Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Wade reconciles with former PM but questions still unanswered

Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade (L) welcomes his President Joao Bernardo Vieira of Guinea-Bissau in the capital Dakar March 12, 2008. Photo/REUTERS 

By HAMADOU TIDIANE SY, NATION Correspondent

DAKAR, Tuesday

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, 82, and his former Prime Minister Idrissa Seck, 49, sealed their reconciliation on Monday after years of a fierce but ambiguous rivalry.

In Senegal this reconciliation has prompted more questions than answers among citizens, analysts and the local media.

The deal comes less than two years after both leaders competed separately for the presidential seat, each of them under the banner of his own political party. The election was won by Mr Wade but the results were widely rejected by the main opposition parties claiming the vote was rigged.

Among the many questions raised by what the State controlled “Le Soleil” called a “family re-union”, there’s one interrogation which features prominently: is this the final end of a long saga or just another episode to be followed by new developments soon, as has been the case during the past four years?

The decision to reconcile was made after a three-hour meeting at the presidential palace, but has been preceded by more discreet negotiations which have lasted for more than a year – actually these negotiations have always been on the agenda and have never totally ceased ever since the former prime minister was sacked in April 2004.

None of the two parties revealed the content of the last negotiations or what led to the final agreement allowing them to work together again.

Indeed, even at the peak of his rivalry with the President Mr Idrissa Seck’s positions have always remained very ambiguous: for instance, he was the only one among main the opposition leaders to recognise wade’s victory and congratulate him in 2007.

'Last minute' negotiations

Only a few days before the vote the two had met, though the result of these “last minute” negotiations were said to be unsuccessful, some started being suspicious and wondering: wasn’t he in the campaign to only weaken the opposition candidates?

Moreover, the former prime minister has for several times engaged in talks with the rest of the opposition to only break away later, raising more suspicions on his real intentions and his real desire to fight against the current regime.

To explain his latest comeback after meeting his former mentor at the presidency, Idrissa Seck only told reporters that “all the misunderstandings have now been totally removed”, adding that it was a “sincere and total reconciliation”.

The President himself did not make any public statement to explain his decision, preferring to have his former foe address the media with other collaborators.

Before he became an enemy to the President, Idrissa Seck, who joined the ruling Senegalese Democratic Party at a young age, was a firm supporter of Mr Wade and was also his deputy within the party for years before they accessed power in 2000.

Seck successfully managed Wade’s electoral campaign in 2000 and secured for the old opponent his first electoral victory at the presidency. He was then rewarded with a first appointment as the Cabinet Director for the new president before he was named Prime Minister by Mr Wade.

But in 2004 the two dramatically fell out and, following accusations made publicly by the President himself, Idrissa Seck was sacked from his seat, accused of embezzling public funds worth millions of US dollars before being sent to prison for a few months, then freed.

And it is while in prison that the first negotiations between the two actually started and resulted in the release of Mr Seck, while his case was still pending in the courts.

At the time it was widely reported in the local media that the head of state was asking his former prime minister to reimburse the money he has taken from the state coffers and mostly from the presidency when he was acting as his powerful Cabinet Director.

Governance problems

On Tuesday, commenting on the latest move, many in the local media once again highlighted the serious governance problems posed by the reconciliation between the two as well as the financial scandals surrounding their leadership.

“Have the gang members found an agreement to share the loot?” asked Wal-Fadjri, one of the Dakar private dailies, on the aftermath of Monday’s reconciliation.

The newspaper was alluding to accusations publicly made earlier by Idrissa Seck himself when he was sacked: “Real gang members have a code of honour. They only fight when the time to share the loot comes,” the former prime minister had then said, reminding how the President focused on money issues in their relationship in the first days of their electoral victory.

Since these accusations and counter accusations were made by both parties, almost everybody in Senegal believes the two are engaged in a battle for the control of the party and of the State, mostly to safeguard their own individual interests and to preserve the privileges tied to these positions

Now with another electoral campaign looming for rural, municipal and regional elections, scheduled for March 22, it is believed that last episode in this saga is the result of the latest political developments in the country.

Losing ground

With the main opposition parties profiting from the citizens anger, the general social unrest throughout the country, the economic crises and the many strikes, Mr Wade’s party is losing grounds among ordinary citizens, hence his attempt to reunite a seriously divided party.

The sacking of another personality the President has mentored Makcy Sall, also a former prime minister, former campaign director for Mr Wade and former president of the national assembly has also contributed to weakening the ruling party.

“This latest deal is for the sole interest of Abdoulaye Wade and Idrissa Seck, no one else is interested in it, and no one else is to gain anything from it”, Abdoul Aziz Diop, a political analyst, said.

For Mr Diop, the priorities of the President should have been elsewhere if he is concerned with the well being of those who elected him, not in political manoeuvring, particularly at a time when the country is facing many difficulties.

The timing of deal have indeed led many to interpret the spectacular reconciliation as a simple political ploy to divert the media and people’s attention towards something else, at a time when the eastern region of Kédougou is almost under siege following youth riots, when teachers are on strike, when bread and gas shortages are noted in the capital and many other parts of the country, when the government is under pressure from its international partners for government over-expenditure…

The list could continue but what has most shocked the citizens and the entire nation is how can a President - who claims everywhere to be a democrat and says he is attached to the principles of good governance - hire back a public servant he has openly accused of embezzling public funds?

How can a respectable government, claiming to abide by the law and to exercise the separation of powers, allow a President to clear by his simple will a citizen whose case is still pending in the courts?

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