20.05.2024 Author: Viktor Goncharov

Senegal: from prison cell to the presidency Part Three: What’s next? The West on standby

Senegalese President

In the area of foreign policy, the most serious step the new head of state plans to take is to reassess relations with the former metropolis. According to the South African Mail and Guardian, both the President and the Prime Minister are unanimous in agreeing that the partnership with France needs to be significantly adjusted to take Senegal’s interests more fully into account.

Paris has been closely following the situation in Senegal since the new President came to power. According to reports from the Élysée Palace, President Macron called President Faye on 29 March to congratulate him “warmly” on his election victory and, during a half-hour conversation that was “a very positive discussion”, stressed that France wished to “continue and intensify” bilateral ties.

 For his part, the Senegalese President reiterated that Senegal would remain a “loyal ally”, recognising the partnership with Paris as “necessary” but which would need to be adjusted.

Pointing to France’s particular interest in maintaining ties with Senegal at the same level, Le Monde notes that even before the official announcement of Diomaye Faye’s victory, the day after the election on 25 March, President Macron congratulated him on his victory in his X (Twitter), not only in French but also in Wolof, the most widely spoken language in Senegal, stressing that he was “looking forward to working with him”.

In a recent interview with Radio France-Info, Faye said that the Senegalese would like this cooperation to be more fruitful for them than it is now. According to him, “we have been talking about this for a long time, but unfortunately we have not been listened to”.

At the same time, given the “left-wing rhetoric” of Senegal’s new leaders, as well as its economic dependence (France remains the country’s largest investor), the Élysée Palace is in no hurry to make official assessments of the processes taking place in the country, adopting a general wait-and-see attitude.

In this context, it is interesting to note a comment made by a former representative of the French Development Agency in Senegal, whose mission is to combat poverty and promote sustainable development, in which he stressed that “it is easy to make speeches about the sovereignty of a country, but it is quite another thing to govern it and to take measures against the French presence in that country when it is against one’s interests”.

It should be borne in mind that, in order to maintain their political support, the new leaders of the country must not only fulfil the social commitments they have made to young people and the population in general, but also take into account the interests of the section of civil society and entrepreneurs who voted for them in the elections.

Therefore, based on the balance of interests of all parties, Ousmane Sonko said that the creation of their own national currency would have to wait. In his opinion, this issue should be studied at the sub-regional level first and, based on its results, a final decision should be made.

As for the revision of Franco-Senegalese relations, according to Voice of America experts, it may be initiated by Paris itself, which has recently been rethinking its military presence in West Africa. According to Le Monde, in accordance with the decision taken by Emmanuel Macron in January this year to reduce its military presence in Gabon, Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire, Paris can leave only 100 soldiers in the capitals of these states on a permanent basis. As for Dakar, where the French air force base is located, the reduction could affect some 250 troops.

Meanwhile, pursuant to a contract signed in 2019 between the Senegalese Ministry of Defence and the French shipbuilding company Piriou, a ceremony was held in France on 16 April to hand over to the Senegalese Navy, in addition to two previously delivered patrol vessels, a 62-metre-long, multi-purpose third patrol vessel equipped with anti-ship missiles with a range of more than 30 kilometres.

The change of power in Senegal was not only another sensitive blow to French positions in Africa, but also affected the interests of the United States, which for a long time considered this country as a “bastion of democracy” and a reliable military ally in the region.

It is not by chance, therefore, that the annual US development aid to Senegal amounts to 238 million dollars, not counting the financial resources for the implementation in this country of numerous programmes to promote the postulates of “liberal democracy”.

Therefore, on the second day after the elections on 25 March, the US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, in a conversation with Diomaye Faye, stressed “the great interest of the United States in deepening relations between the two countries”.

It should be noted here that as early as the beginning of the year, Senegal’s constitutional crisis in the country, triggered by President Macky Sall’s attempt to postpone elections until the end of the year, caused serious alarm in Washington. The American Institute for the Study of War and Critical Threats saw the developments in the country, which were out of Macky Sall’s control, as a serious threat to the country’s development along the lines of “liberal democracy”. This, in turn, according to the institute’s experts, could lead to a further weakening of the US position in the region and a strengthening of Russia’s influence.

And the U.S. does have a lot to lose in this country. Senegal, which has historically earned a reputation as a gateway to Africa as a convenient transit point for trade and a springboard for military deployments on the African continent, has long turned into one of the main US allies on the continent, including in the military field.

Under a 2016 military agreement between the two countries, the Pentagon was authorised to deploy US troops to the country in the event of a terrorist threat or humanitarian crisis. In addition, the US Africa Command regularly conducts joint training operations with the Senegalese armed forces and is engaged in military training.

Recent developments in Senegal, associated with the arrival of Ousmane Sonko and Diomaye Faye, have raised serious concerns about the prospects for further development of relations in Western European countries as well.

If we take into account that Senegal has previously played a major role in imposing a blockade on landlocked Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, its possible rapprochement with these countries and its intention to leave the CFA franc currency zone and move closer to Russia and other countries of the Global South, this, as The Intel Drop notes, will be another major foreign policy defeat not only for Paris, but also for Western countries as a whole.

It was no coincidence, therefore, that the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, rushed to Senegal for talks with the new President. Receiving him in Dakar on 23 April, Diomaye Faye, while acknowledging the cooperation with the EU as “close and multifaceted”, pointed to the need to “rethink it together in the light of the new global environment”.

On the EU, during the election campaign, Diomaye Faye promised to renegotiate the Senegal-EU fisheries agreement. Touching on this and other issues, Charles Michel remarked that both sides “should not shy away” from discussing difficult issues, especially when there are opportunities for solutions.

But in general, most Western countries have so far adopted a neutral stance towards the new authorities in Senegal, waiting to see what further steps they might take to achieve their declared goals and slogans.

As for the international implications of the election of Senegalese President Diomaye Faye, a left-wing pan-Africanist, as a South African political scientist notes on Bloomberg, it is evidence of a new stage in the struggle of African states for genuine economic independence from former metropolises, not only through military coups, but also through the expression in elections of the will of the majority of the population of their aspirations and aspirations, which is the main victim of the continuing plunder of Africa’s natural resources by the former colonies.

But at the moment, these are only hypothetical speculations of the South African expert on possible options for the development of the situation in the region. To what extent they will be implemented directly in Senegal will show the events of the near future, the development of which will be determined by the balance of internal political forces in the country and the consistency of the new leaders in fulfilling their commitments.

In any case, the elections in Senegal have shown that the emphasis of PASTEF leaders on restoring “national sovereignty” over key sectors of the economy – oil and gas, mining and fishing – by renegotiating contracts with foreign companies has received strong support from the population demanding an end to the neo-colonial exploitation of the natural wealth of African countries.

At the same time, as Bloomberg notes, the Russia-Africa summit in St Petersburg last July, where Ibrahim Traoré, the 36-year-old military leader of Burkina Faso, gave a speech that won support across Africa, played a major role in Africa’s realisation of the need to pursue genuine state sovereignty, saying: “We are among the forgotten peoples of the world…And we are here to talk about the future of our countries, and how things will be tomorrow in the world we are striving to build, in which there will be no interference in our internal affairs”.


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

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