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If the US really believes in democracy, how can it support Abdoulaye Wade’s plans to have his son succeed him as Senegal’s president, asks Amy Niang.

The picture of Karim Wade being introduced to US President Obama during the last G8 Summit in Deauville by Nicolas Sarkozy was at once a banal case of society events and a scandalous gesture of powerful symbolism that reeks of conspiracy, arrogance, neocolonialism and the sort of all too common western meddling which has produced illegitimate leaders across Africa, especially in former French colonies. This picture shocked the Senegalese public beyond words. The geopolitics behind it may have been nothing surprising given that President Wade, one of the closest and long-term allies of Gaddafi, has not only recognised the Transitional Council as the only legitimate Libyan authority, he has dealt a blow to the African Union’s consensus on mediation by visiting Benghazi, something that even Sarkozy has done. But as befuddling as Wade’s U-turn could be, it cannot justify the apparent indulgence of both France and America towards a senile president’s desire to fulfil his project to make his son president of Senegal.

Karim Wade is a 43 years old French-Senegalese, whose only professional experience seems to be some brief, obscure job at a banking institution in London. His only merit, it needs to be stressed, is to be the son of Abdoulaye Wade, democratically elected in 2000 and who put an end to the 20-year rule of Abdou Diouf. President Obama could be forgiven for not having been properly briefed about the putrefying abscess about to burst in Senegal.

That young man, beaming and basking in the glory of his introduction to the big boys club, is the face of the future of unrelenting looting, of economic debauchery, of hopeless perspectives for millions of Senegalese, that is being staged by an authoritarian imagination cast in old ways. After all, in France’s pre-carré (backyard), dynastical succession is not only possible –Togo's Faure Gnassingbé and Gabon's Ali Bongo are living examples of this – it ensures the maintaining of the ‘special relationship’ between France and its former colonies, hence the perpetuation of a servile political elite, sweetheart deals and preferential treatment for French businesses, all for the glory of a country that is struggling to come to terms with the fact of post-colonisation.

France’s dream of grandeur, or rather its imperial pretention, predominantly rests on real and imaginary control over the political destiny of francophone Africa. It has long ceased to be a great power. Senegal’s young urban, postcolonial voters, see France just as it is: Nothing more than another declining European country crippled with economic recession, mass unemployment and a gaping deficit. France’s latest success in installing, through forceful military assistance, Alassane Ouattara in Ivory Coast may have convinced Paris that it still determines the course of francophone Africa, but Africans are hungry for real democracy and for social justice, they will no longer accept that their leaders be elected in Paris, or in this occasion in the muffled corridors of Deauville.

The rise of Karim to the highest level of decision-making in itself is patent case of abusive nepotism. Karim met with a bitter loss in his first attempt to test his popularity in Senegal during the 22 March local elections. As a consolation, Daddy Wade made him super-minister in May 2009, entrusting him with International Cooperation, Urban and Regional Development, Air Transport, and Infrastructure, in other words, half of the government. To this was added, in October 2010, the energy and biofuels portfolio, an area into which billions of CFA francs have since been pumped with no improvement, despite repeated riots of populations deprived of electricity, sometimes for over 10 hours in a day.

In his mismanaging of the electricity problem and others, Karim is only confirming what the Senegalese have known for a long time. That no matter how much money is invested to give him a helping hand, he will always disappoint. When Karim struggled to put together the Organisation of the Islamic Conference for years (2004-08), Papa dipped into the depths of the public coffer, borrowed here and there in order to save face. A few kilometres of road done up here and there, a tunnel and a couple of bridges were the justification for the biggest infrastructural investment ever made in this small country whose population does not live off pebbles, sawdust and rhetoric, but on broken low-quality imported rice the price of which is ever increasing, and of fish hard to come by these days of unregulated fishing licenses that allow European and Asian ships to scrape the Atlantic coast clean of the good fish. Needless to say, nobody is accountable for all these economic crimes.

The rise of Karim Wade is the sum of a decade of crippled democracy, of crimes, economic and political, that have gone unpunished, the latest one being the murder, on 30 May, of 32 year old Malick Ba, by a policeman, at a peaceful rally against a government’s decision to install a special delegation at a locality with a democratically elected council.

Under President Wade, corruption has become so pervasive and reached such proportions that it has become an issue of national security. The Senegalese state has literally ceased to function as the national budget is gnawed away by a rapacious ruling class sundered from the reality of its own irrelevance. The state is merely hanging over a time-bomb, and nobody knows when it is going to explode.

The resolve of millions of Senegalese, crystallised by the arrogance of a ruling class, the wailing of thousands of women who lost sons and husbands to a voracious Atlantic ocean on their way to Europe in order to escape the oppressive grip of poverty, may not have reached the walls of the White House, but America could not ignore the Senegalese people’s burning desire for social justice and for a functioning democracy, by supporting another monarchical devolution that does not bode well for the future of democracy in Africa.


* Amy Niang is a PhD candidate at the School of Social and Political Studies, University of Edinburgh.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.