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In April 2008 I spent a month helping to teach English in St Louis, Senegal. This is a quick retrospective to give the people who have asked me about it an impression of my time there.

Brief Introduction to Senegal

Senegal is the most westerly African nation, nestling just south of the Sahara on the Atlantic coast. St Louis is at the very north of the country, just south of the border with Mauritania.


The Maison D'Esclaves, a holding station for slaves on the Ile De Goree near Dakar.
In 1659 Saint Louis was established as the first French settlement in Africa. It progressively became a busy trading port of goods coming out of the continent, including slaves. Towards the end of the 19th century French colonisation spread inland, and Saint Louis reached its peak of influence in 1895 when it became capital of French West Africa, a region spanning modern day territories such as Cote d’Ivoire and Sudan. In 1902 the capital moved south to Dakar, causing Saint Louis’ prestige to fade. The country gained full independence in 1960.

See a Senegal timeline here.

By most standards Senegal is a stable democracy, by African standards its remarkably so. Despite a state television channel that acts as the president’s personal soapbox, the press is pretty much free.

The vast majority of people in Senegal, around 95%, are Muslim and Islam plays a large part in Senegalese life.


The most obvious colonial legacy left to the country is the French language. It is used as the language of education, of commerce and of written and most broadcast media. However, Senegalese will rarely speak French amongst themselves, instead conversing in one of a number of unrelated African languages. The dominant one of these is Wolof, spoken along the coast, including in St Louis and Dakar, as well as in the neighbouring former British colony of The Gambia. So French allows you to communicate with all but the youngest of children, but you do not feel surrounded by it. The family I stayed with would talk amongst themselves in Wolof, then switch to French to communicate with me, often catching me out as they used the same accent and intonation for both.

Famous Senegalese

Perhaps the most well known Senegalese in Britain are the musician Youssou N'Dour and the Premiership footballer El Hadji Diouf who once played for Liverpool. Better know in the States is Akon, a controversial US/Senegalese rapper who has topped the American charts.

A couple of Senegalese natives have gone on to fame as French nationals. Nicolas Sarkozy’s government includes the youthful Rama Yade. Best known in Britain though is Patrick Vieira, once honoured with inventive rhyming of the terrace chant “He comes from the Senegal, He plays for the Arsenal”.

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