Senegal as an experiment of growth in Africa
Colonialism used to concern the past for most of the african countries, after movements for independency took place, but the pattern of power games, in countries with energy resources, seems to be always present, if not endless.
Now the question, is if Senegal, and especially the capital Dakar, which seems to bustle with life, and gather foreign investements, and foreign govenrments' attention, due to its newfound energy resources, with reserves estimated at 860 million barrels, and 22 trillion cubic feet of gas, according to official data, be able to monitor all this growth for their own sake?
The history, seems to repeat itself all the time. When a place becomes an investment paradise for foreign capital, countries and organizations with "crystal clear" intentions of exploiting resources, and even local governments, tend to appear as the "saviours" of citizens, who will be responsible for their future amelioration, and a potential higher standard of living.
But, as i said many times in previous articles, the growth of a country's GDP, doesn't mean at all, growth of wealth and a higher standard of living per capita.
If we take a look at Senegal of nowadays, we will see a country with an infrastructure boom, that has no precedent. Dakar used to be called "Cap-Vert", and now people name it "Dakar Beton", as it became a city full of concrete and buildings, wherever there used to be a free walking place.
This legend of the francophone Africa, seems to become the investment paradise for anyone who would think of taking risks, and expanding their influence. This trend, seems to be promoted by the fact that in Senegal, there has been achieved a high level of security and stability during the latest years. Senegal, has signed agreements with the US and the UK, for fighting extremism, this way becoming a reliable partner for the western countries, and ofcourse, adding extra value to its domestic security in turn.
Senegal, has never fallen victim (yet?) as its neighbouring Nigeria did, to the curse of petrodollars, and the consequent corruption that followed this curse for generations. But, will it be able to escape this pattern, now that its newly found resources have cought the international attention, or will it become another corrupted country, with a governance that will exchange its underground wealth for petrodollars? Dick Cheney ( if one could find a more corrupted person than him, i would be glad to know), when he was a leader of the Halliburton giant company, once admited that "they were not responsible that oil, was produced in non-democratic countries"...Ofcourse that means, that even if a country is ruled by democracy, they will do their best to corrupt it, and make the most out of it.
So history here, seems not to be in favour of Senegal. This experiment of growth, might prove to be a deception, for the poor Senegalese citizens, waiting for some kind of growth per capita.
While France loosened its grip on its former colony, Senegal became a multicultural influx with international headquarters, businesses and investors, cosmopolitan residents and even Senegalese educated citizens, who returned back to their hometown, bringing valuable know-how. This is one of the assets for the country of Senegal, in case they decide to promote their future with transparency, and with respect to their people.
Another important fact here, is that during its post-colonial history, Senegal became the centre of a progressive pan-africanism, especially during the 20 years of the governance of president Leopold Sedar Senghor.
The rise of Dakar "re-pats", seems to be the driving force of Senegal, while those people are professionals who bring know-how and generate wealth back in their country.
However, as the country grows, it seems it becomes a victim of its own success, while it proves to be a magnet, for more people than it can cope with. In the capital of Dakar, old and new mingle between them, while the inflow of people to the country is so high, that there is no time at all, to think about architecture and designs. This way, Dakar, started to become a victim of modernity, in the name of dealing with all this unexpected interest.
Xi Jinping, chose Senegal for his first trip to West Africa, back in 2018, and signed with the country the Belt and Road Initiative, also promising cheap loans for new infrastructure. In 2015 Cnina, became the second biggest trading partner of Senegal, after EU.
What seems to be an experiment of growth, might lead to devastating results for the Senegalese people, within a period of few years only, if government gets trapped in the enthusiasm that sudden wealth and foreign interest can bring. And what seems to be the influx of "re-pats" back to their hometown, and the know-how and motives they want to incorporate, in the local business platforms, might lead to a unique exception of real growth, involving citizens per capita, and not just GDP growth, as international politics are used to count growth.
It just remains to be seen, if Senegal will be this exception to the rule in the next years, or another one who will bite the dust...
written by Themis Panagiotopoulou, PhD in Political Science