The pre-colonial history of Senegal, dominated by three primary kingdoms, indicates a stable power balance that, despite conflicts among competing colonial powers, seems to have continued to contemporary times. The rise of African socialism and négritude, emphasizing black African community, greatly influenced the first president of Senegal, Léopold Sédar Senghor. Senghor was president of Senegal from 1960 to 1980; his party, the Union Progressiste Sénégalaise, “was a loose coalition of factions that was forged and held together by political support in exchange for state revenues” (Mozaffar and Vengroff 603).

Since Senegal’s independence, the government has retained its remarkable stability on a continent where many governments succumb to violent military overthrows. The instability of so many countries on the African continent can often be attributed to the methods used by powerful leaders to maintain centralized power. However, Senegal’s remarkable stability can be related to its early history of one-party rule and the judicious and strong executive leadership of Senghor.

This paper begins with a probing of the foundations of Senegal as a nation. It will then explore the evolution of Senegalese politics from 1958 to 1978, emphasizing the role of dynamic leadership and party-building in the support of political stability. This time period focuses on the foundations of the Senegalese Constitution, politics, and parties. The beginning of the era of independence for many African states has been chaotic, such as in the Congo; however, this period in Senegal saw the rise of a philosophical-leader who would, through dynamic direction and a unified political party, lay the foundations for future political stability maintained to this day.


While considering the status and foundations of political stability in Senegal, a brief study of the country’s history is merited. Senegal was France’s first African colony, and thus experiences a unique relationship with the imperial power. Lucie Gallistel Colvin indicates in her Historical Dictionary of Senegal the country has a “deep and rich” pre-colonial history (Colvin 2). Before the advent of French colonialism, three major civilizations occupied the territory that is now Senegal: the Tekrur, the Wolof, which would become the Jolof Empire, and the Malinke. The Tekrur were the first known occupiers of Senegalese territory, while the Jolof Empire later united the central part of the country between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries (Colvin 2). The Malinke were centered in the Gambia River basin and the upper region of Senegal. Colvin describes the evolution and relationships among these three ethnic groups, arguing they were all “built on an underlying historic unity” (Colvin 2).

Portugal was the first trading power to express interest in Senegal. Portuguese traders arrived beginning in 1444 and quickly established a booming slave trade based in Senegambia, the region comprising Senegal and the Gambia River basin (Colvin 2–3). Because the reigning empire, the Jolof, was centered in the interior of the country and had no access to water routes, it split into separate regional groups. Colvin writes that the various minor successor kingdoms, though never accumulating much power, maintained “a stable balance of power and a commercial focus on the coast” (Colvin 3). There were several insignificant conflicts between the tribes, but all were resolved without pretense or attempt at conquering (Colvin 3). Furthermore, the European traders “very rarely made war on local African kingdoms” (Colvin 3).

By the sixteenth century, the Portuguese were joined by the Dutch, British, and French in nurturing the slave trade based out of Senegambia. During the height of the slave trade in the 1700s and 1800s, France emerged as the dominant trading power on the Senegal River, while England was firmly placed on the Gambia River. The Dutch were out-competed and thus departed, with “the Portuguese forced south to Casamance” (Colvin 5).

The strong arm of the slave trade affected the “internal processes of Senegambian society,” according to Colvin. Slaves were taken and used throughout Senegambia, a prelude to the formation of slave militias in certain regions of the country. The proliferation of Islam, present in Senegal beginning in the ninth century (Economist Intelligence Unit), led many local clerics to condemn the slave trade and attack existing rulers’ vast corruption. The influence of Islam combined with the beginning of European industrialization led to the demise of the slave trade as the primary activity in the region; European traders began to focus on gum and later peanut exports (Colvin 6).

Between 1850 and 1920, the official colonial conquest of Senegambia ensued. This era of Senegal’s history was a rather “long and violent period of invasion and resistance, partly because of complex European commercial rivalries and partly because interior kingdoms were able to fight, lose, reorganize, and fight again” (Colvin 7). Militant Islam was experienced during this period as contentions between the secular and the religious were strained. Al-Hajj Umar emerged from these tensions to spearhead Islamic reform in the region (Colvin 9). The ensuing spread of Islam in the region led to the formation of “the two most powerful Islamic brotherhoods in Senegal today, the Muridiyya and the Tijani” (Colvin 11). These Islamic brotherhoods would be an important element in the coalition Senegal's first president, Léopold Sédar Senghor, would form to firmly establish his party’s dominance.

One of the key cleavages in Senegalese society can trace its origins to French dominance. France tended to favor residents of the urban centers, who had easier access to French education. Colvin writes that in the early 1900s, France employed an “association” policy “for the recently conquered rural Protectorate, but kept ‘assimilation’ as a goal for [urban] commune residents and the French-educated elite. Only Africans officially classified as assimilés could appeal to French law” (Colvin 11). Rural residents were classified as “indigénat,” with no civil rights. The disparity created between rural and urban residents continues to this day.


Socialism arrived in Senegal in the 1920s and 1930s, immediately attracting the intellectual elite (Colvin 13). In 1927 Lamine Guèye founded a Senegalese chapter of the predominant French socialist branch - the Section Française de l’Internationale Ouvrière or SFIO. The SFIO, though it dominated Senegalese politics after World War I, was flawed in its representation. The party perpetuated the urban-rural cleavage of Senegalese society in its strong favor of urban “citizens” over rural “subjects.” Although Senghor supported the SFIO at first, Guèye’s obvious prioritization of urban citizens led him to reevaluate his political agenda. In fall of 1947, “Senghor openly denounced Lamine Guèye’s ‘dictatorial’ leadership, the informal designation of deputies ‘of the first and second degree’ [i.e. urban and rural], as well as the nepotism and clan politics pervading the SFIO’s federal bureau” (Schumacher 9).

The SFIO split in 1948 as the newly formed party of Senghor and Mamadou Dia, the Bloc Démocratique Sénégalais or BDS, came to power (Schumacher 6). The BDS was founded upon principles meant to “ensure equitable, democratic participation by all major regional, ethnic, and economic interests” (Schumacher 9). Although nominally different from the SFIO, the BDS resembled the former in its “machine style of politics.” Schumacher argues that competition strengthened the parties’ similarities and led to their merger in 1958 to form the Union Progressiste Sénégalais or UPS (Schumacher 6).


The BDS was unique in its mass membership goal and its focus on internal party democracy, different objectives than those of the elitist SFIO. The leaders of the BDS supported the creation of regional and ethnic associations, encouraging their alliance with the party as a “new coalition of ‘popular forces’” (Schumacher 9). Senghor and Dia realized that to gain anything in elections, their party would need the support of coalitions and various social groups within the country. With this in mind, the BDS employed organizational and political tactics of mobilization on a territory-wide scale. The party’s

Essential aim was to forge a rival electoral machine based on newly enfranchised social groups in the towns and rural areas beyond the four communes... BDS leaders campaigned, bargained, and negotiated to win the support of a wide array of established elites: ethnic, regional, and economic interest group spokesmen, traditional aristocrats and district chiefs, wealthy traders and entrepreneurs involved in... peanut-producing regions, and, above all, Muslim religious leaders (Schumacher 10).

This method of party building would continue to be utilized by the UPS upon its ascension to power in 1958.


As a university student in Paris, Léopold Sédar Senghor met Aimé Césaire and Léon Damas, two figures that, like Senghor, would later emerge as prominent négritude authors and patriots. Négritude was a “philosophical movement... emerging among African and West Indian intellectuals in Paris during the 1940s” (Jules-Rosette 266). Senghor and Césaire formulated the idea of négritude, an idea that “revolted against French cultural assimilation and the denigration of traditional African culture. [They] rejected the premise of African cultural inferiority and extolled the communitarian values and emotional sensibility of Black Africans” (Gellar, Senegal 92–93). The doctrine led to a cultural break with the French colonizer and to a renewed appreciation and celebration of black African history, culture, and values. In the political domain, négritude would be an underlying element in African socialism, supporting the adaptation of traditional African values into political systems of the European style (Crowder 51).

With the advent of African colonies’ independence, Tsenay Serequeberhan states the pivotal question was “for Senghor, the question of how we are to incorporate Negro-African values into the newly established independent states” (Serequeberhan 48). In the historical domain, the movement recognized Africans’ contributions to world history, an element frequently ignored in European education. Négritude also presented “a picture of a suffering Africa, exploited and abused by the white man, awakening slowly to a glorious day of freedom” (Crowder 51).


African socialism, the political doctrine that would become the platform for Senghor’s UPS party, was strongly rooted in the négritude movement. Since Senegal’s independence, African socialism has been the official ideology of the ruling party. The doctrine was developed by Senghor and Mamadou Dia, emphasizing the creation of a socialist society grounded on a combination of modern economic planning and traditional African communitarian values (Gellar, Senegal 57). Cox and R. Kessler write, “Senghor early [on] combined certain aspects of European thought - democracy, humanism, trade unionism, dialectics - into his own blend of cultural and political philosophy” (Cox and Kessler 328). African socialism dismisses the capitalist mode of economics, favoring instead the Marxist dialectic. The movement particularly favors party over individual and the creation of rural cooperatives (Nelson et al. 203–205). The elevation of the party as a political unit was extremely important in Senghor’s rise to power. He used African socialism to support a government balanced between “a dominant majority party and a loyal opposition which exercised its activities lawfully without leaning toward subversion” (Yansané 312).

Aguibou Y. Yansané identifies four conditions to facilitate the development of a socialist society in Senegal: the “nationalization of the means of production…, scientific research to gauge the potentialities of human and natural resources…, the establishment of periodic economic and social development plans based upon the needs of the Senegalese people…, [and] the transformation of the social structures and the implementation of the chosen plan” (Yansané 312–313). Underlying these four elements was the idea of négritude, the preservation of the economic and technical advantages of colonial rule, and the rejection of the colonial system’s flaws.

Senghor’s African socialism for Senegal differed from conventional Marxism in that it encouraged spiritual freedom and rejected implicit Marxist atheism. This was critical for Senegal, as this adapted socialism was considerably less menacing to the country’s Muslim religious leaders than Marxist ideology. Senghor’s embrace of the spiritual, sensate, and religious values laid the foundation for the UPS’s emergence as dominant party, facilitating the support of the Islamic brotherhoods (Gellar, Democracy 116–117).

In his book Senegal: An African Nation Between Islam and the West, Sheldon Gellar outlines the effects African socialism has had on the Senegalese economy. Gellar argues that, as political doctrine, African socialism deterred the establishment of large-scale capitalist enterprises in rural areas and instead promoted the establishment of rural cooperative structures (Senegal 58). The ideology’s accent on state stewardship has also prompted state intervention in economic regulation and intervention. Finally, African socialism was more flexible than pure Marxism because it permitted both the development of a private sector and the investment of foreign capital (Gellar, Senegal 58).


In 1958, with the termination of the Fourth French Republic resulting from Charles de Gaulle’s ascension to the presidency, a modified relationship between France and her colonies was incorporated into the new constitution of the Fifth French Republic. The new constitution “provided for the free association of autonomous republics within the French Community, where France was envisaged as the senior partner. The community had jurisdiction over foreign policy, policy on strategic raw materials, and . . . over higher education, internal and external communications, and supervision of the courts” (Nelson et al. 33).

Senghor was, early in his political career, a moderate proponent of pan-Africanism. He supported efforts to create a West African Federation consisting of Senegal, the French Soudan, Upper Volta, and Dahomey, called the Mali Federation. The latter two countries soon withdrew after the first constitution was drafted because of domestic political struggles and foreign economic ties. A second constitution for the Mali Federation, including only Senegal and Soudan, was drafted in June 1959. The Federation gained independence a year later. The new federal constitution altered the balance of power to fit the two-state system, creating a dual executive at Senegal’s insistence (Skurnik 48).

The Mali Federation, though created with very high hopes and expectations, was destined to fail, largely as a result of the numerous differences between Senegal and Soudan. A New York Times article dated August 20, 1960, when Senegal declared independence from the federation, states that tensions between the two countries were present from the federation’s conception and proved to be insurmountable. The two countries had “differing political conceptions, personal rivalries and national jealousies. The strains proved too much in the end” (“Strain Beset Mali” 9).

The “strain” was exacerbated by the countries’ differences in size, population, and development, as well as the fact that the Mali Federation was a federation of only two states. Senegal was smaller but more prosperous and its citizens had more political freedoms. In contrast, Soudan was larger, poorer, more populous, and much more politically strict in terms of parties, unions, and state control (Crowder 76). Politically, both Senegal and Soudan were controlled by one dominant party, whose respective convictions conflicted. W.A.E. Skurnik writes

“Senegalo-Soudanese divergences were rooted in different domestic political settings and experience as well as individual leaders’ personal preferences. Perhaps the most important contrasts concerned political style and consequent false expectations. The Soudanese... favored centralization and authoritarian methods fortified by their conviction that only their path was the correct one... The Senegalese [had] a political tradition of party fusion and compromise” (49–50).

Michael Crowder emphasizes the “clash of personalities” between Senghor and Modibo Keita, the leader of Soudan, implying each represented the general political attitudes of his respective country (Crowder 78). Senghor and Keita conflicted over the question of the new federation’s independence and over the best system for building the federation (Skurnik 51). Perhaps the most significant reason for the failure of the Mali Federation was the tension resulting from the two countries’ diverse political histories. Senegal, as France’s oldest colony, had functioned with a European-style politics for over a hundred years, while Soudan had experienced only fourteen years of these politics (Crowder 79).

The Mali Federation was dissolved less than a year after its conception, on August 20, 1960; as Senegal withdrew and declared independence. This move was a political result of various actions by Modibo Keita that Senghor understood “as a coup d’état against [Senegalese] sovereignty” (Skurnik 53). Keita’s actions were a response to the implicit conflict between Soudan and Senegal over control of the federal armed forces, which were made up of Senegalese and stationed in Senegal. During preparations for the upcoming federal elections, scheduled for August 27,1960, Keita discharged federal defense minister Mamadou Dia from his position, “declared a state of emergency, appealed for French armed support, and asked for an immediate session of the United Nations Security Council” (Skurnik 53).


Senegal’s constitution was modified after the country’s withdrawal from the Mali Federation and was put into effect August 25, 1960. Elections held the following month made Senghor president, virtually unanimously. The two-headed executive, or bicéphalisme, of the Mali Federation was preserved, and Mamadou Dia became prime minister (Schumacher 62). Dia, who served also as the deputy secretary general of the UPS and as national defense minister, was the second most powerful politician in Senegal. His political supporters included radical socialists who sought a more leftist leader than Senghor. Dia himself aspired to supplant the president. Nelson et al. describe the tense situation of Dia’s failed attempt at a coup d’état just two years after independence:

“Faced on December 17, 1962 with the likelihood of parliamentary vote of no-confidence and loss of his position as prime minister, Dia called out the national police in an effort to prevent the vote from being cast. The military threw its support to Senghor and, after a few days of uncertainty, Dia and his supporters were arrested. A few months later they were condemned to long terms of imprisonment” (36). Dia would not be released from prison until 1974.

The utter failure of Dia’s attempted coup and its lack of violence attest to Senghor’s strong political support and credibility. After the December crisis, he initiated new constitutional provisions. The new constitution, declaring the birth of the Second Senegalese Republic, was approved on March 3, 1963, by national referendum. The key alteration of the new document was the elimination of the post of prime minister. The constitution established a presidential government with separation of powers “adapted to Senegalese realities” (Schumacher 68). New elections for the Senegalese presidency and parliament were set for December 1963. Violent riots broke out in Dakar, Senegal’s capital, between Senghor’s and Dia’s respective supporters just before the elections, again prompting military intervention (Nelson et al. 36).

The constitution of 1963 was greatly influenced by both the American and French constitutions. As a consequence of Dia’s failed coup d’état, the power of the president was greatly enhanced. Virtually all executive power, previously divided through bicéphalisme, lay in the president’s hands, who would be directly elected through universal suffrage for four-year terms. The 1963 constitution

[e]xplicitly gave him [the president] responsibility for elaboration and implementation of all national policy . . . the new text unequivocally made the president the head of the administration. The authority of the presidency was further upgraded by . . . article 47, which gave the chief executive ‘exceptional powers’ under certain circumstances to be determined at the president’s sole discretion . . . Another source of the president’s increased power since 1963 has been the vast range of law-making and executive rule-making authority that Senghor has concentrated in his office (Schumacher 70).

Both the executive and the National Assembly can initiate legislation. During the first decade of Senegalese independence, the vast majority of bills were initiated by the executive. The president also has the potential to make laws, with the approval of the National Assembly.

Edward J. Schumacher writes: “Above all, the reorganization of central administrative resources since 1963 has strengthened President Senghor’s role and influence in all phases of policy initiation, formulation, and implementation” (Schumacher 72). Senghor gained considerably more political and legal authority than Dia had ever possessed. His authority also increased through the growing number of functions regarding supervision and coordination exercised by Senghor’s personal staff and the presidency’s general secretariat (Schumacher 72).


The BDS merged in 1958 with Lamine Guèye’s Socialist party to form the Union Progressiste Sénégalaise. The BDS founders first built a considerable constituency throughout the nation, laying the foundations for UPS hegemony upon the BDS - UPS evolution. In 1958, two years before Senegal achieved independence, a faction of the UPS broke away from Senghor and Dia over the party’s ambiguous stand on immediate independence. This faction became a new opposition party, the Parti du Regroupement Africain or PRA, and quickly gained support among laborers, trade unions, and youth.

The following year, a second opposition party was created, the Parti de Soliarité Sénégalaise or PSS, in opposition of the Mali Federation and in support of fortified and continuing ties with France (Schumacher 20). The PSS, which supported a marriage of government and Islamic values, gained support from Muslim religious leaders early on. However, Senghor’s alliance with the leader of the most powerful Islamic brotherhood eventually lured clerical leaders back to the UPS (Schumacher 20). The PSS was legally dissolved shortly thereafter.

The UPS controlled government emphasized party unity while permitting the existence of opposition parties. These were understood nonetheless to be part of a “loyal opposition” (Gellar, Democracy 46). Yansané writes the UPS sought “an equilibrium between conflicting interests” (310). Schumacher argues the UPS’s existence and objectives were in fact based upon this “task of neutralizing opposition and regulating factional struggles for office and patronage” (Schumacher 20). For example, the UPS government outlawed the Marxist-Leninist Parti Africain de l’Indépendance, or PAI, after violent episodes during elections in 1960 instigated by leaders of the party. Lucy Creevy et al. writes “party leaders and voters [engaged] in a complex coalition-building game that shifts over time by the strategic entry and exit of different political parties” (Creevy et al. 473).

Another opposition party was created in 1961, the Bloc des Masses Sénégalaises or BMS. Led by dissenting faction leaders from the UPS, the UPS reabsorbed the BMS just before the 1963 elections and the party was legally dissolved (Schumacher 22). There remained a small section of the BMS that refused to rejoin the UPS. These leaders joined with former Prime Minister Dia’s supporters to form the Front National Sénégalais, or FNS. Factions from the Parti du Regroupement Africain-Sénégal, or PRA, and the illegal Parti African de l’Indépendance, or PAI, also rallied to the FNS. The UPS government began to weed out Dia partisans in 1963 and consequently extended its powers to outlaw the FNS. The PRA-Sénégal joined the ranks of the UPS in 1966, with its leaders receiving as rewards several ministerial posts and positions in the UPS government. Thus, all legal opposition completely disappeared from Senegal (Gellar, Democracy 45). In discussing the UPS’s remarkable self-preservation, W.A.E. Skurnik emphasizes the element of cooperation:

The methods used by the dominant party to overcome internal opposition have revolved around the concept of compromise: dialogue, symbolic deference, absorption of key leaders, financial and other types of subsidies, and, in only a few cases, reluctant force (Skurnik 9–10).


Senegalese politics is remarkable for its political constituency groups and its coalition-style of organization; it could be called democratic patronage. Nelson et al. argues one source of Senghor’s party’s strength was that the “coalition has always reflected the basic social structure of the country” (Nelson et al. 197). The dynamic and widespread party building of the BDS and later, the UPS, was one reason for Senegal’s gaining independence “with a greater degree of national, as distinct from political, unity than any other West African state” (Crowder 114). As president, Senghor exercised a policy of conciliation to settle any conflict among groups.

An important constituency group in this vein is the clan, a group that includes followers and a leader who typically share the same ethnic, kinship, or religious ties. The clan leader enjoys the support of his followers in return for favoring their interests in a patron-client type of relationship (Nelson et al. 197). The leader himself endeavors to increase his influence and status, rather than his political power, to better provide for his clan. Nelson et al. describes the importance of clans in party building, arguing “[a]s an institutionalization of personal relationships, the clan provides an obvious vehicle for political influence. Members give their leader their votes, among other things, in return for whatever he can obtain by delivering their votes” (Nelson et al. 197–198).


Another clientele that holds considerable sway over its members is the Islamic Brotherhood. These brotherhoods and their leaders, called marabouts, are “the major controllers of public opinion and organs for mobilization of political support in the country” (Nelson et al. 198). The vast majority of Senegal’s citizens, around 75 percent, belong to an Islamic brotherhood.

The brotherhoods control not only the political life of their members but also the economic life. The marabouts typically manage vast amounts of land, especially in areas of peanut cultivation. There are various orders of brotherhoods, but all are organized similarly in units based on hierarchy. Each member must obey his unit’s marabout, the marabouts in the bigger units ranked above, and ultimately the specific branch’s head marabout. Nelson et al. writes the marabouts:

“Domination varies from group to group but is sufficiently strong in almost all cases so that the government feels it’s necessary to deal with the people through the marabouts in all efforts to mobilize support for its policies... [The obedience exercised by brotherhood members] extends to civil and political matters as well as to religious questions. Thus the six major divisions (the united Muridiya brotherhood and the five important branches of the two other large brotherhoods) form the major political divisions among the country’s rural population” (198).

Typically the Islamic brotherhoods have represented a conservative force in Senegalese politics, usually supporting Senghor’s leadership and policies. The brotherhoods have gone against Senghor on few occasions, such as after the creation of the PSS in 1958. All opposition to Senghor on their part, however, was unsuccessful, and the leaders typically rejoined Senghor’s ranks thereafter (Skurnik 11).

The Islamic brotherhoods supported Senghor’s African socialism, as the doctrine supported the embrace of basic spiritual and religious values rather than Marxist atheism. Upon Senegal’s achievement of independence, Prime Minister Mamadou Dia pushed for reform of the Sufi brotherhoods, reconstructed programs in favor of a “modern Islamic education system,” and the creation of an Islamic Council to manage planning and regulation of Muslim religious holidays and Mecca pilgrimages (Gellar, Democracy 117). Dia’s “reform” agenda threatened the Sufi marabouts and “was a major factor explaining why the marabouts supported Senghor rather than Dia during the political crisis which led to his downfall in December 1962” (Gellar, Democracy 117).

During his presidency, Senghor continued to solicit the most powerful marabouts, using government assets and providing state favors, honors, and services in return for their political support. Interestingly, Senghor endeavored to “reinforce the authority of the secular state and to make the legal system more in line with Western norms” while courting the Islamic brotherhoods’ leadership (Gellar, Democracy 117). Senghor’s vision of a secular state has, on occasion, led to criticism from the Islamic brotherhoods; however, the basis of a Senegalese state constructed on African socialism, which emphasizes the spiritual and sensate, and Senghor’s remarkable aptitude for compromise retained the brotherhoods’ support for his party, presidency, and policies.


Interestingly, labor unions in Senegal are not very powerful in political terms. Their political role is typically reduced to that of the clan leaders within a union; for example, many clan leaders of the Conféderation Nationale des Travailleurs Sénégalais (CNTS, or the National Confederation of Senegalese Workers) were associated with the Union Progressiste Sénégalaise. According to Nelson et al., conflicts within the CNTS and UPS were often indicative of “deterioration of the social climate;” the union’s leaders were split badly at the time of each political crisis from 1962 to 1973 (Nelson et al. 202). The political domain where labor unions display the most influence is in party councils. Outside of the UPS, labor unions have often posed a negative (but usually unthreatening) force for the government to deal with (Nelson et al. 202).


An element of Senghor’s platform that early on in his political career distinguished him from his colleagues was an emphasis on bridging the gap between urban and rural in Senegal. The cleavage between urban citizens and rural citizens had been present since French colonial rule. Consequent favor of urban development over rural development exacerbated this disparity. Senghor’s government, founded on the principles of African socialism, employed national development plans to promote Senegalese development. The government especially emphasized development in the agricultural sector, which had been previously neglected. The primary tool for the stimulation of rural development and economic integration was the agricultural cooperative (Nelson et al. 37). The First Plan for rural development resulted in a substantial increase in peanut production, more accessible roads, and rural bureaucratic development. The Second, Third, and Fourth Plans were project-oriented and focused on diversifying the economy and raising productivity levels (Gellar, Senegal 59). The Senegalese economy expanded to produce other crops in addition to peanuts, including corn, rice, cotton, and tomatoes. The industries of agricultural and fish processing also experienced some growth. The success of these national development plans further legitimized the state’s economic intervention and thereby provided further credibility to Senghor’s remarkable presidency.


Leonardo R. Arriola has justly written that “Africa’s political instability is conventionally attributed to the manner in which leaders sustain themselves in power” (Arriola 1339). Patronage is a common tool for power sustainability. However, as Arriola later states, the use of patronage in African politics has also been one of the key factors in the political stability of certain regimes (Arriola 1340). Léopold Sédar Senghor certainly utilized patronage quite effectively in party building and during his presidency. His objective was not the creation of a dictatorship in Senegal, nor even unlimited political power. An intellectual who pioneered the celebration of African culture and arts, Senghor rather focused on national unity in the establishment of his patron networks, endeavoring throughout to involve as many diverse groups and organizations as possible. He sought to address marginalized groups while providing for the good of the whole country. Senegalese parties encompass a series of coalitions representing numerous sections of the population. Senghor made it his goal to represent the interests of all these groups as best he could. In spite of the termination of opposition parties, the president firmly believed Senegal “was not a single-party regime but a ‘unified-party regime’ that united all parties under the banner of the UPS” (Gellar, Democracy 45). With African socialism and négritude as the official doctrines of the UPS and of the state, Senghor’s strong executive authority was mitigated with foundational values of African community, spirituality, equality, and appreciation of the African experience (culturally, politically, and historically). In 1970, as demands for the transfer of more responsibility and power to “the younger generation of technocrats” and for increased Africanization proliferated, Senghor agreed to another constitutional revision. The post of prime minister was then reestablished in the Senegalese constitution; Abdou Diouf held the position until 1980. Diouf, a UPS member who had studied at Dakar University and at the Sorbonne in Paris, had served as Secretary General of the Ministry of Defense and as Director of Senghor’s Cabinet. Four years after the revision, Mamadou Dia was finally released from prison. Further revisions in 1976 attested to the increasing political liberalization in Senegal. The 1976 constitution reinstated the legality of limited opposition parties.

President Léopold Sédar Senghor voluntarily retired from office in 1980, “a courageously unique act, unequaled in Africa, where leaders tend to be either removed from office by military coup or die in office” (Yansané 427). Abdou Diouf succeeded him without violence, setting a good example of peaceful transition. The succession was supported by constitutional revisions as well as efforts to make the ruling party’s organization more transparent (Yansané 427). Senghor, although his presidency was buttressed by a unified political party (the UPS, which became the Parti Socialiste) and by the extension of government patronage, was the fundamental conduit in laying the foundations for political stability in Senegal. His example shows how instrumental a dynamic leader can be in maintaining a country’s stability. Senghor’s philosophical ideals and strong leadership may be seen by some as contradictory. However, his ideals served to both legitimize and complement a unified-party state that to this day remains one of the most stable on the African continent.


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Yansané, Aguibou Y. Decolonization in West African States with French Colonial Legacy—Comparison and Contrast: Development in Guinea, the Ivory Coast and Senegal (1945—1980). Cambridge: Schenkman Publishing Company, 1984.


Kathryn Steele received her Bachelor of Arts in International Studies with a second major in French from Virginia Tech in May 2010. This research piece, a semester-long project, was conducted for the International Studies Senior Seminar she took with Dr. Scott Nelson in the fall of 2009. Senegal as a research topic grew from her Francophone Studies course with Dr. Médoune Guèy e, in which she learned of the country’s notable absence of any violent coup d’etat. During the writing process, she received instrumental feedback from both her senior seminar peers and from Dr. Nelson. Kathryn is currently working towards a Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction with a Second Language focus in the School of Education at Virginia Tech; she hopes to receive her degree and teaching license in May 2011 after completing a semester of student teaching in Vinton, Virginia.