Like many African countries, poverty is rampant in Senegal. Also, GDP per capita has actually declined over the past 25 years. The GDP per capita in 1975 was US$609 and by 1998 it had fallen to US$581 (at 1995 U.S. dollar exchange rates). In the same year, the GDP per capita in the United States was US$29,683. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which classifies countries according to their human development index score (HDI), ranked Senegal 155th out of 174 countries in 1998, while the United States ranked third. The HDI is a composite index that examines specific figures on education, health, and standard of living. Senegal's low ranking reflects the country's low development in these areas, consistent with its overall poverty.
|GDP per Capita (US$)|
|SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.|
|Distribution of Income or Consumption by Percentage Share: Senegal|
|Survey year: 1995|
|Note: This information refers to expenditure shares by percentiles of the population and is ranked by per capita expenditure.|
|SOURCE: 2000 World Development Indicators [CD-ROM].|
|Household Consumption in PPP Terms|
|Country||All food||Clothing and footwear||Fuel and power a||Health care b||Education b||Transport & Communications||Other|
|Data represent percentage of consumption in PPP terms.|
|a Excludes energy used for transport.|
|b Includes government and private expenditures.|
|SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.|
The people of Senegal, like many of the poor across the world, spend much of their money on getting the necessities of life, such as food. The UNDP estimates that food averages 52 percent of Senegalese household consumption compared to the United States, where food only accounts for 8 percent of household consumption. For this reason, the Senegalese are vulnerable to increases in the price of basic foods. Because food is the highest priority, little money is left over to pay for other necessities such as clothes and shelter. The poor make up most of the urban population and live in run-down areas or makeshift shanty towns thrown together on land that is not paid for. Saving to escape the conditions of poverty is not an option, since the poor must spend all their money to survive.
The poverty of most of the Senegalese people stands in marked contrast to the wealth of the country's small elite. After independence, the elite comprised a few Senegalese businessmen in the private sector, influential politicians, government ministers, university professors, and political cadres (in this case, members of the Socialist Party) who worked for parastatals. As Sheldon Gellar notes in his book Senegal: An African Nation Between Islam and the West , the elite group is predominantly male, urban, highly educated, politically connected, and able to afford European-style living standards. Perks include the ownership of cars, modern appliances, nice villas or apartments, the provision of good schooling and higher education for their children, and opportunities to travel abroad. In the rural areas, Muslim clerics, known as marabouts, make up a wealthy agricultural elite. Gellar also notes that structural adjustment plans have increased the inequality between the Senegalese elite and the masses. While the standard of living for the poor has declined, the nation's wealthy continue to prosper.