Archaeological findings throughout the area indicate that Senegal was inhabited in prehistoric times. Islam established itself in the Senegal River valley in the 11th century; 95% of Senegalese today are Muslims. In the 13th and 14th centuries, the area came under the influence of the Mandingo empires to the east; the Jolof Empire of Senegal also was founded during this time.
In January 1959, Senegal and the French Soudan merged to form the Mali Federation, which became fully independent on June 20, 1960, as a result of the independence and the transfer of power agreement signed with France on April 4, 1960. Due to internal political difficulties, the Federation broke up on August 20, 1960. Senegal and Soudan (renamed the Republic of Mali) proclaimed independence. Leopold Sedar Senghor, internationally known poet, politician, and statesman, was elected Senegal's first President in August 1960.
After the breakup of the Mali Federation, President Senghor and Prime Minister Mamadou Dia governed together under a parliamentary system. In December 1962, their political rivalry led to an attempted coup by Prime Minister Dia. Although this was put down without bloodshed, Dia was arrested and imprisoned, and Senegal adopted a new constitution that consolidated the President’s power. In 1980, President Senghor decided to retire from politics, and he handed over power in 1981 to his handpicked successor, Abdou Diouf. Abdou Diouf was President from 1981-2000. He encouraged broader political participation, reduced government involvement in the economy, and widened Senegal's diplomatic engagements, particularly with other developing nations. Domestic politics on occasion spilled over into street violence, border tensions, and a violent separatist movement in the southern region of the Casamance. Nevertheless, Senegal's commitment to democracy and human rights strengthened. Diouf served four terms as President. In the presidential election of 2000, he was defeated, in a free and fair election, by opposition leader Abdoulaye Wade. Senegal experienced its second peaceful transition of power, and its first from one political party to another. President Wade secured the presidency again in February 2007, garnering 55.9% of the vote. Former Prime Minister Idrissa Seck and Socialist Party Candidate Ousmane Tanor Dieng secured 14.92% and 13.56%, respectively. Parliamentary elections have been postponed until June 2007. (Source U.S. State Department Web site, www.state.gov/countries, April 10, 2007)