Cracks undermine Sall’s bid to transform SenegalMon, 18 Mar 2024 09:45:25 GMT

Painting a building in Senegal’s rapidly changing capital Dakar, Ismaila Ba is one of many workers to feel excluded from the West African country’s transformation under President Macky Sall.”I earn 6,000 CFA francs a day (around $10),” said Ba, who pays 80,000 francs a month for two rooms for himself, his wife and two daughters in the working-class district of Ouakam.”How could I dream of having a flat in this building?”Sall has changed the face of Senegal through major public and private projects over 12 years.As well as creating the new city of Diamniadio, near Dakar, he put in place a fast train link between Dakar and its suburbs. Wages also increased and aid for the poor has been distributed under Sall.But house painter Ba, who also works as a hairdresser and sells coffee to make ends meet, believes the growth benefits a minority whose standard of living contrasts with that of the majority.  Today, at least one in three of Senegal’s 18 million inhabitants still lives in poverty, according to the national statistics agency (ANSD).The proportion of the population living below the poverty line fell by just five percent between 2011 and 2018-2019.- A mixed legacy -Over the past three years, the government has tried to contain successive crises, including unrest that left dozens dead and hundreds arrested, despite Senegal’s reputation as one of the more peaceful countries in the region.Sall is due to step down as president in a March 24 election, but only after his last-minute postponement of the vote last month created one of the worst crises in decades.An economic record that allows Sall to “go down in the history of Senegal” has been marred by that “botched exit”, philosopher Souleymane Bachir Diagne said on Radio France Internationale.He described Sall’s attempt to postpone the presidential election — a move quickly overturned by the Constitutional Council — as “inexplicable”.Writer and academic Felwine Sarr, interviewed in the weekly Jeune Afrique, agreed, adding: “Under his leadership, various methods of closing off public space and hindering the exercise of freedoms have unfortunately become familiar.”That view was echoed in the streets in recent weeks as some protesters chanted: “Macky Sall, dictator”.But Sall has insisted: “Senegal is a true state governed by the rule of law. I refused to be tempted by a third term. I am a democrat.”And in response to the critics, he and his supporters have underlined his record rebuilding the country’s infrastructure.”The country I inherited was truly dilapidated,” Sall said recently. – Waiting for oil -As well as political unrest, Sall has led Senegal through economic challenges that included the Covid-19 pandemic as well as restrictions on Ukrainian grain and Indian rice imports.Those crises put a break on Senegal’s sustained growth, although it is picking up again.Gross domestic product (GDP) is now projected to reach an unprecedented 9.2 percent in 2024, driven by oil and gas development, according to government statistics.But government figures also show that the public spending to counter the crises, protect the most vulnerable and boost the economy increased debt from 40 percent of GDP in 2012 to 69.4 percent in late 2023.Economist Moubarack Lo acknowledges that the country’s transformation has “created a breeding ground for debt” but he argues that this was necessary to develop the infrastructure that “has changed the face of Dakar”.Others, however, argue the investment was at the expense of living conditions.”Macky Sall chose to invest in infrastructure and forgot about quality of life,” said economist Cheikh Bamba Diagne. Unemployment has risen from 10.2 percent in 2012 to around 20 percent in 2024, according to the ANSD. “There is no work in the country,” said mechanic Makhmadane Diouf, 38, despite Senegal’s rich mineral deposits.That is one reason that tens of thousands of young Senegalese have chosen to attempt the dangerous journey in small boats to reach Europe in search of a better life.