Saturday, February 25, 2012

Senegal: Senegal's tarnished reputation

Photo: Tanya Bindra/IRIN. Defaced campaign poster of President Wade

Source: IRIN

DAKAR, 24 February 2012 (IRIN) - As Senegalese presidential elections approach on 26 February, the grassroots M23 and “Y’en ai marre” (“Enough is enough”) opposition movements continue to hold daily protests across the country against the decision that incumbent President Abdoulaye Wade can run for a third term. Thus far, six people have been killed in clashes between protesters and security forces.

Senegal has long been regarded as a beacon of democracy, but President Wade’s decision to run for a third term threatens its stability and could further aggravate protests if he is declared the winner.

M23 is named after the protests on 23 June 2011 which erupted after the president tried to pass a new law requiring a candidate to gain only 25 percent of the vote to win in the first round of presidential elections. Wade dropped the proposed constitutional changes after the riots and the requirement to win in the first round remains 50 percent.

IRIN spoke to analysts, aid agencies, donors and Senegalese citizens to get a sense of what the government, under President Wade - known as Le Vieux (Old Man) - has managed to achieve for its people, and where it has let them down.

Under Wade’s rule the government has attracted funding and foreign investment from emerging donors, embarked on several ambitious infrastructure projects, and improved some social services.

Civil society groups are able to operate in a relatively open environment, while press freedom is far better in Senegal than many of its neighbours. However, transparency and good governance are perceived to have declined significantly; poverty reduction and unemployment have stagnated; the education sector is flagging; and the cost of basic commodities, such as rice, has risen year on year.

Meanwhile, the 30-year civil conflict in the southern region of Casamance remains unresolved, and has led either directly or indirectly to up to 900 deaths as well as eroding the region’s economy. Most Senegalese IRIN spoke to want change, yet whether they take this message to the ballot box remains to be seen.

Poverty down, then up

From 1994 to 2005, the number of Senegalese living below the poverty line fell by more than 15 percent to reach 50.7 percent, partly linked to on average 5 percent growth, according to government figures.

But since then, it has stagnated, linked to the high cost of basic foods and goods, the international financial crisis, shrinking remittances, inadequate support to the agricultural sector, and heavy government investment in expensive infrastructure projects, among other factors, say donors and development experts.

This, combined with a 2.9 percent growth in population year-on-year, means the number of poor people increased by 10 percent, according to the analysis of Babacar Ndir, an expert on poverty reduction policies at the Centre for Development Policy Studies (CEPOD), which is linked to the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

Many Senegalese feel poorer than they did five years ago. "We are tired," Saliou N'ianj, a guard in the capital, told IRIN, "Everything is expensive now - rice, gas, transport - before things were easier."

Since the food price crisis of 2008 cereal costs have continued to rise: one kilogram of rice costs 90 US cents (450 CFC francs), up from 60 cents in 2008. Water, electricity, cooking gas, fuel, transport and (in cities) rent have all gone up, making it increasingly hard for Senegalese to support themselves.

Aliou Badji, a law student in Dakar, told IRIN the family eats just one meal a day: “My father has enough to provide lunch [for us] - for breakfast and dinner, it’s every man for himself.”

“You can’t eat roads”

Some say the government’s focus on “modernizing” the capital, has come at the expense of investing in agriculture, social services or social protection such as subsidies for the poor. Ibrahima Aidara, economist at the UN Development Programme, told IRIN: “The focus on such heavy investments in Dakar could explain the stagnation of both growth rates and poverty reduction rates.”

Huge sums have gone into building new roads, a motorway from Dakar to Thi├Ęs (in the centre-west), a national airport 75km from Dakar, as well as an ambitious plan by the president’s son and Minister of Energy Karim Wade, to rehabilitate the energy sector. Such spending has left many resentful. “You can’t eat roads - they don’t give you rice,” Dakar taxi-driver Aboubacar Diop told IRIN.

The focus on Dakar has meant many rural areas have been overlooked, said European Union delegation head Dominique Dellicour, who noted just 40 percent of the unpaved road network in rural areas is in good condition, despite the importance of decent roads to enable farmers to transport their produce.

Agriculture makes up roughly half of the country’s economy, but 70 percent of farmers live in poverty.

Working in this sector is increasingly difficult, with shrinking markets for key crops such as peanuts, and an over-reliance on rain-fed production. Drought in 2011 has made 800,000 people food-insecure this year, a problem that has been little-acknowledged by the government. Meanwhile, one in four people is chronically malnourished while 10 percent or more of children under five are acutely malnourished in six of the country’s 14 regions.

Peanuts were once the engine of the Senegalese economy but now farmers struggle to find buyers, partly due to a shift in international preferences for other oils, and to the privatization of the sector which dismantled state-buying structures. Adding to these woes, 2011 production dropped significantly, leaving farmers with little income to get through the next few months.

The president’s self-sufficiency strategy - GOANA (Grand Agricultural Offensive for Food Security) - is deemed by many to have been poorly thought-out, with the tools, seeds and fertilizers required to boost production, distributed too late and to too-few farmers.

One of the main problems is that the Senegalese economy is “not diversified” said Mamadou Ndione, chief economist at the World Bank in Senegal. Other than agriculture, the main sectors to carry the economy are construction, the public sector and telecoms “all industries that do not create many jobs”, according to a government (and partners) Poverty Reduction Strategy report. Construction jobs are considered to be part of the informal job sector.

Youths and unemployment

With under-employment at 23 percent and growing, according to the World Bank, and the majority of jobs found in the insecure informal job market, many well-qualified graduates find themselves jobless or working for a pittance just to get by.

Qualified microbiology technician Boubacar Dioum, graduated in 2009 but just two out of his fellow 40 graduates have found jobs - both of them with NGOs.

Both underemployment and unemployment increased between 2002 and 2009, according to the UN Development Programme, while the poverty reduction strategy paper notes a “virtual stagnation” in the number of jobs in the modern sector over the past 15 years.

Furthermore, a deeply-entrenched culture of nepotism ruins job prospects for many. Accounting graduate Boubacar Soumare, told IRIN: “I make [employment] applications from morning until night but to find work it’s not the diploma that counts, it’s who you know.”

Accurate formal sector employment rates are hard to gauge, with estimates from the World Bank at 10 percent and Office of National Statistics at 49 percent.

Youths form a core part of the grassroots M23 and Y'en ai marre opposition movements, and are a heavy presence at the daily protests in the capital.

Shrinking transparency

From 2000 to 2007 good governance and transparency improved in Senegal, partly pushed by donors, said Hane Libasse, governance programme officer at the Panos Institute, a non-profit network that pushes transparent public information-sharing. But since then, it has declined: Senegal fell 22 points in two years to rank 112th out of 182 countries in the 2011 Transparency International perceptions of corruption index.

"Governance is the soft underbelly of the Wade regime," said Mouhamadou Mbodj, general coordinator of the Civil Forum, the Senegalese chapter of Transparency International.

Examples of murky dealings include the decision that all energy-related contracts agreed by the presidency or the president’s son will not be regulated by the public works regulation body, ARMP; and the dismissal of the head of the National Unit of Financial Information Processing (CENTIF) in November 2011 after he allegedly uncovered dubious accounting issues relating to prominent government-members.

One of the President’s considerable strengths is seen to be his ability to attract foreign investment and aid by helping to publicize the Senegalese “brand” as a stable democracy. And by comparison to many of its neighbours, Senegal has been stable, despite widespread opposition to the president’s continued rule. So-called “emerging” donors such as China and the Gulf States have flocked to Senegal, investing heavily in infrastructure. But the accounting procedures of such investments are opaque, according to several interviewees, including a Western diplomat in the capital who preferred anonymity. While traditional donors report to the Finance Ministry, others report directly to the president’s son, with minimal communication between the two.

Shady economics

Money-laundering plays an increasing role in the economy, according to several analysts, including the European Union’s Dellicour. CENTIF has thus far received 84 reports of suspicious dealings possibly relating to money laundering, amounting to almost US$2.6 million - equivalent to 17 percent of the Senegalese economy, she said.

While accurate numbers are impossible to glean given the strength of the informal sector, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime studied the estimated value of the real estate market following widespread reports of its links with laundered money. Rough estimates value the market at $500 million, while building loans to professionals were estimated at $20 million, leaving a $480 million gap.

According to the UNODC’s Alexandre Schmidt, whether or not this is linked to the drug trade is hard to prove, but “you can easily see how drug money is used in this context,” he told IRIN.

While not considered to be a major hub, Senegal is one of several transit points for drugs passing from South America to Europe.


It has not all been bad. Gains have been made in important areas of the health sector. Maternal mortality has dropped to 401 dying per 100,000 live births (as of 2005); infant mortality rates declined from 61 to 47 per 1,000 live births between 2005 and 2010; while under-five mortality rates dropped from 151 to 93 between 1990 and 2009, according to UNICEF. In general, Senegal’s health system is well-regarded in West Africa.

Drops in mortality rates partly come down to better management of child diseases, says health officer Xavier Crespin, including higher vaccine coverage for measles (from 59 to 63 percent) and extensive distribution of treated mosquito nets, among other approaches, to bring down malaria rates.

The government has launched major recruitment drives to try to boost staff numbers in health clinics - many of which suffer severe shortages, particularly in rural areas, but despite this, the number of patients per health worker is increasing, partly due to population growth. More efforts are needed, say health professionals.

As midwifery student Marie-Francoise Diouf told IRIN: "In the health sector we have many qualified people out of work, while women continue to die when giving birth.”

More work also needs to go into combating polio and measles, both of which re-emerged in 2010, which is a sign, said Crespin, that “the system’s performance is declining”.

Water and electricity

Water and sanitation services have also improved - with almost 100 percent of Dakar residents officially connected to a clean water source; more rural communities connected (though numbers are unclear); and subsidies for the very poor, according to the monitoring unit of the Programme against Poverty (CSPLP).

Electricity access has also increased across the country, though supply remains highly irregular even in the capital. The country’s power stations have not been well-maintained and have not kept up with the demands of a growing population. Continual power cuts, combined with uneven and for many extortionate prices, led to country-wide pillaging and burning of Senelec (the state electricity company’s) offices in June 2011.

Karim Wade’s energy plan will supposedly address the cuts but many fear it is not sustainable, risks draining money from other ministries, and that it is out of date, laying far too little emphasis on renewable energy.


The government’s education record is mixed: attendance numbers are up but quality is down - a familiar picture across the region. Hundreds of schools were built over the past decade, and primary school enrolment rates grew from 83 to 92 percent between 2006 and 2009, according to the UN, but the completion rate at 60 percent is one of the lowest in the continent, according to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Teaching quality needs to improve - poor teaching is partly linked to a long-term programme of appointing under-qualified, low-paid “volunteers” to teach in public schools. This may soon change with the imminent introduction of a national teacher examination.

Meanwhile, universities - once vaunted as some of the region’s best - are suffering from over-subscription while efforts to boost teacher recruitment cannot catch up. Many of the nation’s schools and universities are near-crippled by perpetual strikes, with several yet to start the 2012 academic school year. "Many people wonder if this entire year will be lost to strikes,” said Serigne Laye, a teacher in Kafrine, central Senegal.

Election promises

Thus far few of the 14 presidential candidates have spellt out reform strategies - most simply stress the need for change. Presidential candidate and head of the Socialist Party Ousmane Tanor Dieng, for instance, plans to devote 15 percent of the national budget to agriculture; former Prime Minister and former President of the National Assembly Macky Sall promises universal health coverage and lowering the price of essential commodities; while the incumbent has pledged a government allowance to over-60s. None have specified how such projects will be funded.

It is against this background that the Senegalese go to the polls on 26 February. If the incumbent does not win more than 50 percent of the vote the question is which opposition candidate will voters back.

Voter turnout is likely to be low. According to unconfirmed figures, over one million Senegalese who are eligible to vote have not registered, while many among the hundreds and thousands who are, have not picked up their electoral cards. Several would-be voters told IRIN of administrative problems they faced when trying to register, while several Dakar residents spoke of people coming to their neighbourhoods offering food in exchange for their electoral cards. All such reports as yet unconfirmed.

Assiatou Gueye, a house-keeper in the capital, who works six days a week to survive, echoed the sentiments of many Senegalese when she told IRIN she no longer trusts politicians and doubts she will vote at all.