Dimanche 21 Décembre, 2014
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 neighborhood.
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 destination.
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.
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