#EuropeanDevelopmentDays – Senegal’s Macky Sall defends his record on anti-corruption and economic growth

| June 19, 2019

For Senegalese President Macky Sall, this week’s European Development Days summit in Brussels has provided a double opportunity. On one hand, Sall has met some of the world’s most powerful leaders and strengthened co-operation efforts on key development aims. On the other, he’s been able to remind the world of his anti-corruption credentials after a BBC report claimed his brother enriched himself from key gas contracts, writes Louis Auge.

Sall has joined 8,000 delegates from 140 countries at ‘the Davos of Development’, which purports to address inequality and “build a world which leaves no-one behind.” The event pursues the EU’s goal of ever-closer global cooperation on development and considers a variety of innovative strategies to reduce the wealth gap.

Having long called for a closer partnership between Africa and the EU, Sall has this week been able to meet some of the bloc’s most senior figures including European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, as well as the king and prime minister of Belgium. The summit allowed delegates the opportunity to attend key sessions on culture, education and agriculture, and address a variety of relevant topics such as the sustainable reintegration of migrants.

Yet Sall has also taken the opportunity to highlight his own record as President of Senegal, giving a speech to delegates emphasizing the progress his country has made during his seven years in power. Indeed, the current Senegalese administration has pushed several key initiatives to build a more inclusive society, echoing the core agenda of this week’s event in Brussels.

Sall’s approach is guided by a blueprint called Emerging Senegal, which strives to turn Senegal into a middle-income country by 2025 and is built on the same inclusive values the European Development Days espouse. In pursuit of this objective, the Government has launched a universal health insurance program to improve care access for Senegal’s poorest households, and invested millions of francs in efficient agriculture methods to improve levels of nutrition. A new city is being built to ease congestion in the capital Dakar, served by a new railway.

At the same time, the Government has launched a campaign to stop corrupt politicians draining the public coffers for their own enrichment. Sall created a brand-new anti-corruption body almost as soon as he took office, and ordered public officials to disclose their assets. Since then, several high-profile figures have been brought to trial, notably Karim Wade, son of Sall’s predecessor Abdoulaye Wade, who was found to have illegally accumulated a fortune of $200 million.

This raft of reforms has borne fruit: annual economic growth is running at 6% per year (previously it was just 2%), while the overall poverty rate has improved significantly and levels of malaria and chronic malnutrition have fallen drastically. Just as importantly, the culture of graft which festered during the Wade years has cleared significantly. Senegal has registered consistent gains on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index since 2012, and the NGO recently described the country as “a strong regional performer” for its efforts to combat malpractice.

The Brussels conference comes at an auspicious time for Sall, whose government has been reeling from accusations made in a recent BBC investigation which centers on the 2012 award of two off-shore gas licences to a company run by controversial businessman Frank Timis. The BBC claims Timis’s firm had little relevant experience to justify the award, and goes on to assert that his company paid Sall’s brother $250,000, as well as a salary and share options. The report also alleges that BP, which subsequently bought the rights from Timis, agreed to a series of secret royalty payments worth $10 billion.

The President and his brother both vehemently deny any wrongdoing. Sall’s supporters have pointed out that he wasn’t even in office at the time the initial contract was signed with Timis, and couldn’t rip up the deal for fear of litigation. Yet despite this defence, and the absence of any evidence that the President has benefited from the deal, the report has sparked outrage in Senegal, whose people have long anticipated a bonanza from their new-found oil and gas reserves.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Sall’s opponents have eagerly stoked the flames. Lawmaker Ousmane Sonko, beaten by Sall in February’s elections, has accused his rival of “high treason” and urged the people to rise up in protest. No doubt Sall’s opponents will seize on his visit to Brussels, accusing him of grand-standing. But the President’s move to woo the international community is perfectly timed: for a country trying to position itself as a reliable partner for foreign investment, Sall’s international reputation is of vital importance.

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Category: A Frontpage, Africa, Politics

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