Senegal: The Passing of the Khalifa of the Niassene Tijaniyya

On August 2, a key leader of the Tijaniyya Sufi order in Senegal and in Africa more broadly, Shaykh Ahmed Tidiane Ibrahima Niasse, passed away in Dakar. He is set to be buried in Kaolack, Senegal today (August 6). President Macky Sall is scheduled to visit Kaolack on August 8 to offer his condolences.

Niasse was the son of the extraordinarily influential Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (1900-1975), who transformed, revitalized, and expanded the Tijaniyya not just in Senegal, but throughout West Africa (especially northern Nigeria), into Chad and Sudan, and beyond. His community’s epicenter is Kaolack (map) and specifically the area known as Medina Baye; it is one of three main spiritual centers in Senegal alongside Touba (for the Mouridiyya Sufi Order) and Tivaouane (for another branch of the Tijaniyya). Watching the condolences come in from different parts of the world – Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Chad, etc. – one gets a sense of the map of Niasse’s enduring influence.

In Senegal as in many other parts of the Muslim world, major Sufi leaders are succeeded by their descendants. In this sense the term “Khalifa” does not indicate a claim to the Caliphate whatsoever, but rather operates in its root meaning of a “successor.”

Another note is that Shaykh Ahmed Tidiane Niasse was named for Ahmad al-Tijani (d. 1815), the founder of the Tijaniyya as a whole, who lived in North Africa.

The new Khalifa for the Niassene Tijaniyya is the late shaykh’s brother, another son of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse, Mohamoudul Mahi. Succession within Senegal’s major religious families typically proceeds laterally through one generation before proceeding to the next generation.

It is worth noting that there are multiple poles of spiritual authority for the Niassene Tijaniyya in Kaolack and worldwide. Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse’s grandson Hassan Cissé (d. 2008) became a highly influential figure in his own right, and his brothers have continued to act as major leaders for the community.

There is a vast scholarly literature on the Niassene Tijaniyya. Here I will mention two works: Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse’s early life and career was the subject of a meticulously researched book by Rüdiger Seesemann. And the community’s approach to knowledge and spiritual training was the topic of an excellent book by Zachary Wright.

Revisiting Senghor-Era Senegal

At Africa Is A Country, Florian Bobin has two new pieces about Senegal during the era of its first president, Léopold Sédar Senghor (1906-2001, in office 1960-1980). The pieces are adapted from Bobin’s articles in Research on African Political Economy.

In the first piece, Bobin discusses Senghor himself, arguing that the image of Senghor as a men of letters has drawn a veil over the harshness of his rule:

Although Senegal did not experience the same political crises as its neighbors, the mythification of “poet-president” Senghor has blurred our understanding of his political actions. Under the single-party rule of Senghor’s Senegalese Progressive Union (UPS), authorities resorted to brutal methods; intimidating, arresting, imprisoning, torturing and killing dissidents. Recalling he was both a poet and a president is a matter of fact, but associating both, while refusing to recognize the authoritarianism he displayed, is historical nonsense.

The second piece discusses the intellectual and activist Omar Blondin Diop (1946-1973), Bobin connects Diop’s presumed assassination to the wider theme of Senghor’s authoritarianism:

The assassination of Omar Blondin Diop cannot be understood as an isolated incident, but as one tragic episode in a long series of tenacious acts of state-led repression in Senegal. Decolonization in Africa has often been the story of the birth of newly independent states in the 1960s. However, the persistence of foreign interests backed by national governments became a common sight in former French colonies. Well into nominal political independence, burgeoning autocracies largely stifled revolutionary prospects of emancipation from capitalism and imperialism. We don’t often hear of resistance movements in Senegal during Léopold Sédar Senghor’s rule (1960-1980) because his regime successfully marketed the country as “Africa’s democratic success story.” Yet, under the single-party rule of the Progressive Senegalese Union, authorities resorted to brutal methods; intimidating, arresting, imprisoning, torturing and killing dissidents. Omar Blondin Diop was one of them.

I’ve never really dug into the Senghor period. By the time I started doing research in Senegal in 2006, both he and even his successor Abdou Diouf were long out of power, and most of my friends and interlocutors were relatively young people with few or no memories of the Senghor period. He was often held up to me in a sort of one-dimensional way as an example of Senegalese interreligious tolerance, as the Catholic president of a Muslim-majority society. I think what Bobin is doing in these pieces is very useful – as Bobin acknowledges, Senegal’s history is different from many of its West African peers, but that doesn’t mean Senghor’s record can’t be examined critically.

Out of curiosity, I flipped back to my go-to reference on Senegal, Leonardo Villalón’s Islamic Society and State Power, to see how he characterized Senghor. Among other passages on Senghor, Villalòn makes a really interesting point in one endnote (7):

I have not read these works on Senghor. But perhaps Bobin’s work fits into a tradition of sorts – a greater willingness to criticize Senghor in Anglophone, versus Francophone, scholarly literature.

Roundup of IMF Statements on Disbursements to Sahelian Countries amid COVID-19

On April 15, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved six-month debt service relief for twenty-five low-income countries, including the Sahelian countries Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, and Niger.

The IMF has also given disbursements to each of those countries to help offset the impact of COVID-19.

Burkina Faso ($115.3 million, approved April 14):

The immediate challenge is to contain the spread of COVID-19, strengthen medical care, implement the social distancing and other containment measures, and mitigate the socio-economic impact of the pandemic, especially on the most vulnerable.

[…]

The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Burkina Faso is rapidly unfolding, with the short-term outlook worsening quickly. The pandemic comes at a time when Burkina Faso was already gripped by a heightened security crisis. The authorities responded by putting in place measures to help contain the spreading of the virus, including by closing schools and universities, banning mass gatherings, and suspending international travel. Though absolutely needed to contain the outbreak these measures, together with the global response, have significantly worsened the economic outlook in the near term, with real economic growth declining substantially, and both the fiscal and balance of payments deficits widening significantly.

Chad ($115.1 million, approved April 14):

Due to a significant deterioration of the macroeconomic outlook and weakening of fiscal situation, urgent external and fiscal financing needs have emerged. The IMF’s support will make a substantial contribution to filling immediate external needs and preserving fiscal space for essential COVID-19-related health expenditure. It is also expected to help catalyze additional donor support.

Mali ($200.4 million, approved April 30):

This assistance will help support urgent spending on health services and assistance to affected firms and households, while preserving overall social spending.

[…]

The COVID-19 shock hit the economy hard amid an already challenging social and security situation. The economic outlook has deteriorated significantly, and growth is expected to slow to below 1 percent, increasing already high unemployment and poverty.

Mauritania ($130 million, approved April 23):

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a dramatic human, economic, and social impact on Mauritania. The short-term economic outlook has deteriorated rapidly and growth is expected to turn negative this year, with severe hardships for the population, and the outlook is subject to considerable uncertainty. These developments have given rise to urgent balance of payment and fiscal financing needs.

[…]

The IMF’s financial assistance under the RCF will provide a sizable share of the financing needed to implement the anti-crisis measures. Additional concessional and grant financing from the international community will be critical to close the remaining financing gap and help Mauritania respond effectively to the COVID-19 crisis.

Niger ($114.5 million, approved April 14):

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a pronounced negative economic impact on Niger and downside risks are significant. The economic downturn, fiscal pressures, and tightening financial conditions are giving rise to large financing gaps in Niger’s public finances and balance of payments this year.

[…]

A substantial widening of this year’s budget deficit is appropriate, reflecting unavoidable revenue shortfalls and pressing spending needs for health care, social protection, and support for hard-hit businesses.

Senegal ($442 million, approved April 13):

The Covid-19 pandemic is hitting Senegal hard. The sharp global economic downturn and domestic containment measures have led to a substantial reduction in economic activity, with sectors such as tourism, transport, construction, and retail particularly hard-hit, and the pandemic in Europe is also translating into lower remittances. As a result, the short-term economic outlook has deteriorated significantly, with large uncertainties surrounding the duration and spread of the pandemic.

 

Senegal: Presidential Candidacies of Karim Wade and Khalifa Sall Blocked

Today, Senegal’s Constitutional Council turned down the candidacies of Karim Wade and Khalifa Sall for the 24 February presidential elections. The candidacies had been provisionally advanced last week after they met the requirements for candidates’ dossiers, such as collecting signatures. Twenty other candidacies had been rejected at that stage.

Wade is the son of former President Abdoulaye Wade (in office 2000-2012), and Sall is the former mayor of Dakar. The Council ruled that Sall, who has been sentenced to a five-year prison term on embezzlement charges, lacks the right to run, while Wade cannot run because he lacks an elector’s card – which he lacks because of an earlier judicial sentence. Both candidates have been blocked for essentially the same reason, although the applicable sections of the electoral code (L27 and L31 in Sall’s case, L115 in Wade’s) are different.

There are now five candidates remaining:

  • Macky Sall, the President (BBY)
  • Ousmane Sonko, parliamentary deputy (Pastef)
  • El Hadj Issa Sall, parliamentary deputy (PUR)
  • Madicke Niang, former Minister of Foreign Affairs (dissident PDS)
  • Idrissa Seck, former Prime Minister (Rewmi)

And a victory by the president looks virtually assured now.

Senegal’s Presidential Elections: The Seven Candidates So Far

Senegal will hold presidential elections on 24 February. As of 9 January, seven candidates had been approved by the Constitutional Council. Here are their micro-bios, with their party affiliations in parentheses:

  • Macky Sall, the President (BBY)
  • Khalifa Sall, former Mayor of Dakar (Taxawu Senegaal)
  • Karim Wade, former Minister of State for International Cooperation, Regional Development, Air Transport, and Infrastructure and son of ex-President Abdoulaye Wade (PDS)
  • Ousmane Sonko, parliamentary deputy (Pastef)
  • El Hadj Issa Sall, parliamentary deputy (PUR)
  • Madicke Niang, former Minister of Foreign Affairs (dissident PDS)
  • Idrissa Seck, former Prime Minister (Rewmi)

Twenty-seven candidacies were initially presented. Among those rejected, the one getting the most attention is Malick Gakou (Grand Parti), who the Council said was 546 signatures short on his dossier.

The definitive list of candidates is supposed to come out on January 20.

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):

 

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.