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How do religious factors affect Senegal’s development agendas?

By: Lauren Herzog Wilma Z. Mui

September 13, 2016

The Berkley Center at Georgetown University and the World Faiths Development Dialogue (WFDD) presented the findings of their two-year effort to “map” the intersections of development and religious agendas in Senegal during a visit to Dakar in August. The main event was a publication launch on August 19. Katherine Marshall, Lauren Herzog, and Wilma Mui formally launched Pleins feux sur la foi et le développement : le Sénégal, the French version of Faith and Development in Focus: Senegal. The report is part of the Religion and Development: Country-Level Mapping project supported by the Henry R. Luce Foundation. Senegal is one of four focus countries, which also include Bangladesh, Kenya, and Guatemala. The report—published in May 2016 in English and translated to French in July 2016—highlights development topics and sectors where religious factors have special significance. It offers an overview of Senegal’s religious landscape and a more in-depth analysis of the work of faith-inspired actors in selected development sectors.   

The publication launch event was held at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Dakar. There was a presentation of the methodology and key findings, followed by a discussion. The 40 plus participants represented many different organizations and groups, including religious groups, FIOs, agencies, and NGOs, reflecting the partners who had contributed to the research. The animated discussion focused on how the report might be used and its findings applied. A striking theme was keen interest in how Senegal’s rich history helps to understand its current trajectory and religious landscape.   

A central theme in the discussion was how new this discussion was, which was surprising given the obvious relevance of religious beliefs and institutions for Senegal’s development. There was applause for the effort, as well as recognition that the research is a beginning with many more topics that could be examined. The role of faith values in motivating development initiatives is both central and sensitive. Participants remarked that the report addresses significant knowledge gaps. The intersectionality of religion and development is a rich area of research. Future avenues of research should include deeper analysis of the education sector, land tenure, and agriculture. It could contribute to a greater understanding of regional differences, particularly the Casamance region of southern Senegal.     

The event launched an important dialogue, and the participants emphasized the need for follow up meetings. The conversation needs to bring in a larger group of stakeholders. The Berkley Center/WFDD team welcomed, and has continued to receive, valuable feedback. In short, the goal for the event—launching an operational dialogue—was achieved.