Senegalese Politicians and French Educations

On Monday, Macky Sall was inaugurated as Senegal’s fourth president, just over a week after defeating President Abdoulaye Wade in the second round of elections. President Sall has begun assembling his team, beginning with the appointment of former banker Abdoul Mbaye as prime minister. Reuters (at last link) stresses Mbaye’s role as a “technocrat” “without any party affiliation.” I was struck by something else:

Mbaye, who studied in Senegal and France’s top business schools, previously worked at West Africa’s BCEAO central bank and has been credited with turning around several ailing private banks in the West African state.

Where people have studied always interests me. I wrote – before the coup in Mali – about the top four contenders for the (now derailed?) presidential elections in that country, and how all of them had studied in France. What this means is open to question. Commenters pondered whether for Mali, the trend of politicians studying in France was a lagging indicator – whether it holds among older politicians, but might not prove true for younger ones.

In Senegal, a generational transfer of power has not disrupted the trend of presidents having French educations. Sall (bio in French) studied in Dakar and at the French Institute of Petrol in Paris. In this, he follows his predecessors – Leopold Senghor, who studied at the ecole normale superieure and the University of Paris; Abdou Diouf, who studied at the Sorbonne; and Wade, who studied at the lycee Condorcet. Sall, unlike the other three, was born after independence.

I am not trying to exaggerate the importance of a trend among what is, in the case of Senegalese presidents, quite a small sample, only four men (I have not yet put together a file on the educational histories of prime ministers, though Sall served also as PM, meaning between him and Mbaye we have at least two French-educated PMs). Nor am I trying to say that this trend reveals an insidious neocolonialism. And some things are changing. Indeed, Wade, setting an important precedent in my view, has said he will retire within Senegal and not in France, breaking with the choices of Presidents Senghor and Diouf. On the other hand, I think it is worth asking what light the educational question sheds on overall relations between former colony and former metropole, and what role French education plays in the formation of today’s political elite in Senegal.

3 thoughts on “Senegalese Politicians and French Educations

  1. Alex,

    You cannot really form an opinion on this subject without doing a study on the political classes in Senegal and Mali. You also have to consider what impact today’s student union politics is likely to have on the future political direction of these two countries – and my suspicion is that the impact isn’t likely to be minimal.

    Macky Sall is at least fifty years old and his position of prominence could have more to do with his personal qualities than his education abroad.

  2. Just to add, I studied for my first degree in Nigeria and did my Masters in Britain. Does that make me “British educated”? I don’t see myself as primarily being “British educated”, because my formative schooling was in Nigeria.

    From what you wrote about Mbaye, he probably had some form of higher education in Senegal. Isn’t he more of a University of Dakar graduate who topped up his first degree with foreign education.

    His first degree studies are extremely important because that is probably when he came in contact with the individuals and the student union politics that will prove extremely useful in later life. From my experience in Nigeria, it is the associations that one forms during his undergraduate days (student union politics, student associations), that are useful in politics in later life (Lamido Sanusi was a student union activist at ABU Zaria for example).

    Those who do their first degrees in Harvard for example, are disadvantaged. They don’t tend to have the ability to key in to already existing networks. They are normally considered for technocratic positions, but aren’t well suited for elective politics.

  3. Pingback: After you study abroad, you become president | Higher Education + International Development

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