Senegal: Macky Sall’s top priorities when he takes over the African Union in February

By Mawunyo Hermann Boko
Posted on Monday, 3 January 2022 20:08

Macky Sall in Paris, 27 August 2020. ROMUALD MEIGNEUX/SIPA

Senegal’s President Macky Sall, who is due to take over the reins of the African Union (AU) in February 2022, will inherit many pressing issues, including 'forever-transition' governments, economic recovery and managing the Covid-19 pandemic.

For the fourth time in the country’s history, Senegal will be running the African Union (AU). After Léopold Sédar Senghor (1980) and Abdou Diouf (1985 and 1992), it is now Macky Sall’s turn to preside over the continent’s destiny by taking over the AU for a year, starting February 2022. To say that expectations are high is an understatement.

In 2021, plagued by the Covid-19 pandemic, Félix Tshisekedi’s term in office ended with a mixed record. Although it marked “the DRC’s return to the diplomatic scene”, according to the Congolese president, numerous crises had also taken place. These included three coups d’état in West Africa and a serious political crisis in Ethiopia, where the AU headquarters is located.

Sall is expected to take over the reins of the organisation in Addis Ababa. He will inherit Tshisekedi’s task of trying to find a solution to the conflict between Ethiopian government forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), even though the latter has accused the AU of ‘partiality’ and Nigeria’s former president Olusegun Obasanjo, the AU’s representative, has failed to obtain a ceasefire.

Prolonged military transition governments

Sall will be closely monitoring the military transition governments in Guinea, Chad and especially Mali, Senegal’s neighbour.

In December, he set the tone during an interview with RFI and France 24. “We cannot allow the military to continue to take power by force in this part of Africa. We are a democracy, where power is won through elections,” said the head of state, insisting that these transitional regimes should end and give way to leaders that are elected through free and transparent elections.

It is not up to the UN to ensure Africa’s security, but rather Africans themselves…

“These various political crises must be resolved quickly,” says a Senegalese diplomat, especially as the Sahel has been caught up in a war against terrorism since 2012 and coastal countries have not been spared from the threat.

Though Senegal has not yet been subject to attacks, armed groups present in Mali, such as Amadou Koufa’s Katiba Macina and the Groupe de Soutien à l’Islam et aux musulmans (GSIM), are quickly approaching the south-eastern goldfields. The two countries share a 480km border.

What security response should be adopted to combat these terrorists? Sall will have to come up with an answer to this pressing question. The president has repeatedly called for a more robust mandate when it comes to UN peacekeeping operations.

The debate has become acute since France announced the partial withdrawal of Operation Barkhane in Mali.

At the seventh edition of Dakar’s International Forum on Peace and Security, which was held in early December, he said “it was not up to the UN” to ensure Africa’s security, but rather Africans themselves. Therefore, the idea of creating a continental intervention force was put back on the table. Announced by several African heads of state in 2013, during Paris’ forum on peace and security in Africa, this ambitious project is yet to see the light of day.

“President Idriss Déby Itno, who was fully aware of the security threat, took this initiative on board, but several of our heads of state do not have the same determination. It is as if some of them still need to be convinced,” says Cheikh Tidiane Gadio, Senegal’s former minister of foreign affairs and the National Assembly’s current vice-president.

The fight against Covid-19 on the agenda

In addition to security issues, Sall is also expected to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.

Less than 10% of the continent’s population is fully vaccinated, mainly because of countries’ unequal access to vaccines. Africa is only meeting 1% of its own needs and remains highly dependent on the generosity of rich countries through the Covax initiative. The vaccine sovereignty of African states will therefore be one of the issues at stake during his tenure at the helm of the AU, especially since the Omicron variant is considered more contagious than previous strains.

In April 2021, the AU launched a partnership with support from several financial institutions, including the pan-African bank Afreximbank, to manufacture African vaccines. The stated aim is to increase local production to 60% by 2040.

However, Dakar is ahead of the game, as the Pasteur Institute is due to start production in 2022. “Eventually, we are aiming for a production capacity of 300 million doses. This is not a project solely intended to meet Senegal’s needs, the objective is continental,” Amadou Sall, director of the Pasteur Institute in Dakar, told us in early December.

Economic recovery first and foremost

What about post-Covid-19 economic recovery? Africa has managed to escape the worst of the health disaster. However, in 2020, Africa experienced “its worst economic recession” in 50 years, according to the African Development Bank. “Financing the recovery to create jobs, restart the economic machine, seems fundamental to me,” Sall told RFI and France 24.

According to the IMF, sub-Saharan Africa is expected to return to timid growth of 3.7% in 2021 and 3.8% in 2022. The Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), an emergency $650bn fund launched in August by the IMF, is expected to help accelerate this recovery. This ‘bandaid’ remains insufficient for the economies of African countries, which are asking for $100bn. According to Sall, this amount has almost been achieved thanks to the support of the US, France and China, which have decided to transfer part of their SDR to developing countries.

Another challenge for the Senegalese president is to obtain permanent seats on the UN Security Council for Africa.

In early December, during the Dakar Forum, Sall and his South African counterpart, Cyril Ramaphosa, denounced the continent’s absence from the table.

“It is unfair that the continent, which is made up of 54 countries, is not represented as a permanent member of the security council. With South Africa, with all the other countries, we will continue to fight against the injustice that is being inflicted on Africa,” said Sall, who indicated that he is in favour of giving at least two seats to the continent.

However, a Senegalese diplomat posted at the UN says: “These claims are justified, especially since a large number of the security council’s issues relate to Africa.”

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