Senegal: More on Macky Sall’s (and Marième Faye’s) Visit to Touba

Earlier this week I posted about the upcoming Magal celebration in Senegal. The Magal is a mass gathering of the Mouridiyya, one of the country’s two major Sufi orders; the event commemorates the return of founding Shaykh Ahmadou Bamba (1853-1927) from exile in Gabon during French colonial rule. The Magal takes place in the Mouridiyya’s hub, the city of Touba.

The event attracts courtesy calls from various politicians, including President Macky Sall – who, as one specialist pointed out to me, is not particularly popular in Touba. In the first round of the 2012 elections, then-incumbent President Abdoulaye Wade won an outright majority in the Mbacké Department, where Touba is located (and then went on to lose the overall election to Sall in the second round). As I discussed in my last post, this year the Mouride hierarchy had to publicly intervene to stop a junior shaykh from “sabotaging” Sall’s visit to Touba this year. Although it is partly, as mentioned above, a simple courtesy call, this visit is possibly more important than the average such call, as this is the last Magal before the February 2019 presidential elections.

Some press reports indicate that Sall’s visit went well. And reporters are calling attention not just to Sall but also to the First Lady, Marième Faye. One headline reads, “Macky in Touba: This Gesture by Marième Faye, Calculated or Not, Reinforces His Popularity.” From the article:

Having arrived late to the great room of Khadim al-Rasul [servant of the Prophet, a common title for Ahmadou Bamba among the Mouridiyya] residence at the moment when her husband, President Macky Sall, was going to begin his speech beside the Khalife General of the Mourides, the First Lady, Marième Faye, suddenly crouched down in the middle of the audience, a few steps from the doorway she had just crossed. Like a simple disciple.

Photos here.

Such images and moments have a longer history, as articles like this one spell out. From the Catholic President Leopold Senghor to the somewhat reservedly Tijani President Abdou Diouf to the overtly Mouride President Abdoulaye Wade and the openly Mouride President Macky Sall, the relationship between the Senegalese presidency and the Sufi orders – and we might say the Mouridiyya in particular – has been dynamic, even if certain deep continuities persist. Wade’s public displays of Mouride affiliation were controversial, particularly among intellectuals in the capital, one of whom coined the now-famous descriptor of “the Republic on its knees” in reference to Wade’s prostration to the Mouride Khalife General in 2000. Has something changed since 2000, in terms of how these moments play out in Senegalese public life? It’s beyond my expertise to say – but the parallels are interesting. I’m also reminded of something several young Mourides said to me when I lived in Senegal in 2006-2007, namely that it was divinely ordained that Senegal would first have a Christian president, then a Tijani president, and then all the rest would be Mourides thenceforth. Wa-Allahu a’lam.

Here, finally, is the president’s speech (in Wolof):

 

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Senegal: Politicians Visit Touba in Advance of the Magal [Updated]

The Magal is one of the most important annual religious events in Senegal. A mass gathering in Touba, the epicenter of the Mouridiyya Sufi order, it commemorates the return of the order’s founder Ahmadou Bamba from exile in Gabon during French colonial rule. This year’s Magal is scheduled for 26/27 October 28 October, and as such will be the last gathering before Senegal holds its presidential elections in February 2019.

The occasion can take on political ramifications, which are obviously a bit heightened this year. There has been a bit of controversy amid the planning for President Macky Sall’s annual pre-Magal courtesy trip to Touba. The head spokesman* of the Mouridiyya, Cheikh Bassirou Abdou Khadre Mbacké, had to explicitly tell Serigne Modou Bousso Dieng, head of the Association of Young Religious Leaders of Senegal, not to disturb the president’s visit. Dieng told the press that he submits completely to those instructions, but he added that “I remain convinced that Touba does not enjoy major consideration from President Macky Sall. In view of what this city represents on the religious plane and in terms of population, it merits more regard and this is not the case!”

Dieng, who is already a declared candidate for the 2019 presidential election, has previously said that he will withdraw if the former ruling party, the Parti Démocratique Sénégalais (PDS), nominates former foreign affairs minister Madické Niang. The latter recently received some rhetorical support from another of Senegal’s three most prominent Sufi families, the Sy branch of the Tijaniyya in Tivaouane; that family’s head said that former President Abdoulaye Wade should retire from politics (and stop attempting to impose his son Karim as the PDS’ 2019 candidate). In any case, back in Touba, the stage appears set for a smooth visit by the president circa October 25.

It is worth noting, however, that certain politicians are heading to Touba before Sall gets there. One is former prime minister and likely presidential aspirant Idrissa Seck, who arrived Monday for a four-day stay, heading out of town just before Sall’s arrival.

*[Update: I misidentified Khadre – he is the spokesman, not the head/khalifa general of the Mouridiyya. The khalifa is .Mountakha Bassirou Mbacké. See more from Ousmane Diallo here.]

Theresa May and Angela Merkel in Africa

This week, UK Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have both done multi-country trips to Africa.

Here are their respective itineraries.

May (find the official roundup of her speeches, press conferences, and announcements here):

  • South Africa, 28 August
  • Nigeria, 29 August
  • Kenya, 30 August

Merkel:

  • Senegal, 29 August
  • Ghana, 30 August (see a Ghanaian government press release here)
  • Nigeria, 31 August

I do not think the trips are meant to compete with one another – the fact that both leaders put Nigeria on the itinerary simply reflects Nigeria’s importance, I suspect.

Thematically, the trips had different emphases – May’s trip was a multi-pronged effort that touched on trade, investmentsecurity (including a “first ever UK-Nigeria security and defence partnership…[in which] the UK has also offered to help Nigeria – for the first time – train full army units before they deploy to the North East”), and financial crimes. The UK also announced that new embassies will open in Chad and Niger.

Meanwhile, migration seemed to dominate the agenda for Merkel. From Al Jazeera:

On her tour, Merkel is expected to discuss migration prevention with the leaders of Ghana, Senegal and Nigeria, where a large portion of African migrants arriving in Germany originate from.

The chancellor hopes to find a way to prevent them from starting their journeys, including providing more development aid to their countries.

In terms of how the trips are going, I should confess that I’m not the biggest fan of May, but I’m not alone in thinking that there have been a few sour notes.

May’s interlocutors, meanwhile, are openly concerned about Brexit’s global impact:

Merkel’s trip has also come in for its share of criticism, especially from those who raise doubts about the feasibility and moral status of the European Union’s approach to African migration. Here is an excerpt from the Al Jazeera piece linked above:

George Kibala Bauer, a Congolese-German contributing editor at Africa is a Country online publication, told Al Jazeera that Merkel’s recent interest in Africa was the result of a considerable political pressure against her, including from her own political allies, for her perceived open-migration policy.

“This is not only morally questionable but also practically misguided,” he said.

[…]

Bauer said the EU has increasingly empowered third countries, and effectively outsourced certain tasks to states in the Sahel region and the Horn of Africa.

We’ll see whether anything else comes of the trips.

Analysis of Senegal’s Legislative Elections

I’m up at World Politics Review with a piece on Senegal’s legislative elections, which took place July 30. An excerpt:

A closely fought site was Dakar, symbolically important as the home turf of the president’s main rival and politically important as the country’s capital and most populous city. Initially, both [the ruling coalition Benno Bokk Yakaar] BBY and [Dakar mayor] Khalifa Sall’s coalition claimed victory there, with a margin of less than 3,000 votes. Winning Dakar would not fundamentally change the balance of power in parliament, but the opposition hoped to prevent a rout. In the end, official results accorded a narrow victory to BBY.

Senegal: Details on Dakar’s Urban Rail Project

Bloomberg:

Senegal closed finance arrangements for a $1 billion urban rail project for its capital after finalizing an agreement with the African Development Bank.

The AfDB agreed to offer 120 billion CFA francs ($212 million) for the project that will link Dakar with its main airport, which is 46 kilometers (29 miles) to the east, Economy and Finance Minister Amadou Ba told reporters in the city on Friday. The deal followed after pledges of 197 billion francs from the Islamic Development Bank and 133 billion francs from France, Ba said.

From the AfDB:

This 36 km long railway line will connect the heart of the capital with the new and growing city of Diamniadio. Some 113,000 passengers are expected to borrow it every day by 2019.

In Dakar, 80% of the 13 million daily trips are made on foot due to lack of efficient and cheap public transport. Dakar and its suburbs nevertheless concentrate nearly a quarter of the population of Senegal and contribute to more than half of the national GDP. In this ever-expanding conurbation, the future regional express train will play an essential role, facilitating the daily life of the inhabitants, enabling them to travel smoothly to their work and access to the working areas, as well as to reduce traffic congestion on the road network.

“The project should unleash the growth potential of Dakar and its region,” said Mohamed Ali Ismaël, transport economist at the AfDB, especially since it must be linked with other existing or future modes of transport, such as the Transit Rapid Transit (BRT) project, which will effectively serve the suburbs.”

A few other relevant documents:

  • Overview of the Islamic Development Bank’s projects in Senegal
  • Overview of the Senegalese government’s “Plan for an Emerging Senegal,” of which the regional express train is a part
  • A one-page factsheet (French) on the regional express train
  • Jeune Afrique’s report (French) on the project launch in December. The report mentions that three French firms – Alstom, Engie and Thales – are participating in the project. According to official press releases from those companies, Alstom is providing trains, while Engie and Thales will build the rail system and specifically “will direct the engineering group, provide overall management, and conduct all integration testing.”

Brief Notes on Senegal’s Upcoming Legislative Elections

On July 30, Senegal will hold legislative elections to fill 165 seats in the unicameral National Assembly, including 15 seats to represent the Senegalese diaspora. Legislators serve five-year terms. The elections come between the 2012 presidential election and the 2019 presidential election, and as such they are the field of considerable maneuvering in advance of the 2019 contest. These elections are also the first to follow the 2016 referendum that brought various changes to Senegal’s political system. Most relevant to these legislative elections are “amendments [that] encourage even more party splintering, since the new constitution reduces barriers to independent candidacy.”

As Jeune Afrique (French) explains, before the official campaign began on May 30/31, there were initially two major coalitions of parties: Benno Bokk Yakaar (United in Hope), associated with incumbent President Macky Sall and the current parliamentary majority, and the opposition coalition Manko Taxawu Sénégal.

Within the opposition, however, disagreements (French) about who should head the coalition’s list caused a split, resulting in the formation of a major splinter group called Coalition gagnante Wattu Sénégal, with a list headed by former President Abdoulaye Wade. The remnants of Manko Taxawu Sénégal put forth a list headed by Khalifa Sall, mayor of the capital Dakar – who remains in jail, in a case I discussed here. Khalifa Sall’s key ally in the coalition is former Prime Minister Idrissa Seck.

Meanwhile, Benno Bokk Yakaar’s list (French) is headed by current Prime Minister Mohammed Dionne. BBY also includes veteran politicians such as Ousmane Tanor Dieng of the Socialist Party* and Moustapha Niasse, current president of the National Assembly and head of the Alliance of the Forces of Progress. The international Francophone press largely expects BBY to win, given the opposition’s internal divisions and BBY’s big tent. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see what Wade is like in parliament, and also to see whether Khalifa Sall’s partisans are successful not just in getting him elected, but in getting him freed.

*Khalifa Sall is the leader of a dissident wing of the Socialist Party.