brad brown_cc.jpgI recently returned from Senegal, whose presidential election last March received a lot of international attention, and I wrote about it in an earlier column.  About 100 days later, the parliamentary election took place and there was a lot of interest in running but little in voting.  More than 7,000 candidates competed for 150 seats but only a little more than 30 percent of the people voted, compared to 70 percent in the previous parliamentary election.

The contrast with the energy in the presidential election was striking and the lack of vigorous street demonstrations obvious. Some of this was undoubtedly the result of the realization that the hoped-for improved economy, for example significant drops in food prices, did not occur in the first 100 days of the new president.  However, the drastic difference makes one wonder if the rumors of French business monies from individuals upset that they had lost their sinecure might be real. Nevertheless, the take-home conclusion is that, in Senegal, democracy is well established and does not need lecturing from a country like the U.S. rife with efforts to selectively restrict the vote.

The results gave a coalition of parties opposing former President Abdoulaye Wade a significant majority. Parliament consists of members from a number of parties and several of them including the party of the new president were founded by persons who had been leaders in the former government. Thus the Socialist Party, which ruled Senegal for its first 40 years of independence, is still in the minority. 

The more open, less French-driven, development of the past decade is likely to continue.  The technocratic approach of President Sall, who  served as prime minister under Wade and is a geologist by training, may be useful right now in addressing some of the issues of bringing to fruition policy already initiated, like greater investment in agriculture to obtain food self-sufficiency.

 In my work with the Canary Current Large Marine Ecosystem (CCLME) Project involving seven countries in northwest Africa, the key policy persons in Senegal are the minister of environment and the minister of fisheries. The new fisheries minister, Pape Diouf, is a former fisheries minister under Wade and he has already reached out to the CCLME  project to request a briefing. This interest is important because the problems of overfishing can be addressed only by taking into account the movement of fish across national boundaries.

The minister of environment, Haidar El Ali, who is president of Senegal’s Green Party, is of Lebanese background and an important merchant and professional. He is a well-known environmentalist who has done significant work in mangrove restoration.

It is instructive to review these events when the mainstream press concentrates on coups and rigged elections.  In Senegal and a number of other African countries, elections change regimes and officials change but life goes on and the government, to the extent resources are available, continues to provide  important services for the country.

Brad Brown is a retired National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientist. He continues to work as a consultant on African coastal and marine projects and scientific capacity development. He is also president of the Miami-Dade NAACP. He may be reached at jabaribrad@aol.com

Photo: Brad Brown