Senegal: the new ruling duo wants to take up the challenge of economic sovereignty

Senegal: the new ruling duo wants to take up the challenge of economic sovereignty
Senegal: the new ruling duo wants to take up the challenge of economic sovereignty

The Senegalese presidential election took place on March 24 after unprecedented events. She brought to power in the first round a man who was recently still unknown to the general public: Bassirou Diomaye Faye (“BDF”). Despite chronic violence for three years, Senegalese tradition has prevailed with this transition according to the rules of the art.

BDF, 44, is in fact a traveling companion of Ousmane Sonko, 50, founding president of the opposition movement PASTEF since 2014, and sentenced to a prison sentence which made him ineligible. His provocative and sharp tone convinced the young and popular electorate of the need to clean up the institutions. Long considered an adventurer, he is now named Prime Minister. The understanding and effectiveness of this tandem will determine the success of the project.

The campaign program “For a sovereign, just and prosperous Senegal” details the values ​​which must animate the surge: patriotism, work, ethics and fraternity. The inspiration is “left pan-Africanist”, but the ideology nevertheless seems to take a back seat to the urgency of a certain pragmatism. Indeed, the implicit findings indicate a lucid vision of the weaknesses of Senegal, a mixture of French institutional heritage and socio-cultural constraints.

The economic “project”

The proposed measures are institutional: deconcentration of powers and decentralization to local authorities; administrative reform with an emphasis on quality, control and digitalization; increased control of finances and spending.

They are also economical, with an emphasis on value creation based on local processing. To these ends, we find a reform of the Labor Code, support for SMEs, promotion of microcredit (Islamic) and the primary sector (“food security”). Training is not forgotten with the creation of technical universities and the improvement of professional sectors.

The key, of course, lies in financial resources. For former tax inspectors, this is a dream project which could consist of systematizing collection and removing privileges, hence the project of “formalization of the economy” via banking. In addition, the renegotiation of the distribution of income relating to the exploitation of energy, infrastructure, fishing or mineral extraction could ultimately increase state income.

It is really the sovereignty of Senegal – the notion comes up 18 times – which constitutes the keystone of the program. In this context, the State has a dual role: that of “umbrella” towards the outside world, and that of “engine” to create a virtuous dynamic. Paradoxically, this desired modernization of the Senegalese state amounts to development modeled on the West. However, it should mainly draw inspiration from Moroccan, Turkish and Gulf Arab models. Almost no reference is made to tradition and local customs, there is rather a desire to extract the country from its doldrums.

During his inauguration on April 2, then during the speech to the Nation the next day, the president paid tribute to respect for the electoral process, to the Constitutional Council, to democracy. He promised a program of peace and national reconciliation. He wants to work for the Senegalese, and improve discipline and rigor in governance. A dig at the “colonizers” and their “alleged civilizing mission”, and a desire to reassure.

The priorities are recalled: economic development, strong private sector, employment, youth, and a challenge to the Senegalese people: the permanent cult of work and results. In a first document addressed to civil servants, the BDF president sets the following principles: “Jub, Jubal, Jubanti”, which translates from wolof, by “Be straight, go straight, straighten what is crooked”. Reform must begin with an examination of conscience.

West Africa and international partnerships

At the regional level, Senegal wants to play a role in the reform of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), considered as a club of presidents under the thumb of Westerners, and probably promote the reintegration of rebel countries (Mali, Burkina, Niger), the two subjects being linked. The desired monetary reform (exit from the CFA franc) concerns the entire West African Economic and Monetary Union – made up of the three aforementioned countries, with Benin, Togo, Ivory Coast, Guinea Bissau – unless, Okay, Senegal is not opting for its own currency.

With regard to its international partners, Senegal must work towards greater autonomy: emancipation from the injunctions of international institutions, national economic preference and local transformation… Will it do so through continuity or rupture? Let us remember that in six countries of the Sahel strip, a putsch put the military in place, and that three of them radically turned their backs on the former colonizer in favor of Russia.

Generally speaking, candidates close to the West are replaced as the latter’s influence erodes; new figures sweep away the existing political class and emphasize sovereignty; an anti-French feeling is evident at all levels, although expressed differently; other presences and influences are being felt, such as those of China, India, Turkey, Russia, the Gulf countries, etc. These trends are developing thanks to different factors, including insecurity linked to to armed groups, largely attributed to France, and the consequences of galloping demographics.

To what extent does Senegal recognize itself in the dynamics of its putschist neighbors? We can bet that Dakar will be able to find a clean path that could bring everyone together.

Indicators for the future

The need for in-depth work does not exclude symbolic gestures to calm an impatient electorate. In addition to certain social measures, we must expect announcements which scratch in various ways what remains of “French influence”. Let us cite for example the definitive closure of the French Elements base in Senegal (EFS), the questioning of contracts signed with Eiffage (motorway) and SETER (TER train), the “generalization of English in schools”, the “promotion of national languages” and the “integration of Koranic schools”.

However, there is currently no sign of a rapprochement with Russia. However, we could imagine in the “reorganization of the energy sector” (electricity through gas extracted on site, and introduction of nuclear power via small modular reactors) a window of opportunity for new partners. The competition between different geopolitical ambitions, without exclusion or preference, but in the sole interest of Senegal, should thus become the norm.

The last words of the program sum up its spirit well and give the new rules of the game:

“Ultimately, these levers for mobilizing financial resources will allow Senegal to free itself from development aid (…) which has become (…) a threat to any sovereign country. »

Jean-Baptiste Bless was an analyst within Minusma (the United Nations multidimensional integrated mission for the stabilization of Mali), then a regional security advisor on behalf of Swiss embassies and cooperation offices in West Africa.

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