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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Senegal: Background and U.S. Relations

Alexis Arieff
Analyst in African Affairs

Senegal, a small, semi-arid nation on West Africa’s Atlantic coast, has long been viewed as one of the region’s most stable democracies. However, recent political trends have raised concerns among analysts and policymakers. Attention is currently focused on plans by President Abdoulaye Wade (pronounced “wahd”), 85, to run for a third term in elections scheduled for February 26, 2012. Opponents claim that Wade’s candidacy is unconstitutional, pointing to a twoterm limit in Senegal’s 2001 constitution. However, Wade’s eligibility to run was upheld in late January by Senegal’s Constitutional Council, which ruled that the constitutional provision did not apply to Wade’s first term in office (2000-2007), since the 2001 constitution was promulgated during his first term. The dispute has sparked demonstrations and rioting, leading analysts to question Senegal’s stability and the potential for a free and fair vote.

In office since 2000, Wade was initially credited with expanding civil liberties, bolstering economic growth, improving government health and education services, and negotiating a landmark peace accord in the long-volatile southern Casamance region. He was returned to office in 2007 in an election that the State Department termed “open, peaceful, and highly competitive,” despite objections by opposition parties, which boycotted subsequent legislative elections. Wade’s reputation has since been marred by his increasingly unilateral exercise of power, along with reports of rising corruption, nepotism, and restrictions on civil liberties. Violence has also flared in Casamance since 2009, despite the previous peace deal.

The State Department refers to U.S.-Senegalese relations as “excellent,” while noting concerns over negative governance trends. In early 2012, State Department officials publicly criticized Wade’s decision to run for a third term, with State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland calling on Wade on January 30 to “cede to the next generation.” Wade has publicly objected to what he views as outside attempts to interfere in domestic politics.

U.S. bilateral engagement has increased in recent years. Bilateral assistance, estimated at $98.8 million in FY2011, is focused on public health, food security, democratic governance, economic growth, rural development, and military professionalism. In addition, the United States signed a $540 million Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compact with Senegal in 2009. The United States has viewed Senegal as an anchor of regional stability and a potential partner in combating transnational security threats, such as terrorism, narcotics trafficking, and maritime piracy. Senegal is a significant contributor of troops to international peacekeeping missions, and thousands of Senegalese peacekeepers have received U.S. training through the State Department’s Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA) program.

Congress plays a role in guiding U.S. policy toward Senegal through its authorization, appropriation, and oversight of foreign assistance and executive branch policies. Some Members of Congress have recently expressed concern regarding the decision to award Senegal an MCC compact in light of concerns over corruption and political trends. In the conference report accompanying P.L. 112-74, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012, appropriators directed the allocation of at least $50 million in development aid to Senegal, while also expressing concern over Senegal’s failure, to date, to bring to justice former Chadian president Hissène Habré, who lives in Senegal and has been accused of crimes against humanity.

Date of Report: February 20, 2012
Number of Pages: 17
Order Number: R41369
Price: $29.95

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