Archaeological findings throughout the area indicate that Senegal was inhabited in prehistoric times. Islam, the dominant religion in Senegal, first came to the region in the 11th century. Today, 95% of Senegalese 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. Various European powers came to the area from the 15th century onward, until France ended up in possession of what had become an important slave trade departure point. Independence from France was gained in 1960, on April the 4th.
In January 1959, Senegal and the French Sudan 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. Senegal and Sudan (renamed the Republic of Mali) proclaimed independence. Léopold Senghor 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 power over in 1981 to his handpicked successor, Abdou Diouf.
Senegal joined with The Gambia to form the nominal confederation of Senegambia on February 1, 1982. However, the union was dissolved in 1989. Despite peace talks, a southern separatist group in the Casamance region has clashed sporadically with government forces since 1982. Senegal has a long history of participating in international peacekeeping.
Abdou Diouf was president between 1981 and 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, opposition leader Abdoulaye Wade defeated Diouf in an election deemed as free and fair by international observers. Senegal experienced its second peaceful transition of power, and its first from one political party to another.
On December 30, 2004 President Abdoulaye Wade announced that he would sign a peace treaty with the separatist group in the Casamance region.