Obama’s visit to Senegal: Preliminary context and analysis
Obama’s visit to Senegal has been the center of focus of the Senegalese press since the White House Press Secretary released a statement on the President’s travel to Africa:
“President Obama and the First Lady look forward to
traveling to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania from June 26 – July 3.
The president will reinforce the importance that the United State places
on our deep and growing ties with countries in sub-Saharan Africa,
including through expanding economic growth, investment, and trade;
strengthening democratic institutions; and investing in the next
generation of African leaders.”
A series of questions may come to mind, such as: Where is Senegal?
Why Senegal? What is the reaction of the Senegalese people to Obama’s
visit? It is important, beforehand, to shed light on certain aspects of
the geographical and political background of Senegal, in order to fully
articulate the country’s reaction to Obama’s 3 day stay there.
Senegal is located in Western Africa; it
sits on the most western tip of the Atlantic Ocean. It is bordered by
Mauritania on the North, Mali on the East, Guinea and Guinea Bissau on
the South. The country, with an estimated population of 13 million
inhabitants, is the size of South Dakota. The dynamic of the Senegalese
cultural syncretism, bringing many religions and several ethnic groups
to peacefully cohabit together, makes Senegal a country of tolerance.
Senegal was colonized by France. It gained its independence in 1960
under the leadership of the President Poet Leopold Sedar Senghor, who
became the President of the newly independent country until 1980. Abdou
Diouf, Senghor’s prime minister, became the head of state in 1981 by
replacing his mentor, who decided to resign his position as the
President of the Senegalese Republic. After two decades as the Head of
the Senegalese nation, Abdou Diouf was defeated by his rival and fierce
opponent, Abdoulaye Wade. The Senegalese transition of power without
bloodshed was hailed and magnified throughout Africa and the rest of the
world. In the newspaper it publishes, BBC news relayed these words of
Fred Eckhard, a UN spokesman, stating that the “United Nations
congratulates the people and the government for the peaceful conduct of
those elections, which are a testimony to Senegal’s long standing
democratic tradition.” In 2012, Senegal witnessed another democratic
transition when Abdoulaye Wade lost the election in favor of his former
prime minister, Macky Sall. It is relevant to note that Senegal has
never witnessed a political coup, a thought-provoking fact signifying
that Senegal is one of the rare relatively stable countries in Africa.
In the light of this brief overview, we can easily extrapolate on the
rationale behind Obama’s visit to Senegal. Why Senegal? “Africa doesn’t
need strong men, it needs strong institutions.” These were the words
Obama spelled out during his visit to Ghana in 2009. They clearly state
his standing on foreign policy, and they fall in line with the
“democratic peace theory.” According to US Ambassador Lewis Lucken,
Obama has chosen Senegal because of its stability and democratic
tradition. The purpose of his visit is to promote economic cooperation
with Senegal and West Africa. Senegal is a strategic partner in West
Africa, and we are supporting democracy and applauding the peaceful
power transfer through democratic election.
The following lines and links will keep us informed and afloat by
giving a full account of Obama’s visit in Senegal, and how Senegalese
are reacting to his 3 day stay in their country:
Political parties in the opposition side are planning a strong demonstration to denounce President Macky Sall’s abuse of power.
The government of Senegal has mobilized all its resources and
government power to make Obama’s visit a very successful one. President
Sall’s government, serving as host, has already taken serious measures
to secure a peaceful visit for his guest, Obama. All demonstrations and
political manifestations are strictly forbidden by the administration.
Furthermore, President Sall has beefed up security by adding more police
officers, as well as giving orders to clean up all the different
arteries where Obama will travel during his visit. As a result, police officers have been wounded by protesters during a police intervention in Goree Island, when a fight broke out between the inhabitants of the Island and the Senegalese security forces.
During an interview abroad on May 30th of this year, Senegalese
President Macy Sall announced that he will not tolerate any disruption
of the Obama visit. Both the Senegalese authorities and the White House
have taken vigorous measures to safeguard the security of Obama while in
Senegal (600 people will be travelling with Obama to Senegal — 80 among them will be journalists, while the majority will be U.S Secret Service agents).
Senegal is under siege, American snipers are all over the city of Dakar. This situation is cumbersome to many Senegalese.
The American ambassador is asking the Senegalese to be patient.
The security measures taken to prepare for Obama’s visit in Senegal are
already affecting Senegalese daily life, especially for those who live
in Dakar. Senegalese feel that their freedom of movement is excessively
restricted due to the heavy surveillance in Almadie. U.S. and security
agents will be deployed to secure the facilities and the surrounding
Many areas are being restricted to the public during Obama’s stay in Dakar.
There were 3,000 deaths in Cote d’Ivoire and 10,000 deaths in Kenya
when these two countries were facing constitutional crises. When Senegal
was confronted with the same issues, the people stood up as one to
sanction the former President Abdoulaye in the ballot box. He mentioned
also that Obama will seize the opportunity of his visit to address a
country that is 94% Muslim with the following message: America is not
fighting Islam; rather it is fighting Al-Qaida. These are the main
factors explaining why Obama has chosen Senegal as one of his
Obama is arriving in Senegal today June 26, 2013, at about 8:30 pm.
The airport is cleaner than usual, cars are forbidden to park anywhere
in the surrounding areas. From Wednesday to Friday, between 6 – 9 pm no
vehicles are allowed in targeted areas in Senegal. These include the
major routes that Obama will be taking.
It is absolutely normal that the security get beefed up,
said one Senegalese man, because Obama is a special guest; he is the
president of the United States, the most powerful man in the world. The
government of Senegal has initiated intense lobbying before the many
religious brotherhood leaders to discourage all the groups who were
planning to sabotage Obama’s visit.
A man has named his son after Barack Obama. When interviewed the man
said that he named all his children after heroes. He wishes Obama can
come visit his namesake.
The Senegalese Human Rights League (LSDH) and the African Human Rights Defense Committee (RADHAO) are calling
on the American government and the Congress to put an end to the grave
human rights violations which have occurred during the fight against
terrorism. They urge Obama to keep his promises and close Guantanamo
Bay and give a fair trial to the prisoners before a federal court or
simply free them.