It is now over ten years since Liberal Abdoulaye Wade won the Senegalese presidential election after 40 years of socialist rule. Today, the everyday lives of an increasing number of Senegalese are characterized by difficulties in making ends meet. The 84-year-old president’s efforts to get the country’s economy under control are little noticed by most people.

Abdoulaye Wade has ruled Senegal since he won the presidential election after the second round of elections in March 2000. This victory – l’alternance (“the change”) – marked the end of the Socialist Party’s 40-year run. All over the world, the election result and the peaceful takeover of power, which came to be mentioned as a definitive proof of the functioning of Senegalese democracy, and at home, a future of optimism that had not been seen since independence. Expectations of Wade’s new, more efficient and transparent Senegalese state were, in the light of hindsight, unrealistically high. Faith in the president’s ability to change was quickly diminished.

Wade and the coalition sopi 2007, dominated by Wade’s Liberal Party Democratique Senegalais (PDS), nevertheless went on to win both the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2007. Skeptics and oppositionists blamed PDS for electoral fraud, but the complaints never advanced. The election was referred to as fair by international observers. In 2009, Wade made it clear that he will stand as a candidate at the next presidential election in April 2012.

Dakar renewed

One of Wade’s prestige projects has been an offensive expansion of the infrastructure in Dakar, with the aim of strengthening the city’s business and its role as a regional, West African center. The development of the capital appears to have had a certain positive effect on the country’s economy; new jobs and investment opportunities, both for Senegalese and foreign companies, have, together with the partial privatization of state-owned enterprises, helped to improve the business climate in the country. This is reflected in the World Bank’s ranking Doing Business, where the country has climbed 19 places in a year. In particular, investors from the Muslim world have shown interest in the rehabilitation of Dakar.

However, the use of money related to the extensive construction projects has contributed to unbalanced government budgets and to an ever larger domestic debt that the Senegalese state is struggling to service.

Critical population

Among the people is the criticism to touch and feel. A few kilometers of eight-lane freeway and a few business hotels in Dakar cannot overshadow a deficient and poorly maintained infrastructure in other parts of the country. The president struggles to justify his priorities to a population that in everyday life has to deal with increased electricity and food prices, lack of wage payments, long-term strikes and overcrowded classrooms. Demonstrations and protests are being severely beaten by the police and on some occasions have led to violent clashes and deaths. At the same time, opposition media are being threatened with silence.

The president has also been criticized for putting personal ambitions ahead of the nation’s needs, including giving his son key positions in the state. Karim Wade was the PDS mayoral candidate for Dakar at the country’s last local elections in March 2009, but for the first time in Senegal’s history this year the mayoral office in the capital of the opposition, coalition Benno Siggil Senegaal, was a result that underscores PDS’s low popularity in the population. Two months after the defeat, the son of the president became minister in his father’s government.

The Senegalese president has also been criticized for corruption. Wade is constantly commenting publicly on the fight against corruption, which was also one of the core issues in the election campaign before the presidential election in 2000, but it is highly uncertain how much concrete will be done. Last fall, it sparked international media headlines as the president gave a previous statement from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) € 133,000 in parting from the Senegalese state. Senegal is ranked number 85 out of 180 states in Transparency International’s latest ranking of corrupt states. This location is somewhat worse than before.

Agricultural reform

About 70 percent of Senegalese people are employed in the primary industry, an industry that contributes only 14 percent of the country’s income. Agriculture has, since before independence, been dominated by peanut production which is less profitable for each passing year, and more and more farmers are applying to the cities to survive. Despite fertile soil and plenty of available labor, Senegal is West Africa’s second largest food importer.

After food prices rose sharply in 2008, Wade’s second government launched the Great Agricultural Offensive for Food and Abundance (GOANA) agricultural reform program, which has the ambitious goal of making the country independent of food imports by 2015. The program includes rice, corn and manioc production, and involves a substantial public subsidization of seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and agricultural machinery, as well as an aggressive investment in teaching and research.

Whether GOANA is a well-functioning measure is debated. Many farmers claim they have paid little attention to the president’s many promises. Since the program was launched, the country’s rice production has increased by over 130 percent, but this may also be due to good rainy season.

No solution to the conflict in the south?

Since 1982, the southern region of Casamance has been at times fierce conflict between the separatist movement Movement for the Democratic Forces of Casamance (MDFC) and the political authorities of the country. Behind the conflict lies a feeling of powerlessness; it is common practice in the south that the region’s rich natural resources are exploited by traders from the north without adequate compensation being provided. Many also claim that the dominant ethnic groups in the south are systematically excluded from political participation at national level, and that the region is prioritized in terms of national development measures.

In 2004, the Wade and MDFC government signed a ceasefire agreement, and since then the situation has been relatively stable, although no consensus has ever been reached to resolve the core of the conflict. To cope with the situation, the government is constantly resorting to temporary solutions; for example, the separatists have repeatedly been paid to lay down their weapons. Individual measures such as the establishment of a regional university and the rehabilitation of some important roads have also been implemented.

In August and September 2009, after a long period of calm, a fire was opened between a faction of the MDFC and national military forces. The conflict has been dealt with centrally by the rebels being paid to make peace, but constant attacks still threaten the stability of the area around the regional capital Ziguinchor. According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, between 10,000 and 70,000 Senegalese are internally displaced as a result of the unrest in the region.

Peaceful Islam

Religion is an important part of Senegalese civilian life, and religious leaders have great political and economic power. Muslims and Catholic Christians, who make up about 90 and 5 percent of the population, respectively, live peacefully side by side. Both Senegalese Christianity and Islam contain elements of traditional, animistic beliefs; this, together with the faith itself, is an important unifying element of Senegalese society.

Country facts:

Area: 196 722 km2 (34th largest)

Population: 12 million

Population density per km2: 62

Urban population: 42 percent

Largest city: Dakar – approx. 2.6 million

GDP per capita: USD 1088

Economic growth: 2.5 percent

HDI Position: 166