Guest Post: Interview with Amb. Mouhamadou Doudou Lo

[This guest post comes from Joseph Hammond, a freelance journalist. You can read more of his reporting on the 12th Islamic Summit here. Joseph in on Twitter here. - Alex]

Senegal’s Ambassador Mouhamadou Doudou Lo is one of Senegal’s high profile diplomats. His career has seen postings in a number of Arab capitals and also a stint as Senegal’s ambassador to Brazil. More recently Lo has served as Senegal’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia in Riyadh. Lo has subsequently become a key figure in Senegal’s relationship with the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation. Senegal has traditionally played a leadership role in the OIC. Founded in 1969, the OIC is the world’s second largest intergovernmental organization after the United Nations and is based in Jeddah. The ambassador spoke with Joseph Hammond on the sidelines of the of the 12th Islamic Summit in Cairo.

Following bilateral meetings on the sidelines Islamic Summit in Cairo, Senegal decided to re-establish relations with Iran. Can you tell us why Senegal chose this as the moment to resume relations with Iran?

We reevaluated the situation with regard to Iran [at the Islamic Summit], the Islamic Republic of Iran is after all a fellow OIC member country and we now realize that it is the time for us to re-establish our relationship[with Iran] because we are moving in the same direction. Thus, our relationship has been re-established in a way that respects our sovereignty and our rights within the framework of the Muslim world and the workings of the OIC.

….As I understand it in 2011 Senegal broke relations with Iran over Iranian arm shipments to rebels in Senegal. Have the issues related to severing of ties with Iran been resolved?

“We don’t want to look backward and on this issue… [from our perspective] it has been resolved. Now we are looking forward and hoping to develop a relationship within the framework of friendship, a forward looking relationship with improved cooperation.

Senegal has been an active member in the OIC since the beginning of the organization. While this was the first time  the Islamic Summit was hosted in Cairo, Senegal has twice hosted the Islamic Summit including the last Islamic Summit held in 2008 in Dakar. What were some of Senegal’s achievements as president of the OIC?

Until the Islamic Summit in Cairo, Senegal had the extraordinary opportunity to hold the presidency of the OIC for an extraordinary 5 years. This is due to the fact that the Islamic Summit was twice postponed before the meeting in Cairo. The last five years during which Senegal has been President of the OIC, have been productive ones. During this period the OIC has seen a number of new achievements including a new logo and the renaming of the OIC from the Organization of the Islamic Conference to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. These are some of the many achievements toward the modernization of the OIC as an organization that Senegal has been a part of. We have also helped in progress toward other goals as well. In particular in the cultural sector, where we held a leadership role in the OIC Standing Committee for Information and Cultural Affairs (COMIAC).

Cultural issues were a big part of the past Islamic Summit. Since the last Islamic Summit, the Muslim world has seen the desecration of a number of historic sites weather in Libya or in Mali. Indeed, Muhammad VI, the King of Morocco touched on attacks on Mali’s “cultural heritage” during his speech to the Islamic Summit. How is the OIC seeking to address this issue?

Historic sites in the Muslim world need to be protected whether in Africa or elsewhere. The resolution on Mali passed at the 12th Islamic Summit in Cairo condemned the destruction of cultural sites in Timbuktu. The OIC must take steps to ensure the situation we have seen in Mali will not be repeated. We must preserve the cultural and historic heritage of [the] world’s Islamic monuments. These are sites important to [the] world’s history and heritage as well.

Senegal: A Response to the New York Times Regarding Abdoulaye Wade

This is a guest post from Adam Steinfield, a Dakar-based journalist. Adam takes on important issues regarding the use of evidence in journalism. He argues that the New York Times has mischaracterized the role of ex-President Abdoulaye Wade on the Senegalese political scene, and proposes an alternative understanding of Wade’s role and status. – Alex

There have been numerous academic studies done on how the Western media cover Africa.* While reporting varies from nation to nation, there are some overlapping trends. Western journalists tend to cover Africa in a sensationalized manner. Atypical stories are chosen to represent Africa as a whole with the majority of coverage focusing on negative, crises-driven news. A recent example of this is the New York Times piece, “In Spirit and in Form, Ousted Titan Keeps a Hold Over Senegal,” which suggests that political corruption runs rampant in Sénégal and that their recent democratic transition of power was hollow.

The piece deals with the on-going presence of ex-President Abdoulaye Wade in Sénégalese politics. Wade was voted out of office in late March while trying to run for a controversial third term in a fairly heated election. Now Wade continues to make headlines as an outspoken figure on the political scene and the Times article posits that praising Sénégal for a peaceful transition of power may be a bit premature. Some sinister suggestions are made that Wade is actually still running things from behind the scenes.

From a journalistic standpoint, there is not much offered in the way of proof. Vague references to Wade’s autobiography and the fact that his press secretary continues to sign his releases “President” are the only sources offered in the first four paragraphs. By this point, the article has already made several assertions on Wade’s position in the power structure, as well as on Wade and his successor Macky Sall’s state of mind.

The article’s argument is centered around two main points. First, Wade remains front and center in the minds of the people. The article supports this by quoting newspaper headlines, claiming people still refer to him as “Master Wade” without providing any proof, and offering anecdotal evidence that he still enjoys the support of the influential and wealthy marabouts (Sénégalese religious figures).

The second point deals with money. Wade’s government acquired over 400 new cars while in office and allegedly distributed many of them in return for political fealty or favors. All of this occurred while Wade was President, but the implication is that Wade still possesses a great deal of resources that allow him to influence proceedings. The article also outlines President Sall’s response to this, which was to revive an anti-corruption agency to track down the vehicles and other misappropriated resources.

Most of the article’s concerns toward Wade are easily answered. Instead of unsupported suspicions of Wade secretly pulling the strings, one could simply look at his very legitimate role in the current political system. Wade is currently the Secretary-General of the Parti Démocratique Sénégalais, which happens to be the largest opposition party in the government at the moment. In most democratic countries the leader of the opposition receives a significant amount of press coverage and support from the citizenry. Wade’s resources and ties with the marabouts make him slightly more dangerous than the average opposition figure I suppose, but if all that alleged power couldn’t save him from a landslide loss in the election, I have trouble seeing what it will do for him now. Especially since the anti-corruption group appears to be making some headway.

None of this is to say that Wade has no more designs on power. The problem is that the article fails to provide any specific instance or evidence of Wade actually retaining or gaining newfound power since the election. The piece falls right into the same old coverage of Africa by playing up the negative while ignoring more positive stories. There is certainly a time and a place for stories on political corruption in Africa, and even in Sénégal specifically. However, due to the ubiquity of the frame of political corruption on the continent, journalists should make doubly sure the frame fits before applying it.

I do think the Times has made an effort to offer well-rounded reporting on Sénégal. For the most part their election coverage was even-handed and their recent piece on wrestling in Sénégal (laamb) offered an interesting look at an important part of Sénégalese culture. There are plenty of other stories to write about as well; from Dakar’s recent fashion week, to the battle between Sall’s government and foreign fishing industries over fishing licenses, or the regional initiative to build a “Great Green Wall” across the Sahel. This time though, the Times sensationalized Wade’s headline grabbing by suggesting the transition of power was null. In doing so, they fell into the same rote characterization of politics in Africa that journalists have been using for a long time.

* See, for example, Narinder Aggarwala, “Third World News Agency.” Paper presented at the conference on “The Third World and Press Freedom,” The Edward R. Murrow Center for Public Diplomacy, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, New York, May 12-13, 1977.