SENEGAL: A good example for Africa
Senegal is an African nation that has distinguished itself for all the right reasons. It is widely viewed as having achieved significant progress in its institutionalization of democratic processes and in establishing an effective rule of law. As a result, Washington has been favorably inclined towards working closely with the government in Dakar, with good results for both sides.
Senegal was the first nation in the world chosen by the Bush Administration for a pilot program called The Digital Freedom Initiative (DFI), which is designed to use the latest information and communications technology (ICT) to achieve longstanding development goals. Announced at a White House ceremony in March, 2003, the program builds on previous Washington initiatives, including the Leland Initiative, launched in 1996, and the Internet for Economic Development, launched in 1999, to promote the use of ICT by entrepreneurs and small businesses in developing countries. The program leverages existing infrastructure to improve access to local, regional, and global markets. It also assists countries in creating a pro-competition policy and regulatory environment to help entrepreneurship blossom.
"Our relations with the United States are excellent," says Ambassador Amadou Lamine Ba, who earned a PhD in agriculture from Ohio State University and worked in several private companies and non-governmental organizations in Washington and Africa before being appointed to his current post in September 2002.
"We have good governance, a free press, a dynamic civil society and free elections," he says. "We are an example of what the U.S. administration wants in Africa."
Ambassador Ba sees his role as translating good ties with the United States into concrete achievements for Senegal. "I am trying to win tangible help for Senegal," he explains. Although reluctant to discuss in detail the assistance and cooperation his country seeks from Washington, which is still being drawn up in a formal proposal, he says, "We need a lot more help than we get now. We are looking for a drastic change… in economic and military assistance."
Senegal is talking partnerships for investment and trade, rather than traditional aid. However, it has several infrastructure projects on the table that will no doubt need politically-driven financing. These include health and educational facilities, new and improved roads, a new airport and renewal of the railway line that runs from Senegal to Mali.
He says military assistance is needed, "to make sure Senegal can stand on its own two feet," especially given the regional conflicts. "We are very worried about spillover."
He says part of the argument for stronger ties and increased assistance is justified by Senegal's strong support for Washington in the current war on terrorism and other issues of critical importance to the Bush administration. He points out, too, that Senegal has served American and African interests by acting as a mediating force in several African disputes, including those in Madagascar and Cote d'Ivoire.
Senegal is seeking development assistance within the existing frameworks, such as NEPAD (The New Partnership for Africa's Development) and AGOA (The African Growth and Opportunity Act). Dakar wants to see an extension of U.S. customs exemptions under AGOA, in particular for textiles, extended from 2004 through 2015, arguing that it will take that much time for the full economic benefits of AGOA provisions to kick in, enabling African entrepreneurs to be firmly established before they lose the favorable terms.
"AGOA should give us time to strengthen exports," Ambassador Ba says.
"The higher goal is to get the private sector in Africa to catch up." He says Senegal would also like to see AGOA expanded to include other industries, such as agriculture. "It is very important for us to access the U.S. market for agricultural products," he says.
The ambassador has been working hard to get Senegal included as one of the first countries to receive investment assistance under President Bush's Millennium Challenge initiative. He has researched the program extensively, and believes that Senegal is well qualified to receive Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) funding, which will total some $1.2 billion in 2004, $3.5 billion in 2005 and $5 billion in 2006.
To qualify, countries must demonstrate significant progress in good governance (including the rule of law, transparency and minimal corruption), significant investments in the population, through health and education programs, for example, and have a market economy which empowers the private sector. Countries that score above the mean for these three criteria are eligible in principle.
The first MCC money will go to the poorest candidates, that is countries with GDP per capita levels of under $1400 a year. Those with a GDP per capita up to $2,000 a year will also be eligible in the second year.
Senegal is one African nation that has done well in its fight to limit the spread of HIV/AIDS, and currently has an infection rate of 2.4 percent, one of the lowest on the continent. Ambassador Ba says Senegal's success in this field is due to close cooperation among government bodies, NGOs and the private sector, all of whom have recognized the seriousness of the threat and have worked together to educate the population. Senegal has also used a system of registering and checking prostitutes, which has reduced the transmission of the disease through the sex industry. But Ba says Senegal, with 90 percent of its people Muslims, enjoys another advantage: "Abstinence is built into our culture."
The ambassador says that although he has not been a diplomat before, he has "always tried to help my country… I have a real sense of how we should move forward." He says his entrance into the fraternity of foreign envoys was aided in particular by other African ambassadors, who showed him the ropes.
He brought to the job an excellent understanding of how Washington works and what needs to be done to get information and get things done in the American capital. "You just have to read and learn how to use things - everything you need is there." He supplements his reading by watching Sunday news programs, and calls himself "a talk show junkie."