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U.S. should have stronger involvement in Senegal

BY GUEST OPINION | APRIL 02, 2012 6:30 AM

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Macky Sall has just been elected as the fourth president of the Republic of Senegal after defeating incumbent President Abdoulaye Wade in a run-off election on March 25.

After hearing the first results, Wade called Sall to congratulate him. This act of integrity and political maturity came as a surprise for many Africans, including me, who believed that Wade, 86, was not going to give up so easily. Indeed, in February, Wade refused to step down as protesters around the country asked him not to run for third term and to step down immediately. The question now is: What are the most urgent matters that the U.S. government and Sall will work on in the coming days?

There are three important issues on the table. The first and most urgent one is the instability in the region.

The United States considers Senegal to be an anchor of African and, mostly, West African stability and a potential partner in combating transnational security threats, such as terrorism, narcotics trafficking, and maritime piracy. The first role to be played by Sall in this regard will be to deal with the situation in eastern Senegal and Mali. This country is going through a political turmoil.

This question is very important because the situation in northern Mali is getting worse. The militaries who have taken power are not well organized, and this is good news for the terrorists (Tuareg) who are gaining territories in the north. I am sure that the United States and the world community would not like to see a nation governed by terrorists linked to Al Qaeda or a state without a government as in Somalia.

Furthermore, the insecurity and instability in Mali will force the population to flee and to abandon their farms and homes. This situation will worsen the problem of food insecurity in West Africa, and the world community will have to react again to save the vulnerable, as in East Africa with the conflict in Somalia. Then, it will be too late.

The second most important question on the table is Senegal's failure, to date, to bring Hissène Habré to justice. Habré is the former president of Chad accused of crimes against humanity. He has been living in Senegal since his overthrow in 1990, and the U.S. government is concerned that Habré "… has not been extradited for prosecution."

Last week, Wade's government said that it was committed to putting Habré on trial following Belgium's claim that Dakar was not doing anything to prosecute Habré. Will Sall's government continue in that same path? This case is a very complex and fragile one. It is going to be one of the issues that will help the world community gauge the newly elected president of Senegal. The United States has to be very careful while working on this issue because any mistake on this will affect the way Sall will work with the U.S. government.

The third most important issue on the table is that U.S. policy toward Senegal focuses on three important points: encouraging democratic governance, encouraging economic growth and development, and encouraging military professionalism. The United States would not like to see Sall break the pattern of what has been an example of democracy in the subregion. Also, I am certain that Sall would not like to be the one who betrays his people and impedes Africa's transition toward democracy.

Henri Joel Nkuepo
UI law research scholar


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