Craig Eisele on …..

March 27, 2012

Senegal Plays Game of Thrones

Filed under: Craig Eisele — Mr. Craig @ 8:40 pm

Presidential challenger Macky Sall is being lionised by the media, but he too has links to controversial interests.

Kingston, Canada – For peasants and petty traders living under feudal monarchies, the only thing worse than living with a plundering, despotic king was not having one. When a king’s excesses led dissidents to seek a pretender, everyone suffered. During wars, harvests were stolen and the youth disappeared into armies and prostitution. Perhaps, the best portrayal of these circumstances is Bertold Brecht’s brilliant play, Mother Courage and Her Children, set amid Europe’s “Thirty Years’ War”.

For the majority of Senegalese citizens, the fantastic humiliation of an aspiring dictator is seen as a victory, insofar as it allows some calm to pervade the tense streets, as people return to their drudgery. To be sure, the maniacally stubborn president, Abdoulaye Wade, has not yet played his final hand, after having taken 35 per cent of the vote in the first round. Yet, fortunately, the chances of him pulling off a victory are extremely remote – in part because his main opponent, Macky Sall, is rather astutely taking advantage of this moment of stalemate.

Sall came in with 26.57 per cent, with Moustapha Niasse at 13 per cent, Ousmane Tanor Dieng at 11.5 per cent and Idrissa Seck at just under eight per cent. The final round will only include Sall and Wade, who will now be trying to convince the other candidates to give him their endorsement in return for a position in the government’s executive (equivalent to a cabinet).

Wade emerged after two days of silence following the humiliating results (before the elections he boasted a victory would come in the first round, with him easily garnering more than the necessary 51 per cent). Although Wade indicated then he would be “exploring coalition options”, the opposition appears to have held strong. At this point, a victory for his party would be widely interpreted as fraudulent and would put the country in a truly dire, ungovernable, crisis situation.

Despite the euphoria of a few, most people on the street are pretty cynical. They suspect all politicians to have been involved in stealing from the people. It appears to most a lot like a turf war among drug lords. What seems to matter to those elected is not so much the people on the street, as who gets to control the spoils.

Liberal freedoms matter

It is important, however, not to understate the significance of halting the rapid decay into authoritarianism that was taking place. As election results came through, showing Wade’s massive decline, the authority of the police on the streets was immediately deflated – rather than occupying the streets surrounding Independence Square in the centre of the capital, they were relegated to the sidelines. They even acted politely towards passersby. Wade massively misjudged his capacity to win the election. Even as he applied every trick of fraud he could manage, he was far from being able to “pull a Mugabe”.

Living amid the protests and police violence in downtown Dakar, I realised that one should never underestimate the value of liberal-democratic freedoms, even if they are primarily symbolic. Even Wade supporters I spoke to were shocked by the events of Sunday, February 19, which saw spontaneous anger unleashed toward police in every part of the city.


In Dakar’s poorest suburb of Rufisque, a young man was shot dead with live police ammunition, bringing the total number of deaths in recent weeks to at least seven. Cities across the country faced similar situations. Perhaps most significantly, groups of youths had targeted the main transport routes. Whether they knew it or not, this was one of the critical tactics that led to independence in so many countries across this continent. This was probably the day Wade lost the election.

Macky Sall should be supported, insofar as he is clearly indicating a willingness to implement a number of changes to limit powers of the future president and to increase space for public political expression. Beyond that, people should be suspicious and vigilant. Sall is playing the media spotlight exceptionally well, but he is, of course, Wade’s protégé. He claims that he will work to alleviate poverty and address healthcare and education (the nation’s literacy rate stands at 42 per cent, well below the average of 62 per cent for sub-Saharan countries). The problem, however, is that he has been remarkably vague on how he expects to accomplish these lofty goals. More importantly, his past actions show him to have been a key ally of the global one per cent.

Taking stock of the state

The basis of Senegal’s current gang-war politics stem partly from the fact that the state coffers are like Swiss cheese (Swiss Cheese was, quite appropriately, the name of the military paymaster in Brecht’s Mother Courage). Idrissa Seck was Wade’s former prime minister (as was Sall after him), but implicated in mismanagement of funds for road building and imprisoned in 2005, with Sall playing a key role as Wade’s henchman.

This is high-profile stuff, but the more insidious problem with the holes in state coffers is that much of the misuse of funds appears to occur somewhat legally. The liberalisation and privatisation agenda has seen public servants creating companies that pick up various outsource contracts at greatly inflated rates.Seck then accused Sall of misappropriation of public funds, amounting to seven billion CFA francs ($3.5million). Charges against Seck were dropped, but Sall fell out with Wade in 2008, when he started to ask questions about the management of state building contracts by Wade’s son, Karim.

Wade created an anti-corruption Authority for Regulating Public Contract in 2007, but the same year, it reportedthat more than 70 per cent of government deals were not properly vetted. When the authority found Karim Wade involved in a reportedly shady deal with US company Global Voice, the president claimed “presidential contracts” were not within the remit of the authority.

Money has flowed quite blatantly to Wade’s son and daughter – the latter organising a massive international music and arts festival in 2010 that brought musicians from all over the world. Some artists have reportedly still not been paid. But it’s the land deals and the telecommunications contracts that are much harder to dig up and challenge, in part because the forms of corruption take place through private contracts, over which members of government have managed to use their control as a form of rent to write in percentages of profits to themselves. Wade even did this with his statue.

Slippery Sall

The day after the election’s first round, Sall was still boasting of having been in Wade’s inner circle. Yet the following day, he was claiming that if he were to win, he would perform a full state audit and create more transparency in government. Even if he was involved in past thieving, this would no doubt be a positive step. But what kind of economy does he envision beyond that? More importantly, what portions of the economy is he not talking about?

Sall also suggested that key aspects of his economic policy would be to lower the cost of living (you would think he might contemplate increasing wages here, but that has yet to be proposed by any candidate).

He also said he would create jobs by spending 300 billion francs ($150 million) on investment and tourism development, establishing a job-creation project to create 500,000 jobs via youth entrepreneurship in leisure activities and tourist crafts, giving tax exemption to 80 per cent of retired ex-pat residents to draw them back to Senegal for six months a year, restructuring of the tourism sector (almost without doubt leading to the privatisation of state resources) and mandating an increase in VAT tax on tourism services.

This should be seen as utterly offensive to most people in Senegal, especially so because this comes from a man who was a minister of mines and marine resources. People want restrictions placed upon foreign fishing vessels in their waters, so they can get their fishing industry back. They want their agriculture industry to be revived. They want decent wages from their employers.

They would probably also like some of their mining resources to support secondary industries that could employ university graduates. The problem, however, is that many Senegalese are still unaware of the mining boom currently taking place in their country. The fact Sall is so quiet on this matter should lead people to ask some very significant questions about his role when he was the minister responsible.

Macky Sall was also once the head of the state petroleum company, which you might think would make him a little sceptical about gambling the country’s future on air travel, as global reserves are declining. Aside from the limited practicality of the plan, does he really think the youth in Ye’n a Marre are aspiring for careers as yes-men for European vacationers? Moreover, resort locations are already experiencing a downturn as a result of the financial crisis. People want dignity, not further servitude.

 The Canadian government and its gold corporations have been targets of indigenous resistance  [GALLO/GETTY]

Polluters and the one per cent

The likely reason Sall is silent about Senegal’s biggest prize is that he was allegedly involved in handing it over to the world’s biggest polluters and human rights offenders. I’m referring here to the West African Birimian geological belt in Tambacounda, found to have more than 10 million ounces of gold resources.

Sall was minister of mining when the constitution was changed to open it up to international exploration. The Canadian company, Teranga Gold Corp, made off with a 1,500km claim, and has since suggested: “Senegal is developing into a world-class gold district, for which Teranga Gold holds one of the largest land positions on the belt.”

Teranga boasts of its corporate responsibility on its website, but things on the ground are looking fishy. Teranga is a Wolof word, meaning “welcome”, yet the mining industry certainly has not applied that to some of the area’s former inhabitants. Oxfam has claimed that the population allegedly displaced by an Australian mining firm now lives in extreme poverty [Fr]. That really isn’t so bad for the company, however, as it must want a compliant workforce nearby to keep its operation going 24 hours a day.

In Kedogou, where at least one person was fatally injured during rioting, the governor, Mamadou Diom, acknowledged that the unrest was caused, in part at least, at the perception of the mines not employing local workers.
The problem manifested itself when protests against poverty and a lack of jobs in 2008 turned into a riot, where 26 were arrested and two were killed.

Diom is reported, in a leaked US cable marked “Confidential”, to have said: “People need to understand that large scale gold mining is very new and that jobs, especially those needing skilled labour, won’t be available overnight.”

He was later somewhat unsympathetic to his constituents. “They are lazy here,” Diom is reported to have said. “All they want to do is strike it rich working in small time mines and then blow their money on women and booze.”

Among the executives at the region’s Teranga gold mine, Kathy Sipos and Yani Roditis are two of the vice-presidents, both of whom have had extensive careers at Barrick Gold and have worked on mining operations in Peru, Chile and Argentina – a point I will come back to.

A joint-owned Canadian and Saudi company, Iamgold, is also taking part in the gold rush in Senegal. Its CEO isStephen JJ Letwin. Letwin is a former vice-president of Enbridge, the company building pipelines across North America to transport tar sands extractions [PDF]. One such pipeline is embroiled in controversies with some of Canada’s first nation (native) communities who don’t want it destroying their ecosystems.

Letwin also used to sit on the board of directors of Canada’s highly influential right-wing think-tank, the CD Howe Institute, which basically writes government policy and is currently pushing the country’s healthcare and education system for privatisation.

Benjamin Little, another former Barrick Gold employee, also sits on Iamgold’s board. Little boasts of having been the senior policy adviser to Canada’s federal minister of industry and sits on Canada-Peru Chamber of Commerce. This brings us back to issues of Latin America.

The Canadian government and its gold corporations have been key targets of massive indigenous resistance movements. In Peru, where Canadian companies have invested more than $2.3billion, a crackdown on indigenous protesters by the Peruvian government killed at least 50 people. One important comment on this has been written by Todd Gorden.

Many Senegalese have been outraged by the seven deaths of protesters on their streets and have sought support from the international community to “stop Wade’s terror”. The reality, however, is that if Peru can get away with killing 50 protesters without an outcry from international officials, why would they care about seven in Senegal?

These gold companies are run by the people who are pocketing millions that could otherwise be used to support welfare programmes and economic diversification in Senegal.

It’s hard to fathom what the sizes of their paycheques are, but one executive, Paul Olmstead, pulled in a 2006 salary worth nearly $600,000 from Iamgold. That was before the deposits even turned up any gold. What are these executives making now and what is heading to their investors?

While these executives are receiving salaries in the hundreds of thousands of dollars (before stock options are even considered), my own contacts in Dakar tell me their relatives who work in the mud, sweat and tears of the mines themselves make around $7,000 a year. Admittedly, this is a good wage when compared with the average income of the impoverished, aid-reliant nation of just, according to World Bank figures, $1,090 a year (gross national income per capita). but even this sure doesn’t go far when just about everything is imported (even the national staples of rice, potatoes and onions). You would be very hard pressed to find a Senegalese person earning $7,000 a year who thinks the arrangement is a fair distribution of wealth from the mines.

Beyond the country’s lost potential revenues from these companies, one should question what the long-term environmental impacts might be. One key reason for doing this is that the annual reports of these companies make it quite clear they are planning a hit-and-run operation. Teranga’s 2011 annual report shows they are optimistic of operating for 10-15 years at best. They plan to take out the gold and leave, but what then will happen to all those people who were displaced? What then happens to those who worked in the industry? What then happens to those who lost their grazing land?

The track-record of many of the players in this industry is not good. Chet Idziszek is the president and director of Oromin, another company involved. In 1990, he won “mining man of the year” award (I guess it is presumed they are always men) for his role in “developing” the Eskay Creek in British Columbia, Canada. The Eskay Creek Mine is in the headwaters of the Unuk River in British Columbia, the traditional territory of the Tahltan First Nation. Barrick purchased the mine in 2001 from Homestake, and opened it in 1995. It was reportedly depleted by 2008 and closed.

For a short time, the Tahltan enjoyed near full employment. But the native jobs tended towards truck driving, catering and chamber-maiding. By the time Barrick Gold called it quits in early 2008, the Tahltan Iskut community had little to show for it, except for two tailings lakes that, according to Mining Watch [PDF], are likely to be heavily polluted. One cannot know, however, because laws in Canada protect mining companies from having to tell the public details about their operations.

These cases are particularly disturbing when one considers the fact that most of this gold will not be used to develop electronics or false teeth or anything useful to society – but will ultimately end up simply manufactured into bars, stored by the super-rich in bank vaults.

Macky and the mines

Macky Sall is himself a mining engineer. He was minister of mines when these companies were established in Senegal. One can only imagine he spent many hours dining with these executives who make off with so much of the country’s wealth.

It might also be worth noting that elsewhere in Africa, governments are re-examining their taxation and ownership arrangements with mining companies. Zambia and South Africa are two examples, although Julius Malema wasexpelled from the ANC after he suggested nationalising the mines. Even Australia’s minority government has managed to create a new mining tax.Senegalese people should be asking what Sall thinks about the gross inequalities between the incomes of these mining executives and those of the Senegalese majority. They should also be asking whether these corporations in fact supported his campaign, which has allowed him to travel continually around the country over the past two years.

Unless Macky Sall openly states otherwise, Senegalese people should be aware that he has been cavorting with people who are deeply involved in human rights abuses and ecological destruction of monumental proportions. Moreover, they are bedfellows with the current conservative Canadian government, which functions as one of the worst obstructionists in global climate change talks.

It is a government that, moreso than any previous administrations in the nation’s recent history, has cracked down on its own citizens who try to challenge the country’s increasingly imperial role in the world. Moreover, it is a government that is increasingly unwelcoming to immigrants and refugees – especially from Africa.

Canada’s immigration minister actually seems to think a bit like a mining executive in his approach to people in the “third world”. Faced with an overwhelming number of skilled applicants, he is currently seeking to “mine the backlog” for those who fit the country’s labour needs.

The majority of foreigners brought into Canada are now done so using temporary work visas that offer no benefits from the state, though workers must pay taxes and are subject to discrimination. Even those who come in with high qualifications make $6.30 an hour less than the average Canadian, and face much higher unemployment.

So while the elite of Canada experience Senegal’s teranga and take away its wealth, Senegalese people are not welcome in Canada – unless they are in the tiny portion of the population that can afford to come to our universities or bring in $800,000 to start businesses. Meanwhile, poverty-stricken “illegal immigrants” may face a year-long jail term, arguably in contravention of the UN’s refugee convention. 

Back in Senegal, Sall has a daunting task to manage unemployment of massive proportions (reportedly as high as 50 per cent in some demographic sectors) without being able to do anything to alter the underlying economy. It remains much as Frantz Fanon wrote in 1961:

“The national economy of the period of independence is not set on a new footing. It is still concerned with the groundnut harvest, with the cocoa crop and the olive yield. In the same way there is no change in the marketing of basic products, and not a single industry is set up in the country. We go on sending out raw materials; we go on being Europe’s small farmers, who specialise in unfinished products.”

Sall has not proposed any dramatic changes to this arrangement. So far he has only indicated that he thinks the unemployed youth will serve the cocktails and provide the sight-seeing for the mining executives as they come in and out of the country. Amid Dakar’s bars popular among engineers, these young service staff are already outnumbered by sex-workers, while the boys left behind rap in the slums. 
A glance at the latest video by Beuz Mc, titled Fou rewmi dieum [“Where are we going?”], suggests the youth ofY’en a Marre are much more attuned to the needs of the economy than the likely soon-to-be president. They show the need for infrastructure and public-sector jobs in waste treatment and sanitation, road construction and electricity sectors – and policies that do not prioritise the mining sector above the health of nursing mothers, safe water, cheaper energy, health care or education.


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