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.