Once a constituent state of several prominent West African empires and later a major port of origin for African slaves in the 17th and 18th centuries, Senegal has experienced one of the most successful postcolonial democratic transitions in West Africa. Developing an economy based on the mining, petroleum extraction, and industrial operations, Senegal's economic expansion has facilitated its positive political standing and, as a consequence, the country is an important regional actor. Richly endowed with natural resources, politically stable, and culturally rich and complex, Senegal’s 13.5 million population is urbanizing and relatively connected to the outside world, particularly around Dakar, the capital, and along the country’s coast. However, isolated rural Senegalese, who comprise 45% of the population, face difficult odds in meeting their agricultural needs on the semi-arid, desertified land in the country’s northern and eastern regions. Lack of water, high rates of inequality, and continued poverty slow economic progress. According to the World Bank, nearly half of Senegal's population lives in poverty.