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 great 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) each proclaimed separate independence. Leopold Sedar Senghor, internationally renowned 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. Dia was released in 1974.
Since assuming the presidency in 1981, Abdou Diouf has encouraged broader political participation, reduced government involvement in the economy, and widened Senegal's diplomatic engagements, particularly with other developing nations. Despite chronic economic problems, tempestuous domestic politics, which have on occasion spilled over into street violence, border tensions and a violent separatist movement in the southern region of the Casamance, Senegal's commitment to democracy and human rights appears reasonably strong in its fourth decade of independence.