Gilbert Khadiagala, in his article on Euro-African relations, asks how much of new African representation is truly substantive and how much of it is tokenism that sustains the “illusion of movement on African questions?” I’m interested in this notion of illusionism in the context of Senegal and its evolving relationships with foreign actors. Has France’s relationship with Senegal really changed? Are other countries such as the US, China, and Middle East now more important?
The legacy of colonial France has critically shaped independent foreign policy in Senegal but today the government lists four sets of countries as cornerstones of foreign policy: (1) immediate neighbors; (2) the remainder of Africa; (3) the Arab world and other Muslim countries; and (4) the Western democracies. Tony Chafer in his article on Franco-African relations states that though the French sphere of influence still exists, especially in continuing emphasis on La Francophonie, the disappearance of the Cooperation Ministry, the move to distribute French bilateral aid, the fragmentation of the réseaux, and other developments have reduced France’s direct political influence over African policy. Asserting its independence from this French influence, Senegal prioritizes regional unity as an effective competition mechanism in the international economic system. President Diouf, less personally connected to France than Senghor, sought closer ties with the US and other democracies, including Japan, thereby taking advantage of growing economic competition among Western democracies to lessen his country’s foreign policy dependence on France. Diouf, in signing contracts with South African and American oil companies in 1995 (despite intense French pressures,) reveals a departure from Senegal’s past tendency to give preferential treatment to French companies.
Senegal is also less dependent on French foreign aid and is looking to other places for aid and investment. Chinese investments in Senegal are increasing, while Senegalese businesses are encouraged to venture into the enormous Chinese market. Senegal’s current President Abdoulaye Wade has criticized the EU’s policies towards Africa and said the continent was now looking towards India and China for its economic needs. He said, “Africa wants to cooperate with Europe,” but “if Europe closes itself off from Africa, we have India, China, Brazil knocking on our doors to offer us the same thing that Europe has been offering at a better price with excellent conditions…”
This movement away from French exclusionary relations is seen not only in the opening up of Senegal to China but also in the country’s increased interaction with the Islamic world. The rising influence of Islam within the Senegalese political system is seen with the increased political stature of the Marabouts. In an earlier post, I mentioned the role of Muslim Marabouts, or religious leaders, in leading French-resistance movements. The leaders of these brotherhoods, especially the Tijaniyya, continue to hold great power in Senegal and look towards the Arab world for support.
Though France’s legacy in Senegalese foreign policy is undeniable and the two countries enjoy friendly diplomatic relations, Senegal is serving its best interest by creating strong relations with other powers.
Chafer, Tony. “Franco-African Relations: No Longer So Exceptional?” African Affairs. 2002, 101, 343-363
Khadiagala, Gilbert M. “Euro-African Relations in the Age of Maturity.” Africa in World Politics: Reforming Political Order.
Schraeder, Peter J. “Senegal’s foreign policy: challenges of democratization and marginalization.” African Affairs 1993 Oxford University Press.
Africa looking towards India, China: Senegal president http://www.thaindian.com/newsportal/business/africa-looking-towards-india-china-senegal-president_100209139.html#ixzz0ktsEeBYn