (owned by Gustave Eiffel). The Faidherbe Bridge Committee and the technical committee in Paris agreed that the Société de Construction de Levallois-Perret project was the best for the site. On the other hand, the president of the public works in Senegal and councilman Jean-Jacques Crespin supported the Nouguier, Kessler et Cie project. In the end the contract was awarded to Nouguier, Kessler et Cie at a price of 1.88 million gold francs.
The first opening of the bridge took place concurrently with the ceremonies for the national day on July 14, 1897, in the presence of Governor Chabié. The ribbon for the access zone was cut by the governor’s wife, then the officials walked a short distance to the mobile deck, which was opened to allow the passage of the military ship L’Ardent. Twenty-one cannon shots were fired at dusk and dawn to commemorate the construction of the bridge and on that day there were organized ceremonies including horse races and donkey races. The second opening was on October 19, 1897, in the presence of André Lebon, the prime minister of the French colonies.
After more than 100 years of operation, the bridge had suffered from corrosion and was in need of urgent repair. The rehabilitation works were co-financed by the French Development Agency (AFD) and by the Government of Senegal. The total cost of the works was estimated to be US $27 million, of which US $17 million was from AFD and US $10 million from the government. The spans of the bridge were replaced between November 2008 and July 23, 2011, and the bridge was re-inaugurated in October 2011.