Senegal has once again just shown that where Africa is concerned, it is a little bit different. It has just held a mostly peaceful and fraud-free presidential election. And, after decades of one man in power a democratic transition can be a difficult thing to pull off, but Senegal appears to have done it, and has a new president, even if new is hardly the first epithet you would award this veteran of Senegal’s political scene. So is Macky Sall a new broom who will sweep clean? Euronews’ François Chignac, in an exclusive interview, found out.
François Chignac, euronews:
“President Macky Sall, hello and thanks for speaking to euronews. My first question is simple; you describe yourself as the president of ‘rupture’, a break with the past, but what does that mean for Senegal?”
“That means a virtuous, serious, but above all efficient government. Putting public money into the population’s vital needs. Living costs are very very high in Senegal while wages are low, and there are no jobs. We have to make sure public money is better spent.
“Today we have a social emergency, and that’s providing medical cover for everyone, and improving our UN Human Development Index by meeting its criteria on education, professional training, and apprenticeships. But we also need a government that can attract investors and create jobs; that’s what rupture means for me.”
euronews: “Well, you talk about good governance but the violence of the last few weeks has shown the Senegalese people are increasingly impatient. Are you going to ask the courts to investigate the alleged illegal acts of President Abdoulaye Wade, or drop the idea of an audit of past malpractice?”
“Neither one nor the other in fact, because when you are new to a powerful office the least you should do is check over things to see what you have to work with. You have to see what shape things are in, what Senegal’s commitments are, what’s the level of the debt. For example for several years it appears this has been growing exponentially. We need to know what that implies for us, it’s above all that.
“I’m not going to embark on a witchhunt, I don’t want that to be my guideline, but I will go through the books. There will be an audit to find out the state of the nation, and where we need to take it.”
euronews: “So no sweeping the stables clean in the name of the people? That’s what they are calling for…”
“Yes, there will be. I said there would be an audit. We’ll find out exactly what state the country’s in, and if we find anything criminal, then justice will go to work. It’s not the president’s job to take revenge in the name of anyone; the courts do that. We are a Republic, with procedures. If the audit reveals the names of people who have done wrong then they will be brought to trial, and be able to defend themselves, normally, with due process, in a calm atmosphere.”
euronews: “You say you represent a rupture with the past so what do you say to your critics who claim you’re just the child, or the product of Abdoulaye Wade?”
“That’s not the question, the question is… well, yes, I did grow up in his shadow as a young party activist, and we fought alongside each other for 19 years, so I don’t have any problem recognising that Wade was my mentor. But at a certain moment we fell out over the way of governing Senegal, and when that rupture was complete I took my political destiny in my own hands and formed a party. I went out to meet the people, and three and half years later here I am. Today I am a political leader, with a clear economic and social vision. I know the priorities for this country after having seen its every far-flung corner, and I am committed to getting Senegal out of its under-developed state with the help of the majority of its people. I am convinced the future is unwritten, and that if we work hard we can be an emerging, not an underdeveloped economy.”
euronews: “You were supported by the singer Youssou N’dour during the presidential elections. He wasn’t able to stand. Will he be your minister of culture?”
“You know, today Youssou N’dour is one of the best ambassadors Senegal could have for promoting the country’s image. He’s internationally known. I think he could have a decisive role to play in this government, whether in the Culture ministry or elsewhere. If he wants to, why not?”
euronews: “Abdoulaye Wade and his government were heavily criticised for not doing enough to resolve the conflict in Casamance, where a guerrilla war continues. The army suffered losses there recently, and tourists are sometimes caught in the crossfire. Will you solve this problem?”
“This is Senegal’s toughest problem. It’s lasted 30 years; 30 years of destruction, death, and spilt blood. It’s high time to moblise all our national resources to make a sustainable peace in Casamance. I will make my number one priority the creation of the conditions that can produce a national dialogue between all the parties concerned; the guerillas, Senegalese civil society, and friendly neighbouring countries who are in fact caught up in the conflict because their territory is being used by the rebels, either in Gambia or Guinea Bissau.
“In parallel with the peace efforts we’ll speed up our development efforts in Casamance. We’ll try and open up the region to overcome Senegal’s geographical split between north and south, where to get to Casamance you have to cross sovereign Gambia. We have to resolve this territorial rupture. In one phrase, we want Casamance to find peace again within a united and indivisible Senegal.”