Another Africa is possible- Senegal.


 

“I have spent the last three months researching and compiling as much information about  Africa as I possibly could, in order to write an article weekly about something that was currently happening in the region. After a long time reading and investigating I can summarize my opinion about the continent in one sentence: Africa, a natural paradise where you can get raped, kidnapped and sold to the highest bidder, condemned to death for getting married with the one you love, or die of starvation and illness without anyone making a big deal out of it. In three months I have been unable to write a single positive article, mostly because all the misery and disgrace of those countries eclipsed the good things they can offer. I am starting to believe that maybe there is no light at the end of the tunnel…” This were my thoughts when I was on my way to my meeting with Monsieur Colonel Mamadou (militar attaché in Senegal’s embassy in Madrid), who just proved me how wrong I was.

Colonel Sy Mamadou studied International Relations in Senegal and served in the military afterwards. Nowadays he works as a diplomat in Madrid.

Sadly, the opinion I developed about Africa is shared by most of the people in western countries. But if we stop and think about it, how much do we actually know? And in such a big continent, are all the countries the same? The answer for those questions are the result of this interview. No, fortunately, not all the countries are the same. Senegal; a shiny exception in the African continent.

 

Let’s make a quick review about this country located in the west of the African continent. Senegal is a country with a population of around 13 million people. It got its independence from France in 1960, but it still has good relation with its former metropoli. It is a democratic country with presidential elections every five years. It is a member of the United Nations and it has signed and ratified most of the UN treaties. Education is public and compulsory until the age of 16.  Another really interesting fact is that in Senegal, the congress, composed by 100 deputies, counts with 50 women and 50 men.

senegal kids

Boys and girls learning how to write.

 

However, it is still a third-world country, and has uncountable issues to improve: It is known that the Senegalese society would rather work than study and this is reflected in its literacy rate, that does not go higher than 53% of the population. “Our economy, mainly based on the first sector (agriculture, fishing, mining, and textile), is not enough to feed the 13 million population, therefore malnutrition is a common problem among the Senegalese kids. But we are working on that. We have cooperation for development programs, like the PCE or PSE”- The Colonel explained me.

Despite all the shadows, after my interview with the colonel I started seeing Senegal as the Swiss of the African continent. One of the things that soon caught my attention is that Senegal is the only country in Africa that has never had a coup d’etat and we could say that it is one of the rare countries in Africa where democracy is actually working. When I asked the colonel what made Senegal different than the rest his answer was clear:

“In Senegal people do not seek for power. In Senegal people is not violent. Senegalese people want a good lifestyle. They want food and water, they want schools and hospitals, they want to have some spare money to spend. If their needs are satisfied, they are aswell. Moreover, Senegal has inherited from France their diplomatique system. Even when Senegal was still a french colony, it still had some deputies in the French assembly in Paris. We have being raised in a democracy, and after 1960, when we got the independence, we kept politics that way.Senegal is a country of tolerance, and educated people.”

These are just a few of the multiple reasons why democracy work in Senegal, as Colonel Mamadou said “Senegal is a country of muslim people, but not a muslim country.” Senegal is a country that makes a separation between religion and government. Despite 94% of the population practices the muslim religion, Senegal is known for its religious tolerance. For instance, is one of the few countries where Jihadism is forbidden. Following these beliefs, different religion marriages are allowed, and is not that weird to find members of the same family practicing different religions. Therefore, taking into account the education, the traditions, the tolerance of the people, their culture, and their economical situation, the colonel concludes by saying that “there are different powers that balance the system”. And this is what makes Senegal different from the rest of African countries.

 

Senegalese congress members in Dakar

Senegalese congress members in Dakar

After finishing my interview with Colonel Mamadou I realized about the potential Senegal has. In its 50 years as an independent country it has been fighting in order to become a model country for the rest of Africa. Therefore, if Senegal can make it, maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel for Africa, maybe, and just maybe, another Africa is possible.

 

 

By Alba Martinez

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