How Will Senegal’s New President Govern?

Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief.

The highlights this week: Puntland withdraws recognition of Somalia’s federal government, Zuma is banned from South Africa’s May election, and Uganda tells civil servants to get fit.

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Will Diomaye Faye Shake Up the Senegalese Economy?

Outgoing Senegalese President Macky Sall’s 12 years in office came to an end on April 2 after two tumultuous months. Sall provoked a political crisis in February after he delayed elections until the constitutional court and Supreme Court intervened and ordered him to set the date for March 24. Then his handpicked successor was defeated by an opposition politician whom Sall had imprisoned for more than 11 months and released on March 14.

Bassirou Diomaye Faye was sworn in as Africa’s youngest democratically elected president at 44 years old, having won 54 percent of the votes. His term could usher in an overhaul of Senegal’s economic policies, a prospect that has made financial experts nervous, particularly since Faye—a former tax inspector—has never held public office.

Sall’s tenure saw economic growth averaging near 5 percent due to business-friendly terms for international investors. Sall’s economic framework, the $20 billion Emerging Senegal Plan, aimed to make Senegal a middle-income country by 2035 through spending on infrastructure and tourism powered by oil and gas projects.

A Museum of Black Civilizations, a $1.2 billion high-speed rail, and a new $575 million international airport were built in the capital city of Dakar, while other government projects focused on electricity and health care access for rural communities. During Sall’s tenure, Senegal rose from low-income to lower-middle-income status, according to the World Bank.

But his development projects failed to appreciably reduce poverty because the government appointed officials to positions of influence based on party affiliation rather than competence. Aliou Sall, the outgoing president’s brother, resigned from office in 2019 after a BBC investigation said he had received $250,000 along with a further $1.5 million in salary over five years from a Romanian-born businessman to obtain licenses for two offshore gas blocks.

Sall served a seven-year term and then a five-year term after he fulfilled his campaign promise to reduce presidential terms. His second term marked the first time in Senegal’s history in which a ruling party failed to win an absolute majority in parliament. He ended months of speculation about a prospective unconstitutional third term in July 2023 but maintained that the constitution would have allowed his candidacy. He argued that the term limit changes had reset his own tenure limits, though most Senegalese legal experts and the public disagreed.

His legacy was further tarnished by a violent crackdown on protests since 2021, which overshadowed the country’s economic gains. Faye had been incarcerated on several charges, including “incitement to insurrection,” over a Facebook post criticizing authorities.

Sall leaves Senegal with mass youth unemployment, which in part cost his party the election. About half of the country’s 17 million people live in poverty, according to the United Nations development agency.

Political analysts suggest that Faye is likely to call a snap local election because his opposition party, La Coalition Diomaye Président, does not have a majority in parliament. Faye said during his inauguration speech that he wants to fight corruption and reclaim sovereignty.

But he has rolled back some of his populist pledges, such as a proposal to abolish the French colonial era CFA franc and instead create a national currency. Under Faye’s revised proposal, Senegal would seek to switch to an Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)-led currency first, and if this fails, he will put forward the idea of a national currency for public discussion. Considering that Anglophone states within ECOWAS largely have their own national currencies, the decades-old plan to introduce an ECOWAS regional currency has never been a priority.

Faye is also seeking to renegotiate mining and energy contracts just as Sall’s joint offshore natural gas project with Mauritania—which will export energy to Europe—is set to begin later this year. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts that natural gas projects will boost Senegal’s GDP growth to double digits this year.

But his anti-establishment ideas have worried the financial markets. Senegal’s dollar bonds were among the worst performers following Faye’s win, but bounced back after Amadou Ba—Sall’s endorsed candidate—conceded defeat. Global credit ratings agency S&P Global said Faye would likely want to cancel or modify parts of Sall’s Emerging Senegal Plan, which could affect the country’s relationship with multinationals. “The new government has yet to communicate many of its key fiscal and economic policy proposals, which could affect Senegal’s creditworthiness,” S&P added.

Despite these notes of caution, experts suggest the realities of governing will mean that Faye is unlikely to follow through with radical policy changes, including abandoning the CFA franc, which is pegged to the euro.

Wednesday, April 3: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s controversial third term, a six-year tenure, officially begins.

Kenya’s central bank makes an interest rate decision.

Friday, April 5: Nigeria’s preliminary case against Binance executives to be heard in the Federal High Court in the capital city of Abuja.

Wednesday, April 10, to Friday, April 12: EU-Zambia Business Forum will be held in Kitwe, Zambia.

Somalia’s other breakaway region. Puntland, an oil-rich semi-autonomous region of Somalia, has said it will operate independently of Somalia’s federal government until several changes to the constitution—which were adopted on Saturday by the Somali parliament—are put to a public referendum.

The changes to the constitution include introducing direct presidential elections and allowing the president to appoint a prime minister without parliamentary approval. Somalia currently operates a clan-based indirect voting system. Puntland’s authorities said the changes amount to the adoption of a new constitution without public approval. It’s a further rift in federal control after the breakaway region of Somaliland signed a port deal with Ethiopia in January in return for Addis Ababa recognising its sovereignty.

Hydrocarbon investments. The Africa Energy Bank, an institution created to help finance oil and gas projects across Africa, is set to start operations later this year with an initial $5 billion capital base. More than 40 percent of Africans lack access to electricity. Nearly 80 percent of people without electricity globally live in Africa.

Western governments have demanded that multilateral lenders such as the World Bank stop funding African oil and gas projects for local consumption in order to reduce global carbon emissions while continuing to fund African fossil-fuel projects providing energy for Europeans.

It is envisaged that each African member nation to the African bank will contribute a minimum of $83 million for a total of around $1.5 billion, while $2 billion will be sourced from Middle East investors. It’s a joint effort between the African Petroleum Producers’ Organization and the African Export-Import Bank which had an initial slated launch of June.

South Africa ICJ case. Ireland will intervene in the International Court of Justice case filed by South Africa against Israel, the Irish government has said. It follows a similar announcement by Bangladesh in January; however, the interventions will take months to materialize. Israel’s military operation has resulted in the deaths of more than 32,000 Palestinians in response to the Oct. 7, 2023, attack on Israel, during which 1,200 Israelis were killed.

Zuma election ban. South Africa’s election authorities have barred former President Jacob Zuma from standing in the country’s May election due to a prior conviction. The South African Constitution bans people convicted and sentenced to more than 12 months’ imprisonment from running for office. Zuma was sentenced to 15 months in prison in June 2021 for defying a court order to appear before a judicial commission that was investigating corruption allegations during his tenure. Zuma heads a new political party—the uMkhonto weSizwe Party, named after the African National Congress (ANC) party’s armed wing during the anti-apartheid struggle and known by the acronym MK—that is widely expected to take votes away from the ruling ANC.

On the same day of the commission’s announcement, Zuma was involved in a car crash, though he was unhurt. His supporters alleged that Zuma had been “deliberately” targeted by the ANC. A 51-year-old man who collided with Zuma was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.

This Week in Public Health

Ugandan public workers have been ordered to receive weekly exercise lessons to lower the burden of lifestyle-related diseases on the country, the Ugandan government announced this month. The directive came after a national health survey showed that obesity rates in the country had risen from 17 percent to 26 percent in the past 17 years and that cancer rates had also climbed, particularly among the wealthy. In a letter to government agencies, Lucy Nakyobe, the head of public service, said the sessions would “help save the lives of staff and reduce the disease burden.” In 2018, Uganda introduced a national day for physical activity.

FP’s Most Read This Week

U.S. fears of Chinese influence in Equatorial Guinea. In the Intercept, Nick Turse argues that continued U.S. aid to Equatorial Guinea’s dictator, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, over fears of a potential Chinese military base in the country “makes a mockery” of pledges that the Biden administration supports democracy and human rights in Africa.

Chinese chat app fails in Africa. Chinese firm ByteDance, which owns TikTok, has pulled access to its messaging app LetsChat from devices across Africa due to low take-up, reports Damilare Dosunmu in Rest of World. Despite hiring local staff and social media influencers in Nigeria—Africa’s most populous nation—the app failed to maintain significant numbers of African users. Meta’s WhatsApp is the biggest messaging service in Africa. China’s WeChat launched in South Africa in 2015, but it has similarly failed to shake WhatsApp’s dominance.

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