Magazine article New African

The Danger of 'Yes Sir' Politics

Magazine article New African

The Danger of 'Yes Sir' Politics

Article excerpt

President Macky Sail's decision to allow Guantanamo Bay detainees into Senegal does not portend well for security. So why did he do it?

Abdoulaye Wade, the nonagenarian lawyer who ruled Senegal from 2002 to 2012, is remembered by many of his compatriots as loquacious, permanently agitated, and somewhat unpredictable. James Wolfensohn, a former World Bank boss who dubbed him "a very unusual president", was perhaps not sure whether to be more bemused or amused by him.

But when the current head of state, President Macky Sail's secrets are eventually made public, by contrast they take everybody by surprise--as was the case on 3 April, when it was made public that two Libyan Guantanamo inmates, Salem Abdou Salam Chereby and Mohammed Abu Baker Mahjour Umar, had been transferred to Senegal.

Up to that point, nobody had been aware that the US had been putting pressure on Dakar for Senegal to become the second African nation after Ghana to agree to such a high-risk move. It is perfectly possible that the decision preceded by tough discussions and that the Senegalese government hesitated till the very end.

The only thing we know for sure is that once it had been finalised, Dakar either forgot, or was too embarrassed, to announce it.

The Senegalese people first heard about it through an official statement issued by the US Pentagon. Then there was a declaration by John Kerry thanking Senegal for "this significant humanitarian gesture ... consistent with Senegal's leadership on the global stage", followed by a letter from President Obama to his Senegalese counterpart two days later. In a country that prides itself on its free press, this came as a serious blow and understandably, public opinion was marked with anger. One of the deputies from the opposition drew a comparison between Barack Obama's respect for the American legislators and Macky Sail's contempt for the Senegalese National Assembly.

Mankeur Ndiaye, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, was bombarded with demands for an explanation. On at least one occasion this man, who usually keeps his calm, lost his temper during a news conference and came close to insulting the members of the press who were laying into him. He seemed to see no reason for the outpouring of righteous indignation. The story was simple: the two Guantanamo detainees had expressed the desire to be transferred to Senegal, and as their African Muslim brothers, they could not be refused. He also categorically denied any suggestions of financial compensation, something I am prepared to believe. Political deals of this kind do not normally boil down to a vulgar commercial transaction; they are far more sophisticated than that.

Oddly enough, the security issue, which remains a major concern for the Senegalese population, was passed over in silence by the minister. It must be pointed out that these are not the only foreign prisoners the country has agreed to host on its soil.

A number of Rwandan "genocidaires" convicted by the Arusha tribunal are expected to arrive here in the coming weeks to serve time in a special high-security prison near Dakar. The main difference there is that the two Libyans, after being detained in Guantanamo for more than a decade, have never been tried in a Court of Law. They have both been tortured, but only one of them has ever had a charge raised against him.

The Senegalese authorities are aware that in terms of international jurisdiction the status of these prisoners is illegal and the entire procedure is actually immoral.

That is why the minister thought it necessary to declare that Salem Abdou Salam Chereby and Mohammed Abu Baker Mahjour Umar arrived as free men in a country where they will live freely.

When the history of the Guantanamo prison is written, no one will be surprised to learn that many other countries politely but firmly declined requests from the White House for this kind of unilateral transaction. …

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