Wading in Autocracy: Senegal's Near-Despotism

By Ly, Abdul | Harvard International Review, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Wading in Autocracy: Senegal's Near-Despotism


Ly, Abdul, Harvard International Review


As the Republic of Senegal prepares to celebrate its 50 years of independence from France, the government is set to spend approximately US$624,000 on the lavish inauguration party of President Abdoulaye Wade's pet project, the Statue of African Renaissance. Towering over the westernmost part of contiguous Africa, the monument shows a shirtless, muscular man with one arm around a semi-nude woman standing behind him and another arm holding a baby aloft. All three figures stand atop a hill and survey the landscape as their gaze follows the child's finger pointing toward the sea. Yet amidst this near-idyllic scene, several critics point fingers toward Wade in an attempt to call his bluff.

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This monument, standing higher than the Statue of Liberty, officially cost the Senegalese people US$24 million although foreign government officials allege that the total expenses were more likely to have been around US$70 million. In a country where 54 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, Wade's excessive spending is regarded by many as a slap in the face to Senegal's people.

Rumors about the octogenarian president bordering on senility are only rivaled by public outcries about his excessive greed. He claims 35 percent of the statue's tourist revenue for one of his foundations run by his daughter Sindiely Wade. He justifies his appropriation of the infamous "35 percent" because of "intellectual property" rights. Wade also claims to have received congratulations from Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi for the construction of the extravagant statue. Wade's transformation from a democratic leader to an autocratic one is best evidenced by his creation of a company to build his monument and his rejoice at a dictator's accolades.

Senegal has been hailed as a model of democracy for developing Africa. One of the rare African countries to have never had a coup d'etat, Senegal has experienced two transparent, fair, and peaceful transitions of power in the postcolonial era: one in 1981 and one in 2000. The latter culminated in Wade's accession to power. Although Senegal never enjoyed a pure democracy during the terms of any of the three presidents, efforts were made to put the country on the path toward pure and pluralistic democracy. Yet Wade has steadily rolled back most of the progress made since Senegal's independence from France. The progress of democracy has stagnated, and in some cases democratic freedoms have regressed. According to Amnesty International (AI), freedom of the press is under threat in Senegal, as journalists and intellectuals have been harassed, intimidated, and jailed. Various high-profile events such as the mysterious arrest of the director of Le Quotidien newspaper and the temporary closure of the radio Sud FM by Minister of the Interior Ousmane Ngom all indicate that the government functions similar to most autocratic regimes. …

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