Between River Senegal and the country Senegal, which got the name first and which adopted the name of the other? Senegal is adopted from the Wolof people, some of the earliest inhabitants of West Africa. It comes from the name ‘sunugal’, whose translation is “everyone is in the same boat”. Senegal the country, took up this name since the Senegal river runs along its northern and eastern borders, separating it from Mauritania and Mali as it flows downstream towards the Atlantic Ocean.
River Senegal originates from a confluence of two rivers, Semefe and Bafing which originate from Guinea and meet in Mali. From the confluence, River Senegal flows West then North for about 1,790 kilometres. During its course, it also collects waters from other tributaries like the Faleme River which originates from Guinea, the Gorgol of Mauritania and the Ferlo of Senegal. Throughout its course, the river forms beautiful physical features like cataracts and waterfalls. As it approaches its mouth, it forms a thin strip of sand called the Langue de Barbarie. It then empties its waters into the Atlantic Ocean.
The rich history of the Senegal River dates way back to the 13th and 14th centuries when a famous gold producing empire thrived along its banks. The Ghana Empire, later on called the Mali Empire, comprised of middlemen and traders who engaged in Trans-Saharan trade. They called River Senegal “the river of gold” due to the immense gold deposits that once lay on its beds. They traded salt, gold and slaves, and used River Senegal to transport them to the coastal harbour.
In the present day, River Senegal greatly contributes to the economic growth of Senegal, Mali and Mauritania. Along its course, there are dams erected to create reservoirs for multiple purposes. The Mantali dam of Mali and the Maka-Daima of Mauritania and Senegal help in preventing sea water from moving upstream. Other purposes associated with the dams include but are not limited to recreation, irrigation, flood control, production of hydroelectric power and domestic use.
The use of the river for transport has gone down since the decline of the Trans-Saharan trade of the Old Ghana Kingdoms. The transportation of goods and passengers is limited since the river channel is narrow and shallow in some regions. There are plans by the joint body of Mali, Mauritania and Senegal called the OVMS to make the river entirely navigable. The plan is to give Mali, a landlocked country, a direct route to the sea by connecting it to River Senegal via an artificial channel.
The drainage basin of River Senegal, which is approximately 270,000 square kilometres, is a habitat to a wide variety of flora and fauna, commonly regarded as the Senegal catchment. It bears close resemblance to the Gambia River basin, which prides itself in richness of fish, frogs and other rare animal species. These two river basins are similar ecosystems, with endemic wildlife species.