Lundi 22 Avril 2019  

N°124 - Quatrième trimestre 2018

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  S.E.M. / H.E. Doudou Salla DIOP

Senegal: High Ambitions for Africa

Under President Wade, Senegal has begun actively reflating its economy, after reconfirming its commitment to democratic values in November 2002, with the nomination of new Prime Minister Idrissa Seck. H.E. Doudou Salla Diop, the Ambassador of Senegal to France, speaks of his country’s desire to achieve closer regional integration and build a united and strong Africa.

The Diplomatic Letter: Mr. Ambassador, The 2000 Senegalese presidential elections brought the first changeover of power between political parties since your country gained independence. Could you describe President Abdoulaye Wade’s greatest achievements over the past three years for our readers?

His Excellency D.S.D.:
It is obviously rather difficult to make that kind of assessment after just three years, especially after a changeover of power that marked a break, of sorts, in Senegal’s political history. All we can do is attempt to assess the first stage, which should give us a better idea. After 19 March 2000, the date of the presidential election, President Abdoulaye Wade set right to work reinforcing the stability of Senegal’s institutions, without neglecting the country’s economic concerns. Institutions are our principal problem in Africa. If you look at the nations currently experiencing crises, you will notice that they are not impoverished countries. These countries are rich, as a general rule, or have great wealth potential: ex-Zaire, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, or even Nigeria, to a lesser extent. This goes to show that a country needs more than wealth, or resources, to make real headway. I am convinced that what Africa needs, more than anything else, is stable, democratic institutions on which it can build its long-term future.
To that end, in January 2001, President Wade put a new constitution before the Senegalese people, who overwhelming approved it by referendum. The president can be reelected just once, for a term in office reduced to five years. Legislative and judicial powers were also strengthened.
After the political changeover, Senegal began an unprecedented drive to reflate the economy and make it reflect the country’s excellent geographic location, great human potential, high-quality infrastructures, and, most importantly, its attractive investment code. This is why we are seeing growing interest in Senegal, from both national and foreign investors. Investors are getting direct support inside the country from the Investment Promotion and Major Projects Agency (APIX). This agency has a special office that simplifies procedures and shortens the time it takes to set up a business and begin working. All these things are considerable achievements that have been accomplished since the political changeover. They have enabled us to lay solid foundations for true economic development.  
The amount of total investment in Senegal has nearly tripled this year, compared to the past three years. This means that the country's political changeover, political stability, and investment security are spurring more and more economic operators to invest in Senegal. In Senegal, in contrast to other countries, the reliability of our institutions ensures that investors  have recourse no matter what happens. Let me add that our institutional framework will soon be completed by the creation of the High Council of the Republic, which will take over the role once played by the Economic Council, with assistance from public authorities.  

T.D.L.: On 4 November 2002, President Wade named Idrissa Seck to serve as the new Prime Minister. Is Senegal’s new head of government planning to launch concrete measures aimed at making good on his promise to “give substance” to President Wade’s “vision”? Could you describe the main obstacles he will have to overcome to that end?

I don’t think they can really be called “obstacles.” If there is no movement, there is no institutional life, nor political life. At one point in time, it was necessary to designate a Prime Minister who met a specific profile. At another point, the President decided the time had come to boost the government’s efforts by adding a political dimension. It was hence decided to appoint Idrissa Seck as Prime Minister. Mr. Seck has been working alongside the President for several years. And while he is relatively young, he has wide experience and solid training. Mr. Seck has the full confidence of the Head of State, and shares his political doctrine and beliefs, as clearly witnessed by his overall political agenda.

T.D.L.: President Wade has been quite busy lately in the diplomatic arena.  Has this prompted a shift in Senegal’s foreign policy and cooperation strategy? Could you outline your country’s major foreign policy goals, and the direction it would like to head in the future?

President Wade’s foreign policy has, in my opinion, been shaped by his unwavering commitment to work alongside the people of Africa to achieve peace and civil harmony, and to create a prosperous and stable Africa. President Wade is a sworn Africanist who has written a great deal on the future of Africa. He has even gone so far as saying he would be willing to hold a governing post in a united Africa, which shows you the depth of his feelings and his commitment to Africa.
His credo calls for the establishment of democracy on the continent, an essential requirement if Africa is to seize its great potential and finally step up to play a significant role in our ever more globalized world, especially in the economic and trade arenas. Globalization could bring great hope and great benefits. But we need to make it more humane, and take its negative impact into account as well. The social costs of globalization must be curtailed, for instance, as this process will no doubt leave many underprivileged people by the wayside. We want controlled globalization.
This is why Senegal is working so hard to promote NEPAD. This option requires us to use clear, unequivocal language to help find a partial or complete solution to crises. For we can still hope that a good many of the problems experienced by these countries will disappear, once they are become wealthier and stabilized.
Foreign policy is a vital tool. Senegal’s diplomatic influence far exceeds the weight of its national resources. Geographically speaking, Senegal is indeed a tiny country. It may not be very rich, but it does play a key role in the entente between nations, thanks in part to its first-rate diplomatic efforts and the exceptional skills of its leaders.
President Wade would like to focus our diplomatic efforts more specifically on development, laying greater emphasis on the economy. To that end, most of our embassies will soon have their own economic mission.
The Senegalese diaspora abroad is an ever important part of this diplomacy. In fact, the full name of our MFA is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the African Union, and Senegalese Abroad.
President Wade has also reenergized our Arab-Africa policy, which is absolutely vital. We have strengthened our position in Arab countries. As you know, Senegal has chaired the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People for several years now. What’s more, we have also made inroads in Europe, as well as the United States. Our ties with this great country could not be better, especially now that the U.S. has opened up its market to us through the “African Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA).
We also have excellent relations with Mauritius, which has begun a campaign to relocate some of its businesses to Senegal. We have worked to build stronger ties with Asia as well, in view of the great potential of Asian countries. These countries have managed to overcome underdevelopment in just a few short years, thanks to hard work, ingeniousness, and worker training. President Wade recently initiated the opening of an embassy in Malaysia. Hence not only is our foreign policy expanding rapidly, it has also taken on a new planetary dimension.

T.D.L.: The events of Sept. 11th brought to center stage the fight against international terrorism and radical Islamic groups that pose a serious threat to international security. Do you fear a rise of religious fundamentalism in Senegal, a predominantly Muslim country? On a broader level, what can be done to prevent people from confusing fundamentalism with Islam?

As a country widely renowned for being open and tolerant, Senegal does not have this type of problem. There is very good reason why Senegal is called the land of “teranga” (“welcome” in Wolof).
Shortly after the events of Sept. 11th 2001, Senegal displayed its unwavering determination in this area by convening a conference in Dakar focusing on the fight against terrorism.
Our country, which is majority Muslim, condemns any and every form of terrorism. But one must avoid making generalizations, at all cost. We have excellent relations with other Muslim countries, and belong to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Yet we do not fear a rise of “Islamism” here.
First, because we practice a tolerant brand of Islam that grew out of Sunni and Malekite traditions. Don’t forget that President Senghor, who was a Catholic, led this country of 95% Muslims for twenty years, without encountering the slightest problem. In Senegal, the same family can have members who are Muslim, while others are Catholic, and still others practice another faith. We help the others celebrate their holidays, and everything works out just fine.
The country of Senegal is a blend of many cultures. We have long been aware that we all share a common destiny. Compared to other African countries, we don’t have any tribal problems. And even if our country does have several languages, we are lucky in that Wolof is spoken and understood by all. It is an important factor of integration and unity. Don’t forget that Dakar was once the capital of French West Africa (AOF). The AOF was a cultural crucible, with Dakar serving as a sort of “melting pot,” thanks to the university and a branch of the Ecole Normale that trained all of Africa’s leaders, including figures like Houphouet-Boigny and so many others from that time. Bolstered by its strong traditions, Senegal used all these outside contributions to brace itself and to build a stable country, removed from all the dangers mentioned above. In fact, in Senegal, the various brotherhoods have the situation well in hand.
This is the outgrowth of a long historical and cultural process, a long companionship with other peoples. Furthermore, conditions here do not necessarily resemble those elsewhere. For that very reason, we cannot attempt to export the “Senegalese model.” We don’t mind at all if the Senegalese experience can be useful in giving others ideas, but we have no desire to impose it on anyone else.

T.D.L.: Promoting closer sub-regional and regional integration has been a driving force behind Senegalese diplomacy. Could you describe the importance of the creation of the African Union for our readers, and the advantages it brings? What type of role do you see Senegal playing in this Union, which is envisioned in the Senegalese constitution?

By including the vision of an African Union in its constitution, Senegal once again displayed its unwavering faith in the creation of large regional and sub-regional groups forming a homogenous and fully integrated entity. This entity will be built around a region and no longer on the notion of the State, particularly as regards the priority areas targeted by NEPAD. This concerns virtually every sector – such as energy, the environment, and transportation – and will boost inter-African trade and help bring Africa out of its isolation.
With that in mind, Senegal plans to give priority to reinforcing peace in Africa, using the African Union as its principal tool. The Union is setting up its institutions right now. We want to give Africa the means it needs to develop, and thus show the great error of “Afro-pessimism.”
Remember that while Africa does have the necessary resources and enormous  potential, it doubtless lacks the middle managers it needs. By stemming the brain drain, while rationalizing our needs and attuning inter-African cooperation efforts with the training level of our teachers, doctors, attorneys, judges, etc., we will be able to establish a framework favorable  to spurring lasting development and building peace on the continent.

T.D.L.:  President Wade spoke out a few weeks ago in favor of creating a “West Africa Federation.” How would this Federation be organized, and what goals would it pursue? What advantage is there to creating a federation in a sub-region already melded together by ECOWAS and WAEMU?

The goal is to perfect the architecture that already exists. It is a long-term vision, which will enable us to join the globalization process in the most effective and most advantageous manner possible.

T.D.L.: Senegal currently holds the presidency of ECOWAS, which is behind the negotiations opened in Togo on 30 October between the Ivorian government and the rebel forces. Could you give us your thoughts on the crisis in Cote d’Ivoire, in light of the signing of the Marcoussis Agreement on 24 January 2003? It was decided to send in a special intervention force, which Senegal agreed to head up. Do you think this force will be able to get the job done?

Let me start by saying there is good reason to deeply regret what is happening right now in Cote d’Ivoire. This country is vital to West Africa, from every standpoint: in terms of its history, its wealth, its geopolitical situation, and its economic weight in the region.
Cote d’Ivoire is a sister country with which we have had deep and multifaceted ties for several generations. In fact, a good many people of Senegalese descent have served in the Ivorian government. We are thus greatly concerned by what is happening right now in Cote d’Ivoire, in view of the historical, cultural, and human consequences. President Wade has put a great deal of effort into this campaign. As president of ECOWAS, he has been trying to iron out a solution ever since Senegal managed to procure the first ceasefire agreement. But this remains a very difficult situation.
I am trying hard to be realistic. Thirty years of diplomatic experience have taught me to avoid making predictions about crises of this nature, because there are contradictory factors at work here, as well as elements over which we simply have no control. Certain interests at play here tend, in general, to mar a situation like this.
As you know, the notion of who is – and who is not – “Ivorian” has played a significant role in the unfolding of this crisis. We talk about the North, and the South, about religion, about the Muslims in the North, and about the Catholics and the animists in the South.
Everyone needs to realize that there are three things we need to let lie in Africa, three monsters that should never be woken. The first is the problem of ethnic groups. The second is religion. The third is borders.
I have high hopes that with the help of France and the good will of everyone involved – displayed already by countries like Togo, Mali, Ghana, France, etc. – we will be able to eventually find a solution and bring these negotiations to a successful conclusion.
T.D.L.: There seems to be little hope right now of permanently resolving the conflict in Casamance, a region plagued by separatist strife since 1982. The leader of the MFDC recently called for opening “fair and sincere negotiations” on Casamance. How is the Senegalese government planning to handle this situation? How are your country’s relations with Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, both of which share borders with this southern Senegalese province?

The situation in Casamance is truly regrettable. There are, of course, objective causes behind this problem. The region of Casamance felt it was being left behind, due to its hemmed-in position. It is only normal for a region to ask for more roads, hospitals and infrastructures, when it sees that the rest of the country is comparatively more developed.
It is not normal, however, to demand independence and try to amputate the territory of Senegal. This is the real crux of the problem.
Having said that, President Wade realizes that Ziguinchor must receive as much attention as the country’s other cities, such as Thies and Dakar, for instance. You must understand that the people of Casamance are part of the Senegalese nation. This is of prime importance. The Senegalese nation is a reality that came to life very early on in our country.
We hope to see reason win the day, and thus avoid useless bloodshed. There are also unscrupulous men who are using this problem to achieve their own hidden ends. They have rushed into this breach, constantly stirring up hate and high emotions, and trying to turn them to their advantage. This is totally unacceptable. Casamance should not be treated like a lucrative business.
I think that all parties have come to realize that peace is the only answer. The daughters and sons of this region are fed up with this situation, which has go on far too long. They want to see peace firmly established, without delay. I can assure you that President Wade is doing his utmost to resolve this problem as quickly as possible, thanks to the good will of all concerned.
With regard to Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, both are sister countries and good friends. Our families are very close, so close we could almost talk of a shared cultural zone.
That said, it is perfectly normal for friends to disagree from time to time. This has happened between Germany and France, because they are next-door neighbors. It is up to us to handle these disputes in a responsible manner.
As concerns our dispute over oil with Guinea-Bissau, our first reaction was to put the matter before the International Court of Justice. But we felt that we should, as brothers, be able to reach an agreement and  resolve this disagreement through a friendly arrangement.
Problems have arisen from time to time with Gambia, because of the  ferryboat crossing. But we have managed to work out a reasonable solution, in a friendly atmosphere, each and every time. In conclusion, it could be said that the strong sense of responsibility shared by all three Heads of State has always enabled us to reach a peaceful solution. And so much the better.

T.D.L.: What has NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa’s Development) achieved since its creation one year ago, at the last OAU summit in Lusaka? As the country that fathered this initiative, what does Senegal hope to accomplish through NEPAD? Do you believe that NEPAD will be able to bring an end to the underdevelopment that has plagued Africa?

We Senegalese truly believe in NEPAD. Everything I’ve heard at the various OAU debates I have attended leads me to believe that every State in Africa shares our faith. Everyone is working hard to make NEPAD a success. We simply cannot fail: this is our last chance.
The countries of Africa have been trying to build States using public funds ever since they claimed independence. It has not worked. Our debt has mushroomed. We can’t even say exactly where it stands right now. Piling up debt was not the answer. We then decided that we needed to develop through State structures, public funds, etc. But that didn’t work either. We have no choice now but to turn to the private sector, which spurred the development of the more powerful countries and brought them democracy, instruction, and the many benefits of a free-market economy. We thus decided to pool our means and thought capacities, to pull Africa out of the woods. Our partners believe we can do this.
This has been confirmed at every major summit. In fact, President Chirac has been one of our biggest advocates. He is doing his utmost to ensure that  concrete measures, enabling us to get to the heart of the matter, are taken at the upcoming G8 summit in Evian. The studies are almost finished. We must now tackle the crux of the problem, which is how to finance NEPAD. It is in everyone’s best interest to ensure that NEPAD becomes a reality and that we win this bet, which revolves primarily around the notion of good governance.

T.D.L.: On a broader level, what does Africa need to do to overcome its economic isolation and adapt to the new rules laid down by the WTO? How would you assess current cooperation between Europe and Africa? Does the continent’s future hang on the rise in power of its two great giants, Nigeria and South Africa?

I would like to start by underscoring a point I believe is absolutely essential, concerning our relations with developed countries. I am talking about subsidies. You cannot ask Africans  to not subsidize their agricultural sectors, and tell them to privatize farms, with all the social costs this entails, and at the same time set up a system that protects your own farmers. When you grow cotton, for example, and that cotton is subsidized, then the rules of competition have been bent. This is not fair. There needs to be more fairness in the international trade arena. The countries of Africa and the developed countries must sit down and debate this. In addition, following the principle of “laissez-faire, laissez-passer,” it must be easier for Senegalese nationals, and Africans in general, to obtain the visas they need to travel to developed countries on business.
Likewise, most methods of transportation (shipping lines, airlines) are in the hands of foreign companies, and are still too expensive. These high costs are greatly handicapping our exports.
As for the rise in power of Nigeria and South Africa, this is something that greatly pleases us. Both these countries undeniably have considerable assets. We hope they will continue to grow, and become very successful. Still, our wish to create NEPAD is a reflection of our belief that we need to cooperate in a fair and just manner, sharing our capabilities in a more effective way in a prosperous Africa. But this will not happen until we have established conditions that ensure true stability.

T.D.L.: Though heavily in debt, Senegal still has a healthy economy. One of the singular aspects of the Senegalese economy is its large informal sector. What is your country doing to bring down the debt and reduce the weight of the informal sector, which has a negative impact on the economy?

I think that an informal economy was a necessity, at a given point in time. To understand this, we need to look back at the historical process that led to the underdevelopment of African countries. In the past, all the commerce in Africa was controlled by large colonial concerns. There were no other trade alternatives outside this commercial system, which was reserved only for people with the necessary training. This led to the blossoming of informal trade, which enabled ordinary people to buy supplies from traveling merchants, peddlers, and go-betweens. Some of the most deserving vendors became wealthy businessmen, who went on to build powerful international trade networks. These men invented new forms of commerce that made merchandise available to more consumers. In their own way, they helped to boost consumption. But things have changed since those days. Many well-established businessmen started out in the informal sector, but left it behind to move into the formal sector. They have gone on to build factories, and become industrialists. Some have built up extremely prosperous businesses. Their great success has earned them the right to our help. To be frank with you, I don’t think we will ever be able to completely wipe out informal trade. But I should also say that we are doing everything in our power to help these businesses, many of which have become full-fledged groups. And while they do already use  accountants and computers, we would like to see them gradually conform to all required standards.

T.D.L.: Former Senegalese president Abdou Diof was elected Secretary General of the International Organization of the Francophonie at the Beirut Summit last October 20th, with the support of his old political adversary President Wade. How can the Francophone community’s interests be defended, at a time when the French language seems to be losing ground on the African continent? Can the Francophonie be more than just a zone that shares a common language?

Senegal worked hard to elect President Abdou Diof to the head of the International Organization of the Francophonie. I firmly believe, along with President Wade, that a president elect’s support for an outgoing president offers a lesson in tolerance and democracy that goes well beyond this election. It also shows just how calm the political process has become in Senegal.
President Diof’s election is also very good for the Francophonie. As you know, the language is no cause for concern, as French is our official language. We share a common history and special relationship with France, and have long been one of its key partners.
The growing number of countries expressing their desire to join the Francophonie proves that the organization is making headway. There are currently 51 member States. The Francophone cause continues to broaden, and now encompasses a wide range of fields, including the business arena. In that sense, it can indeed be said that the Francophone movement is moving forward.
We cannot, however, deny that English has become predominant in the business world. We must not forget that the sun never set on the British empire, which explains why so many countries now speak English. What’s more, a good many trends of thought and theories were conceived and written in English.
It is up to us, of course, to reverse this trend and to do whatever is necessary to reestablish a better balance.  
The current French government has made it clear that it is fully aware of the need to reenergize Francophone cooperation, along with university and linguistic exchanges, which were left to stagnate for quite some time.
Without going into too much detail, let me just say that we must all understand that it is in our interest to step up this cooperation, in terms of influence. Sooner or later it will begin bearing fruit, not only in the economic arena, but in that French-speaking Africans will naturally be drawn to France.

T.D.L.: Senegal and France are close partners, particularly in the military and strategic arenas. How would you describe current bilateral ties between Senegal and France? Could you outline the main objectives and challenges of French-Senegalese relations, focusing primarily on  economic ties, trade, and investment?

I think we could almost say that relations between Senegal and France constitute a unique case, in terms of France’s ties with Third World countries. From a historical angle, it should be noted that the Senegalese were one of the first to present the States General with a register of grievances, way back in 1789. It should also be recalled that the Senegalese were French well before the Alsatians, or the people of Lorraine, or the Savoyards, or the natives of Nice. That is extremely important. Don’t forget that Napoleon’s armies already had Senegalese soldiers, who fought for France. In 1914 we had the very first Black deputy in the French Chamber, Blaise Diagne, who was also the first African to hold a French ministerial post. Then came Senghor, and other African leaders who linked their names with the history of France. This has ensured France a very special place in the heart of the Senegalese, and vice versa.
In fact, if you look at how people behaved during the last World Soccer Cup, you will recall that once France had been eliminated, the French automatically shifted their support to the Senegalese team. If the roles had been reserved, the exact same thing would have happened. To such an extent, in fact, that we are often criticized for being too close to the French. We accept this historical closeness. This closeness can be explained by our history, our culture, our shared adventure. We see France as a country naturally attuned to the rest of the world. Some countries are feared, others are admired. France is a country that is naturally loved, and admired.
I am in the habit of saying that when a country inscribes the triptych “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” in the bedrock of world history, when a country produces the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen – a document that has put its stamp on every major world institution – that can never be forgotten. When it comes to the struggle for human rights and freedoms, France is in a class of its own.
We, the Senegalese people, accept the great responsibility of being a partner of France, and seize every possible chance to prove that these ties are far from tenuous. Just travel across France, and you will see Senegalese who died for France and freedom, in war after war, buried in every cemetery.  
Our day-to-day cooperation is excellent. France is Senegal’s leading partner. But we are not foolish, we do not expect the impossible. As President Wade says, we do not come to Paris looking for a handout. We realize that the world is changing, and that bilateral cooperation must in turn change. France has its own problems. We are not trying to push it to keep on endlessly giving.
We are a free and sovereign country, with Dakar making the decisions. We are constantly strengthening our relations within the framework of this renewed partnership.
We have confidence in France, and in its President Jacques Chirac. President Chirac is our best advocate, and is working hard to ensure that bilateral relations remain warm and strong. The same climate reigns throughout French institutions in general. We understand that the France of 2003 is changing. France has realized that something can indeed be done in Africa, while still respecting the various sovereignties. We are very pleased about this.
I firmly believe that democracy is our greatest achievement. We are thus working hand-in-hand with France, in international institutions, to build a better world.
It only remains for us to transform and to enhance our partnership and ties in the economic and trade arenas, where there is still a great deal that needs to be done, to the benefit of all.
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