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Senegalese Sense Economic Decline

Citizens are less optimistic in 2007 than they were in 2006

by Linda Lyons


WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Last week, World Bank Senior Vice President Francois Bourguignon visited Senegal's capital city of Dakar and heralded a "substantial breakthrough after a long economic stagnation" in the nation's economy. But, even though Senegal had been experiencing a steady 5% growth rate since 1993, a recent World Bank report described Senegal's current economic performance as "weak" and projected a growth rate of closer to about 3% for 2006. This year's Gallup World Poll indicates that the Senegalese are feeling the decline in the country's economic performance.

Comparing results from surveys of Senegalese in May 2006 and February 2007 reveals a noticeable decline in optimism about the nation's future. Gallup conducted the 2007 poll during the same month that incumbent President Abdoulaye Wade was re-elected, with about 60% of the vote, to a second term. When Gallup asked respondents to assess the present status of their country on an 11-point Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale (with the bottom rung being zero [worst] and the top rung ten [best]), in 2006 and 2007, only 1 in 9 (11%) said the country was on one of the top four rungs. However, the percentage of people predicting that Senegal would be on those upper rungs five years into the future fell dramatically from 72% in 2006 to 49% in 2007.

Though Senegal is among the more stable democracies in Africa, the country faces sporadic political unrest, particularly from a violent separatist movement in the southern region of the Casamance, and in 2006 endured an energy crisis that caused widespread blackouts. The 2007 World Poll results give some indication of a lack of perceived momentum toward addressing the nation's severe economic challenges. In a nation with limited natural resources and a labor force largely dependent on fishing and agriculture, only 29% of people say they have a job, down somewhat from 35% in 2006. Twenty-one percent of Senegalese say now is a good time to find a job in their community, down from 28% last year. There are also slight drops in the number of people who say they are satisfied with government efforts to increase the number and quality of jobs (21% in 2007 vs. 26% in 2006), and with the country's efforts to deal with the poor (21% in 2007 vs. 25% in 2006).

Gallup also asked the Senegalese people, "Is the city or area where you live getting better or worse as a place to live?" This year, half of citizens (50%) say their community is getting better, compared to 57% who said the same thing in 2006. Even more Senegalese (56%) would like to move to another country permanently if they could afford to do so. Just 40% say they would continue living in Senegal.

The choice to stay or leave Senegal is in many cases a life or death decision. In recent years, thousands of Senegalese fled the country in search for work. It is estimated that 35,000 illegal sub-Saharan African migrants landed on the Spanish Canary Islands in 2006, hoping to find employment on the Spanish mainland or elsewhere in Europe. To quell the illegal immigration and prevent more deaths in the Atlantic Ocean, Spanish leaders traveled to Dakar in June to announce that one-year renewable visas would be available to Senegalese citizens for several hundred legal jobs in Spain. The hope is that this action might inspire business leaders in other nations to set up permanent job centers in or near Senegal to recruit legal workers and provide safe passage.

Current World Poll results suggest one in eight Senegalese remain determined to seek employment in wealthier nations no matter what the consequences. When asked if gainful employment in Spain or Europe is worth the considerable risk to their lives, 83% say no, but 12% say yes.

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews with 1,000 adults in May 2006 and February 2007, ages 15 and older. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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