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GAMBIA-L  January 2004

GAMBIA-L January 2004

Subject:

Americanization of Senegal (fwd)

From:

Ylva Hernlund <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

The Gambia and related-issues mailing list <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 28 Jan 2004 08:55:15 -0800

Content-Type:

TEXT/PLAIN

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

TEXT/PLAIN (128 lines)

***
NYT January 28, 2004LETTER FROM AFRICA   America Tugs at French-Accented
Lands: It's Not Peanuts By SOMINI SENGUPTA

DAKAR, Senegal, Jan. 26 -- This was once the portal to the French Empire
on the African continent.

>From here, Paris administered the vast territory known as Afrique
Occidentale Franaise, stretching east across the arid savannas to what is
now Chad and south along the lush coast to the present-day Congo Republic.

Downtown Dakar bears the 19th-century French stamp, from the shuttered
windows of its colonial-era buildings to its perennially jammed main
commercial street, named after Georges Pompidou. Senegalese men once
fought in the French military. The Dakaroise were once French citizens by
birth.

Even after independence, in 1960, the French stayed on, pouring aid,
installing bureaucrats in virtually every important government ministry,
maintaining a military base here with a view of the Atlantic. French
companies still run Dakar's telephone company and water service. From the
Peugeots on the street to the Pouilly Fums on the hypermarch shelves, a
quarter of all imports to Senegal come from France; 20,000 French citizens
live here.

With the advent of the campaign against terrorism, though, things began to
change. Africa once again figured in Washington's strategic thinking, and
there was something to be gained for an overwhelmingly Muslim country by
cozying up to the Americans and, not coincidentally, threatening the
French with a loss of influence.

These days, because of a swirl of additional circumstances ranging from a
drop in French foreign aid to bitterness over French immigration policy to
the power of American hip-hop to a variety of slights and perceived
slights, Senegal is marching headlong into the arms of a new empire run
out of Washington.

This is by no means a line in the sand, ending French influence here. It's
more as if the dunes are shifting, slowly but perceptibly. France remains
the biggest donor and trade partner, but Senegal's relations with the
United States have already created some Paris-Dakar frisson.

Publicly, both sides say all is well. Africa-watchers are fond of likening
it to a difficult moment in the life of an old couple, a love-hate
dialectic born of an intimate familiarity.

"It's a period of friction," said Mamadou Diouf, a historian at the
University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and Senegalese by origin, "where two
partners are trying to adjust to a new moment."

The "moment" that Mr. Diouf refers to has as much to do with the global
primacy of American power as the diminution of French power in the shadow
of a united Europe. Complicating matters, just as the former colonies on
the continent still need France, France still needs its former colonies:
French influence in Africa allows it to punch above its weight in the
world.

Influence, of course, comes at a price. And the price of supporting a
swath of destitute countries in Africa has lately proved to be too much.
French aid to its former colonies has plummeted. In Senegal alone, the
number of French "technical experts" assigned to work in government
ministries has fallen to 124 in 2003 from 750 a decade ago.

The signs of shift are small and subtle, based as much on assumptions and
perceptions as anything else. Among ordinary Senegalese, the resentment
against all things French is based on the one thing they know best: the
difficulties of getting a visa to study or work in France. (They have not
had as much experience with the American immigration bureaucracy.)

For strivers, New York is now the promised land. For the elite, a degree
from Harvard is more fashionable than one from the the Sorbonne. The
cabinet of President Abdoulaye Wade is sprinkled with people who have
studied or worked in the States. English is now de rigeur. And ardor for
all things American is exploited by marketers: ads for American Cola
(endorsed by a Senegalese wrestler who calls himself Tyson) and Houston
brand cigarettes plaster Dakar.

Mr. Wade's government has unabashedly sought to strengthen ties with
Washington in recent years. Senegal has vowed to fight against terrorism.
It has signed an agreement, sought by the Bush administration, promising
to exempt American citizens from prosecution by the International Criminal
Court. It has kept quiet on the war in Iraq.

An African diplomat said he sensed "an openness to the world outside the
Francophone world" since Mr. Wade's election in 2000, and particularly
since the Sept. 11 attacks. "I think Wade is playing that quite
intelligently" the diplomat said. "He's very shrewd with the U.S. in
particular. He realizes it's the only way to diminish the influence of
France."

A French diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said his country
was hardly threatened by Dakar's efforts to make new friends.

"We have long regretted that the United States has done so little for the
African continent, and we rejoice, seeing that that great country is
trying to turn its words into deeds," the diplomat said. Feeling less
charitable, the diplomat wondered how long it would take for the United
States to reach the level of French aid and trade with Senegal: nearly $60
million in development and military assistance in 2003.

What Senegal will receive in exchange for cozying up to the United States
remains to be seen. Military and economic aid has been modest, so far.
American companies aren't exactly rushing to do business here. Senegal
produces peanuts, not oil.

Senegal stands to gain its biggest reward later this year, when the Bush
administration announces the recipients of its new $650 million
development aid program called the Millenium Challenge Account. Senegal
was the only country to receive a planning grant on how it would use the
funds.

Still, Senegal knows it cannot afford to oust the French, said one member
of the Wade government, but is seeking a way to escape exclusive French
control. "The only question is, `Will France accept Senegal's being more
independent?' " he wondered aloud. "We don't know. But they have no
choice. Senegal in 2004 is not the same Senegal as in 1960. The world has
changed."

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