A new generation takes over in Senegal

March 27, 2012 5:37 am
Macky Sall takes oath of office/AFP

, DAKAR, Mar 27 – At 51, Macky Sall is Senegal’s fourth president. Will he usher in a new style of government?

The Senegalese electorate has forced a double change in leadership: from an old generation to a younger one – and from politics for politics’ sake to a more business-like approach.

The country has said goodbye to the man who knew all, did it all, saw it all and understood it all – the only one with a vision for the country: Abdoulaye Wade.


At 51, Macky Sall is one of the youngest elected presidents on the continent. His home is Fatick, a town in the West of the country with a long tradition of commercial agriculture, mostly peanuts.

But Sall took a different tack and concentrated his academic efforts on another potential source of income for his country: mining. He is a geological engineer by training and when still in good books with outgoing president Abdoulaye Wade he served as (among others) minster for geology and mines.

Sall and Wade

In fact, it is hard to imagine now but at one time Wade and Sall were so close that the latter was considered the natural successor to the ageing Senegalese leader.

Consider: Prime Minister between April 2004 and June 2007, manager of the successful 2007 presidential re-election campaign, President of the National Assembly between June 2007 and November 2008.

But Sall fell out with the president when he summoned his son, Karim Wade, to parliament, to account for the massive holes in the budget for infrastructure that he had managed.

The son of Wade

Here is the story. In 2008, Dakar was to host the prestigious eleventh summit of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. Karim Wade was to oversee the preparations for that conference and as such his father appointed him head of ANOCI, the national agency for the Islamic summit.

This meant: building roads, bridges, hotels, a tunnel, flyovers and much more. ANOCI did not complete all the works on time and overran its budget by a whopping 300%. Investigating journalist Abdou Latif Coulibaly wrote a book about it and Macky Sall wanted the president’s son to account for the difference. Hence the clash with the Boss.

However, the seeds for Macky Sall’s discontent with his former political mentor were sown earlier. Just after his 2007 election victory, Wade was interviewed by a journalist about his successor. And clearly within earshot of his own campaign manager, Wade replied in his inimitable cold-hearted arrogant way: ‘I see no-one around me.’ It must have hurt pretty badly.

Cleaning up

Wade kept repeating his mantra: after me, the lights will go out. As well they might, because no-one knows how much longer the tottering state electricity utility Senelec can continue with its erratic delivery. Karim Wade (him again), was put in charge of an expensive series of stopgap measures that have done nothing to solve the basic capacity problem that the utility has been struggling with for years.

All this hints at the biggest challenge the president-elect faces: cleaning up the almighty financial mess that the outgoing administration leaves behind. How many ANOCIs are there exactly? What is needed to restore public confidence in a state that was increasingly seen as aloof, unaccountable, incompetent and corrupt? Hard work lies ahead.


Macky Sall’s personality may well be helpful here. People working close to him say that he is modest and a team player who listens to advice from others. Ideologically, Sall is and remains a liberal; after all, he comes straight out of Wade’s political school. But he is likely to be a different liberal than his predecessor.

The technocrat within will keep him from dabbling in megalomaniacal projects like the Monument for the African Renaissance that will blight Dakar’s skyline forever. His allies, among them veteran politicians from the Socialist Party, the prominent human rights advocate Aloune Tine and music star Youssou N’Dour, will remind him that he must concentrate on delivering the goods to his key electorate: Senegal’s mass of poor and deprived rural and city dwellers. They want jobs, water, electricity, a decent education and the prospect that their lives will finally improve. Wade’s “sopi” (change) failed to deliver; perhaps Sall’s more business-like approach will.

This article was first published on Radio Netherlands Worldwide (http://www.rnw.nl)


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