France – Senegal: What was discussed during Macky Sall and Marine Le Pen’s secret meeting?

By Jeune Afrique

Posted on Thursday, 2 February 2023 14:51
Marine Le Pen at the Order of Malta hospital in Dakar on 18 January 2023. © MLP_official/Twitter

The meeting between Senegal’s President Macky Sall and France’s Marine Le Pen, a member of the far-right political party National Rally, on 18 January provoked strong reactions, even within the head of state’s entourage. 

Macky Sall wanted to avoid any publicity around his meeting with Marine Le Pen, which is why the appointment did not appear on his agenda. The Senegalese president therefore discreetly met with the member of the French far-right political party National Rally (NR) on 18 January at the palace. 

The meeting lasted nearly an hour and was an opportunity for the two figures to discuss “the necessary cooperation between Senegal and France, the French-speaking world, as well as all the prospects for Senegal’s development“, according to France’s President Emmanuel Macron, Le Pen’s political opponent. 

The meeting, which Le Pen had long requested, was organised by Philippe Bohn, Airbus’ former Mr Africa and the current head of Air Senegal. Due to his close relationship with the Senegalese president, he played an intermediary role. 

Several options

The French magazine Le Point reported on 20 January that this encounter, which was supposed to remain a secret, had taken place. Le Pen then confirmed that it had happened during an interview with the Emedia group’s television channel, resulting in a heated debate within the ranks of the Senegalese opposition. Former Prime Minister Aminata Touré had expressed indignation that a politician who, in her view, is “the embodiment of racism and xenophobia,” had visited Dakar. 

According to our information, Sall had initially decided not to receive the politician at the palace. This was a quasi-ideological choice, given her xenophobic stance, her comments about immigration, and her desire to put conditions on development aid to African countries and limit how many student visas are granted. 

To avoid holding a meeting at the state’s highest level, Dakar had considered several options. These included organising a meeting with Aïssata Tall Sall, the foreign affairs minister, Amadou Mame Diop, president of the National Assembly, or even with Oumar Youm, president of the majority’s parliamentary group. But none of these leaders “wanted to receive Marine Le Pen”, according to a diplomat.

Against his entourage’s advice 

The Senegalese head of state finally decided to grant an audience to the French member of parliament, despite the advice of part of his entourage, which also began by denying the fact that the interview had taken place for fear of bad publicity. On 19 January, we contacted several of the president’s close advisors, who assured us that there had been no face-to-face meeting. 

Accompanied by Hélène Laporte, vice-president of the NR and the French National Assembly, MEP and special advisor Philippe Olivier, Nicolas Lesage, her former cabinet director, and Victor Chabert, her press officer, Le Pen was also received on 18 January by General Etienne du Peyroux, who is in charge of the Éléments Français du Sénégal (EFS) in Dakar.

No photos or phones

The day before, she went to northern Senegal, where she visited Saint-Louis’s Agricultural Company and met some local officials. She also visited the Compagnie Sucrière Sénégalaise, which is owned by the French industrialist Jean-Claude Mimran, the Order of Malta hospital and the Fann university centre in Dakar. Le Pen then went to Saly, a seaside resort located 50km from the capital, where French pensioners live. 

On 19 January, before her departure, she was scheduled to meet with the French ambassador to Senegal. But Philippe Lalliot, in addition to demanding that there be no photos and that mobile phones be switched off, refused to meet with some of the delegation members. Le Pen deemed the request inappropriate and so ended up cancelling the meeting. 

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