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


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.”

Senegal: The Arrest of Dakar Mayor Khalifa Sall and Its Effects

Khalifa Sall is the mayor of Dakar, the capital of Senegal. He is also a key opponent of Senegal’s President Macky Sall, and a prominent member of the Socialist Party. On March 7, the Dakar High Court indicted and detained Khalifa Sall on charges of embezzlement. Today, he is supposed to appear for a new hearing (French).

The mayor’s defenders see the case as politically motivated – as a way for Macky Sall to attempt to shape the coming legislative elections in July and to neutralize a potential challenger for the next presidential elections, scheduled for 2019.

Politically, the short-term impact seems to have been to raise Khalifa Sall’s profile even further, especially among the opposition (French). He is now, Le Monde says, “the man to beat” in the legislative elections, in which he plans to run his own slate of candidates. Jeune Afrique (French) says that the situation has “galvanized the opposition.”

The case is having noticeable effects not just on the political sphere, but also on the religious plane. Interestingly, the Sy family of Tivaouane, one of the most prominent Sufi families in the country (they are leaders within the Tijaniyya order), is intervening on Khalifa Sall’s behalf. If this source (French) can be trusted, the new head (khalifa) of the family has telephoned Macky Sall to ask for Khalifa Sall’s release. The khalifa invoked the Sy family’s ties to Khalifa Sall by marriage as the reason for his intervention. A younger but quite prominent member of the Sy family, Mansour Sy, was even more outspoken in his support (French) for the Dakar mayor, pledging that he would go to prison with him if he is convicted. How much the entreaties and threats from Tivaouane matter to Macky Sall will be interesting to see.

Africa Blog Roundup: Dakar Fashion Week, South Sudan, Dual Citizenship, Lagos, Djibouti, and More

PEN’s statement on the sentencing of Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega.

Also from Ethiopia, reports of clashes between police and Muslim protesters (some background here).

Africa Is A Country on the cultural politics of representing Africa in fashion (and how Dakar Fashion Week breaks the mold):

As designers continue to release fantasy collections inspired by their latest trip to exotic, mystical and faraway lands (Michael KorsGiorgio Armani) and fashion editorials feature white models amidst backgrounds of hyper-sexualized dark bodies in seemingly equally dark continents (Daria Werbowy for Interview Magazine), it is clear that for the fashion world, Africa represents a sort of otherness. That otherness, and especially the sexuality of the other, is marketed as flavor and spice, something new, sexually raw and stimulating. Whether depicted in high-fashion advertisements or on the runway, racial difference becomes both at once threateningly pleasurable and seductively dangerous, positioning it at the intersection of most intimate obsessions with desire and death.

Lesley Anne Warner on Washington and Africa policy:

On one hand, DC is a highly intellectual, international city brimming with opportunity and access. On the other hand, it can be very insular and one can easily fall into the trap of assuming all knowledge can be found in DC or its immediate vicinity. It’s the latter that irks me.

On top of having writer’s block, I’ve also had a very introspective week – which is why I was reminded of this Beltway dichotomy at an Africa event I recently attended. The speaker was addressing a pretty controversial topic, but was very politic in their remarks and when it came to Q&A. Their remarks did not spark a heated debate, which should have been the case given the subject matter. Instead, it sounded like a pitch for maintaining the status quo of U.S. engagement in Africa – regardless of the inherent idiosyncrasies of our approach (security at the expense of democracy, for example), or any potential areas for improvement.

Amb. David Shinn flags two items from the US Institute of Peace on the trajectory of South Sudan.

Dr. Kim Yi Dionne on “Diaspora, Development, and Dual Citizenship”:

Last month, Malawi President Joyce Banda traveled to the UK and US to participate in international summits related to aid and development. During President Banda’s visit to the US, she spoke at a specially convened meeting of the Malawi Washington Association (MWA), an organization of the Malawian diaspora in the US.

There has been a lot of chatter recently about harnessing African diasporas to develop their home countries, and the MWA is no exception. The MWA discussion (at least as seen on the email listserv) focuses on the need for Malawi to offer dual citizenship.

Amb. John Campbell on Lagos, taxation, and success.

Reflections on Djibouti from an American soldier.

Don’t forget, if you are in DC, do come to discuss these topics (including the relationship between DC and Africa!) at Science Club on Tuesday.

Dakar Photos

Taking my comprehensive exam on theories of religion today (let’s hope I pass, otherwise I’ll have to look into what full-time blogging pays!), so I’ll leave you with this collection of photographs from urban Senegal by Mimi Mollica.

“For me, it was important to portray a different Africa than the one of war, natural disasters and diseases,” said Mr. Mollica, who is based in London. “I wanted to portray an everyday Africa, one that has to deal with the major issue of development.”

I will try to post some links roundups over the weekend. Otherwise, see you on Monday.

Summer 2010 Catch-Up: Senegal’s Electricity Crisis

After being away from this site for some time, I’m going to ease back into blogging by summarizing a few big stories from the last two months or so. This approach will help me and readers to catch up on news, and will also give me the chance to take a slightly longer view of events than I usually do in day-to-day blogging. I’ve decided to start with Senegal’s electricity crisis.

Senegalese citizens have periodically protested power shortages for years, and the IMF urged the country to “revamp” its electricity infrastructure last fall, but this summer has seen an outpouring of public anger over problems with electricity supply in Dakar and elsewhere. Although cuts in service typically occur between July and October, the shortages are worse this year. In mid-July residents took to the streets in several major cities. At least one protester died in Dakar, reportedly at the hands of police. The electricity crisis has major political significance: From the beginning of the protests, complaints about the national power firm, Senelec, went hand in hand with criticisms of the administration of President Abdoulaye Wade.

The outages also have a broad economic impact, inconveniencing small businesses, interrupting household activities, increasing families’ expenses on fuel, and potentially harming the rice harvest.

The government’s reaction has not defused criticism. Explanations for the cuts have varied, with officials citing fuel quality concerns, “cashflow problems,” aging facilities, and a need for new plants as factors in the crisis.* Popular anger has prompted a wave of finger-pointing among elites, with some parliamentarians demanding answers from the administration. Trade groups, Muslim leaders, and intellectual organizations have organized boycotts and further protests.

At the end of July, the government unsuccessfully attempted to halt the protests. An official ban in late July disrupted one planned march, but this Saturday an opposition-led rally denounced the administration even as government spokesmen insisted that the electricity supply is returning to normal. If that promise holds true, the protests will almost certainly cease. But if the crisis continues, the protests – and the opportunity they give the president’s opponents to link the electricity crisis to broader criticisms of the regime – will almost certainly expand.

It seems unlikely to me that the Senegalese electricity crisis, should it continue, will threaten the existence of the present regime. But it has wounded the administration’s legitimacy. The crisis, moreover, resonates with broader feelings of discontent about governance in Senegal, a trend that could strongly affect the elections in 2012.

One last and pretty obvious point: Problems with electricity, because they cause havoc in so many people’s daily lives, can activate particularly intense forms of popular disgust with politicians. That’s true even though some places in Africa “have it better” than others. Even if the problems are relative they still matter to people a lot. Having now spent time in both Dakar and Kano, I can say that the power situation in the former is much better than in the latter. But the issue arouses strong political feelings in both cities. The frequent conversations I had in Kano about the electricity crisis there almost always included mention of politics and government corruption, and I imagine similar conversations are going on right now in Dakar. People in both places are upset, even when they adjust their expectations to new lows in service. The governments that fail to provide electricity where it is demanded risk incurring major, long-term resentment from citizens. There are only a few problems with infrastructure (water supply comes to mind) that are more disruptive than power cuts.

*One explanation obliquely placed some responsibility on China. I will be curious to see if blaming China (rightly or wrongly) for economic problems features more frequently in African politics as China’s presence on the continent grows.

Senegal and France’s Military Role in Africa

On April 4th, Senegal will mark fifty years of independence from France. And at some time before that, the approximately 1200 French soldiers stationed in Dakar will withdraw and close the French bases there. Apparently some degree of military cooperation will continue.

Senegalese soldiers at President Abdoulaye Wade's inauguration, Dakar, 2007

Before taking a look at what this might mean, a little context:

Senegal and France signed a defense agreement in 1974, but when France began rethinking its military strategy in 2008, it also began to reappraise its presence in Africa.

In August 2009 French President Nicolas Sarkozy promised that the renegotiation of defence agreements in eight African countries would be wrapped up by the end of last year.

However only two have been signed, with Togo and Cameroon, and a third is to be signed soon in the Central Africa Republic.

A French white paper on defence, published in 2008, announced an eventual “presence on the Atlantic side of the African continent (and) on its eastern side,” implying that either the base in Libreville or Dakar would be sacrificed.

Hoyawolf directs us to an English-language .pdf of this white paper. The document, at over 300 pages, is too long for me to read in full, let alone analyze systematically, but some parts stood out to me: the introduction emphasizes the French military’s role in a context of rapid change and unpredictability, and uses language about national security in addition to language about defense. Also, the white paper identifies the Sahel as one of “four critical regions” in “the arc of crisis, from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean” (41), and recommends “a European strategy built around a balanced partnership” with Africa (43). I don’t know what the implications of those generalities are, but I wonder if what France has in mind is a military presence that is agile and leaves a light footprint. In that case maybe they feel a base in Dakar is not necessary.

Further context regarding French military strategy in Africa comes from a report by the Council on Foreign Relations. The report includes a helpful map showing French bases in Dakar, Libreville and Djibouti, as well as French missions in Cote d’Ivoire, Chad, and the Central African Republic. In terms of history, CFR states that “France intervened militarily in Africa nineteen times between 1962 and 1995,” but that since the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 and other events in the mid-1990s, “a new [French] Africa policy emerged that eschews a bilateral structure in favor of military cooperation with international forces and African regional bodies.” The CFR report appeared in early 2008, but the following paragraphs may still help explain the current situation:

Some experts say it was a series of political missteps in the 1990s that resulted in France’s current policy on the continent. But budgetary concerns and a changing strategic climate have also pushed France toward its new multilateral approach. Structural changes in the armed forces—abandoning the draft, sharp reductions in the size of the French military, and base closures between 1997 and 2002—mean that France can no longer maintain the dominance it exercised in the 1960s and 1970s.

During his election campaign, Sarkozy said he was opposed to the French practice of propping up dubious African regimes. “Françafrique,” as the policy was called, had become burdensome and Sarkozy wanted France to become more engaged in emerging markets in Asia and Latin America. But French analysts say Sarkozy may have decided in February 2008 that the EU’s mission in eastern Chad depended on France’s ability to keep Chadian President Deby in office.

I am assuming that the decision for France to leave came at least partly from the Senegalese side, but regardless of who pushed for the withdrawal – or whether it represents a shared desire on the part of the two governments – the CFR report, and the passage I quoted above from AFP mentioning the white paper’s allusion to base reductions in Africa, suggests France is at least resigned to, and possibly happy with, this outcome.

But speaking of Chad, it is tempting to link the French withdrawal from Senegal with Chad’s decision to ask UN peacekeepers to leave. Are we entering an age – symbolized also by the refusal of almost all African countries to host AFRICOM – when African governments are increasingly unwilling to host Western military bases? The British have a military presence in Africa too, of course, and I do not know whether that presence is a source of political tension at all. But perhaps this French withdrawal from Dakar really does mark a shift in the entire continent’s relationships with foreign powers.