Senegal has been characterized as a bastion of democratic government in a region plagued by instability and authoritarian dictators. The West African country, which at one time was an important trading post in the Atlantic Slave Trade, gained independence from France in 1960 and has been a democratic republic ever since. Its first President, Léopold Sédar Senghor, was a philosopher and poet who also wrote the national anthem and is considered one of the most prominent African intellectuals of the 20th century. Since his time in office Senegal has enjoyed both a stable system of government and a relatively stable economy, although there is still widespread poverty.
The culture of Senegal is intimately related to West African traditions and the twin influence of both Islam and the French, who made first Saint-Louis and then Dakar the capitals of French West Africa. The music of Senegal is one of its foremost exports, it is heavily influenced by the Serer percussive tradition and has become known as Mbalax. Youssou N'Dour is the most famous Senegalese musical icon, and has become a hugely important cultural figure in the country, and has even attempted to break into politics. Other popular Senegalese singers include Baaba Maal, Akon Thione Seck, Viviane, Titi, and Pape Diouf.
The literature of Senegal is one of the most vibrant in West Africa, but although many works are produced in French, the number of translations into English is still relatively few. However several writers have been translated, or have produced works in English. These include Sembene Ousmane, who is also a film director, he wrote God's Bits of Wood, a depiction of a strike on the Dakar-Niger Railway and directed Moolaade, which tackles the controversial issue of female circumcision in Burkina Faso. Other Senegalese writers include Ginny Baily who wrote Africa Junction, Mariama Ba, who wrote So Long a Letter and Scarlet Song. Boubacar Boris Diop is another notable Senegalese writer whose Murambi, the Book of Bones is a depiction of the Rwandan genocide.