14.05.2024 Author: Viktor Goncharov

Senegal: from prison cell to the presidency Part Two: The winds of change in West Africa have swept Senegal as well

According to a number of analysts, the rise to power in Senegal of Diomaye Faye and Ousmane Sonko, who enjoy the support of the majority of the population, especially the youth, who feel strongly the “winds of pan-Africanism and nationalism”, should also be seen as “the result of the wave of sovereignty sweeping West Africa”.

At his first press conference after his election, Faye said that “the people of Senegal, by voting for him, were in favour of breaking with the past in order to implement the social project proposed by our party”, which includes fighting corruption, promoting youth employment and raising the cost of living, one of the most important problems for the majority of the country’s 17 million inhabitants.

It seems, some experts say, that Senegal’s high economic growth of more than 5 per cent of annual GDP growth in recent years, accompanied by a number of major projects such as a high-speed railway, a new international airport and a new administrative centre next to the capital Dakar, has contributed to the illusion of a calm, prosperous state. Until recently, Senegal was even considered an “oasis” of relative stability in West Africa and the continent as a whole. It is noteworthy that since independence from France in 1960, there has not been a single military coup in the country.

But these achievements of the state of “liberal democracy” mainly benefited only the local ruling elite and did not affect the bulk of the population, half of which, according to the UN Agency for International Development, is living in poverty due to high unemployment, especially among young people.

It is this section of the population, which sees no other prospect of survival but to emigrate by sea to Europe on improvised means at great risk to life, that stood for PASTEF leaders Ousmane Sonko and Diomaye Faye, both of whom, according to Al-Jazeera, have proven themselves to be incorruptible tax inspectors.

Ousmane Sonko, 49, states Nigerian newspaper This Day Live, has positioned himself as a fighter against the current political establishment in Senegal and the neo-colonialism of France.

Having promised in his campaign speeches to break with the current political system and structure of government, Diomaye Faye intends to “restore the rule of law” and limit the powers of the President, including by introducing the position of Vice-President.

With regard to the economy as a whole, the new President plans to renegotiate mining and hydrocarbon contracts with foreign companies in the first instance, in order to boost oil and gas revenues and make them the leading sectors of the Senegalese economy.

However, after promising to regain control over key sectors of the economy, he assured foreign investors that Senegal “will remain a faithful and reliable partner for mutually beneficial co-operation”.

He also announced plans to renegotiate fishing contracts with foreign companies, including under Economic Partnership Agreements signed with the European Union.  Separately, he promised to protect the interests of local fishermen from the arbitrariness of foreign fishing companies fishing close to the coast by moving the zone of their activities 20 kilometres from the mainland.

As expected, Diomaye Faye’s first move as President, described by France 24 as a “left-wing pan-Africanist”, was to appoint his mentor Ousmane Sonko, a staunch opponent of former president Macky Sall, as Prime Minister, described by Reuters as a “political troublemaker” who is popular with Senegalese youth, who make up the majority of the country’s population.

Ousmane Sonko, as well as Diomaye Faye, who favours radical reforms, said on the occasion, “I cannot leave Faye alone, who has shouldered the enormous responsibility of becoming the country’s President”. On the latter’s instructions, he submitted to him on 4 April a list of 25 ministers and five secretaries of state of the newly formed government. About half of them are former functionaries of the African Patriots of Senegal for Labour, Ethics and Fraternity, a party dissolved by Macky Sall on the eve of the elections.

According to Bloomberg, Sonko did not focus on the achievements of his associates in the party, but on their professional suitability to work in their assigned area. This is why Birame Souleye Diop was appointed as Minister of Petroleum, Energy and Mines and Cheikh Diba as Minister of Finance. Both are former heads of Senegal’s tax authorities.

Former senior economist at the International Monetary Fund and monetary policy expert Abdourahmane Sarr was appointed Minister of Economy, while former UN official Yacine Fal, head of international relations at PASTEF, became Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Of the old government, the Minister of Trade and Industry retained his post, while the former Minister of Education became the President’s Chief of Staff. The Secretary General of the Presidency, Oumar Ba, also remained in office. This was done to ensure continuity and to avoid disruptions in the work of the state apparatus in the initial phase.

According to the French Le Monde, the effectiveness of the new government will largely depend on the willingness and ability of the President and Prime Minister to get along with each other, as the Senegalese experience shows ‘there cannot be two roosters in one hen house’. In this regard, local opinion is that the reform-oriented Prime Minister Ousmane Sonko, who is very popular with the population, especially young people, will be the main driving force behind the coming changes, especially in the initial phase of Diomaye Faye’s presidency.

In implementing their plans, the new leaders, Bloomberg notes, may meet serious resistance from the former ruling party led by Macky Sall, which now has a majority in parliament. Therefore, the main work on the fulfilment of election promises, according to representatives of the new government, will begin after the early parliamentary elections, which will make it possible to obtain a parliamentary majority. In this regard, it is not excluded that in order to hold these elections later this year, they may go for a coalition with the Senegalese Democratic Party of former President Abdoulaye Wade.

One of the biggest challenges that the new leadership, led by the President, will have to address is the creation of enough new jobs in a country where 75 per cent of the 17 million population is under 35 years of age and unemployment is 20 per cent. At the same time, the labour force is growing by 100,000 people every year. Today, 75 per cent of the working-age population earns a living from fishing and agricultural labour.

Another equally pressing issue before them is to strengthen the fight against corruption and eradicate the so-called “fiscal anomalies” that lead to full tax evasion. This was the basis of their pre-election criticism of Macky Sall and his government, which received popular support. The problem is particularly acute in the management of the oil and gas sector, to the study of which the current Prime Minister even devoted a book in 2018.

After being elected president, Diomaye Faye said he intended to conduct a thorough audit of the oil, gas and mining sectors of the country’s economy. With Senegal’s discovered offshore energy reserves estimated at 1 billion barrels of oil and 40 trillion cubic feet of gas, the country’s new leadership plans to make the oil and gas sector the main driver of the Senegalese economy.

British Petroleum and US company Cosmos Energy are currently completing work on the Greater Tortue Ahmeyim (GTA) field to commission an offshore floating LNG plant with an initial capacity of 2.3 million tonnes per year. The venture is 56 per cent owned by BP, 27-Kosmos Energy, 10-National Oil Company of Senegal (Petrosen) and 7-Mauritania’s SMHPM. The refinery’s products will be supplied both to the domestic markets of Senegal and Mauritania and to the global market.

Germany and Poland have shown great interest in Senegalese LNG after the cancellation of Russian gas supplies. Last May, Chancellor Olaf Scholz, followed by President Andrzej Duda, visited Dakar and expressed their readiness to start buying LNG from the local LNG plant when it becomes operational.

The US company Kosmos Energy also owns a 90 per cent stake in the Yakaar-Teranga gas field, which is considered the world’s largest gas field discovered in recent years. It has reserves of about 25 trillion cubic feet of gas.

Australia’s Woodside Energy, which owns 82 per cent of the Sangomar oil and gas field offshore Senegal, with the remaining 18 per cent held by local Petrosen, plans to start oil production as early as mid-year.

The IMF predicts that the realisation of these major projects will accelerate the country’s economic growth to double digits as early as next year. Meanwhile, the new Minister of Energy and Mines, Birame Souleye Diop, confirmed on 11 April the government’s intention to begin renegotiating hydrocarbon and mineral contracts as soon as audits of foreign operators are completed.

In this regard, given the extremely high stakes at stake, the resolution of this critical issue, on which the future development prospects of the Senegalese State will depend, has become many times more complex and is likely to be protracted.


Viktor GONCHAROV, african expert, candidate of sciences in economics, especially for online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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