History, Politics, Economy and Startups in Senegal.

Senegal is a country in one boat.

Senegal received its name from the Senegal river which literally means ‘our canoe’. Senegal is leaving for its name being a rare African country without a long standing tradition of violence and coupe d’etat.

Leopold Sedar Senghor — a poet and the first (Socialist) President of Senegal — had stayed in power from 1960, when the country received its independence from France, until 1980, when he selected his successor — Abdou Diou — from the rival (Liberal) political party. Diou kept his position for 19 years, until 1999, when Abdoulaye Wade won the elections recognized by international observers as free and fair. Macky Sall changed Wade on his post in 2012.

There are more than 70 political parties in Senegal, however, its unicameral, 150-members National Assembly is dominated by one political coalition — United in Hope with 199 seats — led by pro-democratic Alliance pour la republique.

Senegalese economy is largely based on mining (predominantly on phosphates and oil) and agricultural industries with fishing (salmon, oysters) becoming more and more important source of exports revenues. On top of that, Senegal’s political and social stability is gratified by increasing number of foreign tourists visiting the country every year. Currently, one of the issues for Senegal fishing industry is illegal fishing in its territorial 14-miles wide coastal waters.

Senegalese people are gaining politically and economically by not rocking their country’s ship.

At the start of 2010th local government had decided to convert Senegal into the most innovative francophone state on the African continent and heavily invested into renewal of country’s outdated telecommunication infrastructure. As a result, the local yearly rate of Internet expansion exceeds 10%. However, at present, Internet access is still limited to only 30% of 16 million population and mobile networks prevail.

Senegal has maintained traditionally strong links to EU (France in particular) and many young Senegalese had lived and studied there. That, together with big overseas expatriates community, provide good technical and managerial expertize as well as some seed money to local startups. Senegal economy expands with moderate rate of 5–6% yearly.

On the other hand, Senegal has serious limitations to its innovative strive. Local economy is predominantly agriculture based and population is largely poor (primary outside of large cities) and Senegalese budget is still stabilized by international donors. Unemployment rate, specifically among young Senegalese, is skyrocketing. Level of bureaucracy is excessive and SME taxation is overbearing. However, local startups ecosystem, although limited to Dakar, is gradually expanding and Senegal has already attracted attention of big players in VC world.

Business Notes for Startups Founders:

  • political climate: friendly;
  • economic climate: not friendly;
  • regions to focus: East Sub-Saharan Africa;
  • industries to focus: mobile apps, e-commerce, social networks, FinTech;
  • major limitations: agriculture based economy, poor population (per-capita is less than $1000), very high unemployment rate (over 20%), brains drainage;
  • stimulus: educated workforce, large overseas community, quickly growing Internet and mobile networks;
  • opportunities: to built a mobile e-business orientated not only on local but also on West African users.