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Senegal is the Strongest Economic Country in West Africa; Fishing is a Growing Part of Senegal's Economy; Gori Island is West Africa's No. 1 Tourist Attraction

Aired January 15, 2005 - 12:30:00   ET


TUMI MAKGABO, HOST: A model of stability in Africa, Senegal is slowly emerging as one of the continent's economic success stories. We'll take you down the difficult road the country has traveled to achieve this feat. And a look at the challenges ahead for the government.
Then, President Abdoulaye Wade sits down for an exclusive interview on the economy and the future of his country.

Plus, a look back in time on Gori Island, Senegal's No. 1 tourist attraction.

These stories coming up on this special edition of INSIDE AFRICA.

MAKGABO: Hello, I'm Tumi Makgabo. Welcome to INSIDE AFRICA.

This week we're in Senegal, a former French colony, which was once regarded as the economic hub of West Africa because of its well developed infrastructure and diversified industrial base.

In many ways, Senegal is a poor country and there are those who say the recent economic policies have done little to help the country's people. Our focus on the program this week, Senegal economy, which despite the turmoil in West Africa is showing signs of prosperity.


MAKGABO (voice-over): The Dakar suburb of Medina, here you'll find perhaps one of the best examples of the ingenuity of the Senegalese people. Down one of the main streets, Yaud Sauw (ph) and more than two-dozen others have a line of shops, where they hand make and sell shoes. Yaud has several shops selling more than a million pairs of shoes each year. Sounds like booming business, but Yaud says things aren't as good as they seem.

YAUD SAUW, SHOEMAKER: You know, our business no grow now because we don't get help from the government. We cannot grow the business because if you want to grow the business you have to get more money. And if you go to bank for credit for set up, you don't get a guarantee.

MAKGABO: No guarantee, because businesses like Yaud's make up the informal sectors of the economy, one that is not officially recognized by the government. Some economists estimate that the informal sector makes up roughly 40 percent of the economy.

AYLE DHELE, ECONOMIC ANALYST: They employ a lot of people. Even though they don't employ them according to the rule, they are playing a pivotal role in the social fabric of this country.

MAKGABO: The government insists that is working on incorporating the informal sector into the mainstream. But first, it must work to improve the economy, and it seems to be succeeding in doing that. Today the economy's growth rate is nearly 6 percent, one of the best in a sub-region that averages 2 percent or less per year.

JACQUES MORISSET, WORLD BANK: I think the one big assessments is that Senegal is at the crossroads right now, in the sense that they had a very good macro economy performance for the past few years, and very good smaller than 6 percent growth.

MAKGABO: And Senegal reached that crossroad through a structural adjustment program recommended by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the IMF. It was first introduced in the late 1970s and continued by President Abdoulaye Wade when he took office in 2000. The measure aimed to reduce the role of government in the economy and improve public sector management. Along with that Senegal has implemented a poverty reduction strategy, which according to the government decrease the percentage of the population living in poverty from 68 percent to 57 percent in seven years.

Ex-patriot Senegalese are also playing a role in turning around the economy. A number of them have returned home and begun investing in the rural areas.

DHELE: Re-investing in houses, in building, they stand to think that this is the safest way for them to safeguard what they have earned outside of the country.

MAKGABO: A short drive outside the capitol, Dakar, visible signs of the construction boom. The government says such investments are stimulating growth. But the man in charge of the economy says there's still a lot to be done.

ABDOULAYE DIOP, MINISTER OF ECONOMY & FINANCE (through translator): In order to have a valid fight against poverty, we have to have growth rates of more than 7 percent. And we are in the process right now of putting into place a strategy of accelerated growth.

MAKGABO: A strategy that some in the informal sector, like Yaud Sauw and his colleagues, hope will include them.


MAKGABO: As Senegal works to modernize its economy, the structural reforms that go along with that are having a severe impact. And perhaps was affected is the large peanut industry. Peanut is a leading cash crop here. And if the International Monetary Fund, IMF, were to have its way, the entire industry would be privatized. But whatever happens, it seems certain that peanut farmers will remain a driving force in the country's economy.


MAKGABO (voice-over): It's the end of the harvest season and these farmers in the village of Saloum are sorting the last of their peanuts. Whatever they can salvage from here will be taken to the nearby cooperative to be sold. And what's left over will be turned into animal feed.

The peanut sector dominates agriculture production in Senegal, taking up 40 percent of arable land. Saloum is in central Senegal's Diourbel region in what's called the Peanut Basin, where every farmer is involved in peanut production.

Times are tough for these farmers. Duadad Angom (ph) shows us around his three hectep (ph) plots in Saloum, and talks about the difficulties he's experienced in recent years. He tells us that production has dropped and today he barely gets help from the government.

It all started in 2001 when the state-run peanut processing company, Sonacos, began cutting subsidies in a move towards privatization. The company buys and processes peanuts from farmers, turning them into oil and other products for both local and international consumption. In the past, Sonacos, through a subsidiary, did most of the collection and transportation. At the urging of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Sonacos no longer does that.

The company says the new policy is part of the structural adjustment program, designed to improve fiscal management and lessen government control over the economy. Many no longer trust Sonacos. While cooperatives, like the one in Saloum, still sell to the company, some farmers are turning to private buyers who are able to help with transportation. But this hurts profits, as some buyers offer lower prices than Sonacos.

The IMF and World Bank have also insisted on privatizing the company. They say they've only played an advisory role, and it's the government that's been implementing policy. In the end, say the lenders, the changes are good for the peanut industry.

MORISSET: Sonacos first was not very efficient. As I said I mean it cost in 2001, something like $100 million dollars to the Senegalese society, because of Sonacos' inefficiency. They were protected. The domestic prices of oil and groundnut were high, so the customers in Senegal were paying a higher price.

MAKGABO: It's taken more than three years, but the government says the privatization process is nearing completion. And soon the government will own less than 6 percent of the company.

But that will not solve all the problems of the country's peanut farmers. Back in Saloum, Duadad tells us that the lack of rain, especially in 2002, resulted in drought-like conditions that have hurt production. The government says it is taking action to help the farmers.

DIOP (through translator): We constructed what we call rainwater basins, which allow us to stock rainwater and allow farmers who are poor to cultivate crops after the rain seasons.

MAKGABO: Despite these problems, Senegal remains one of the leading peanut producers in West Africa. The peanut industry is still a force to contend with and remains the largest employer in the country, providing jobs for more than one million people.


MAKGABO: Time for us to take a break now. But still to come on the program, fishing out Senegal's leading foreign exchange earner and a conversation with President Abdoulaye Wade. Don't go away.




MAKGABO (voice-over): In focus this week, Senegal. The West African nation borders the Atlantic Ocean, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mali and Mauritania. It surrounds Gambia on three sides. Its population of nearly 11 million people is a relative young one, with an average age of 18. Forty-three percent of Senegalese are 14 years old and younger.

Senegal may be best known for the Dakar Rally. The yearly event involves separate races for cars, trucks and motorcycles on varied routes through Europe and Africa.


MAKGABO: Welcome back. You're watching to INSIDE AFRICA.

Here we are at the end of a long day in Senegal with some having spent it in the waters of the country's coast. These people behind me are awaiting the return of fishermen, who will be bringing with them the last of the day's catch. It's not a particularly unique scene. In fact, it's one that's repeated in communities right across the country. But there is one village that stands out because of its fish. It's called Kayar.


MAKGABO (voice-over): Early evening in Kayar, and these women are hard at work preparing fish to be sold to locals and processing plants around the country. Kayar, situated 60 kilometers from the capitol, Dakar, is referred to by some as the "fisherman's village." It's an impressive place to watch the fishermen as they return from sea late in the afternoon. There are more than 6,000 in Kayar. But the local cooperative says everyone in the village depends on the industry for survival.

Like in many other fishing villages across the country, the fish are collected and transported to several processing centers. The women at this outdoor factory in the town are making a Senegalese delicacy called katiak (ph). They douse the fish in salt; place it on the ground to be covered with hot straw. It is left to smoke for several hours before being dug up and cleaned. The finished product is then sent to local markets and factories in Dakar, that in turn shipped to neighboring countries. There are other companies that are processing tuna for export to Europe.

Today, the fishing industry has overtaken the peanut sector as Senegal's No. 1 foreign exchange earner.

DJIBO LEYTI KA, MINISTER OF MARITIME AFFAIRS (through translator): It brings in more than 181 billion CFA francs a year, and this is particularly for industrial fishing. On the other, subsistence fishing provides employment for about 600,000 people in Senegal. So the fishing industry is growing and it's an important part of our economy.

MAKGABO: The industry is faced with a major problem. The Worldwide Fund for Nature says the waters of Senegal's coast are running low on fish; and some species may even become extinct. The government says it recognizes the problem.

KA (through translator): From 1978 to 1998, we left access to the resource wide open. Consequently, we significantly reduced the fish stocks in Senegal. It's a crisis within the sector that I am in the process of addressing.

MAKGABO: The minister says until the problem is resolved his office will not issue any new fishing licenses. But regulating the thousands of artisinal fishermen in the different villages may prove difficult.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The problem is many of the young men here have nothing else to do. They have to fish. But we are willing to work with the government to find a solution to the problem.

MAKGABO: The WWF also blames what it calls "massive over fishing" on boats from European Union countries. In 2002, Senegal banned European Union vessels from its waters until the E.U. agreed to take measures to help sustain the industry. So now, 18 percent of what the E.U. pays to Senegal to fish in its waters goes towards fish conservation.

The government says it is determined to reform the fishing sector, hoping that it would make it more competitive on the world market. In fact, the Maritime Affairs minister says preserving the country's fish stock will help Senegal maintain the economic growth that it has experienced in recent years.


MAKGABO: Whether it's fishing, peanut farming or mining, there's no denying that Senegal's economy is growing. But the country's President Abdoulaye Wade says there's still a lot more work to be done. During a conversation with him in his office, he shared some of his very ambitious plans.


MAKGABO (voice-over): It took him 22 years to win the presidency, and his election in 2000 brought an end to 40 years of Socialist Party war in Senegal. But Abdoulaye Wade, then 74, got off to a rocky start, criticized for keeping so many members of the old guard. But as the economy began showing signs of healing, the disparagement turned into praise for the president's foresight.

In a conversation at the presidential palace in Dakar, President Wade expressed confidence that uplifting times are ahead, both for the Senegalese and Africans as a whole.

ABDOULAYE WADE, PRESIDENT, SENEGAL: I think in all this area we are making progress; in democracy, in respect of human rights; progress of women that is very spectacular in Africa.

MAKGABO: Wade has become one of the leading proponents for the New Partnership for Africa's Development, NEPAD. It is a framework that encourages countries to commit themselves to better governance, economic growth, and promote development and stability.

WADE: Now we have a team. We have two teams in West Africa, which is one of the fifth -- five regions of Africa. We have start -- we have now a team of five experts -- nine experts offered by -- selected by and paid by World Bank. And now we are setting a new team that will be the team that we will have to overlook on the matter.

But the other reason I want yet this kind team. That means only that a plan, an economical or social plan. Any plan needs an intellectual conception, need explanation, and you need also people of action.

MAKGABO: But economic analyst Aliundu (ph) says all the talk needs to be replaced by action.

EL HADE ALIUNDU DIOP, ECONOMIC ANALYST: I'd say there's some willingness. Yes, that's right. But I'm afraid that the same thing, that the same politics, that the same way of doing, that the same manners. Where is -- what is the program now cast by NEPAD? If you ask to people in the country where are the programs of the government? Where are the -- we don't see the strategy.

MAKGABO: As my conversation with the president continued, he made clear that his vision for his country focused primarily on the economy, education and the perpetual question of debt relief.

WADE: I propose a fund, a reasonable fund, a reasonable fund. Which will receive the whole debt of the countries with the guarantee of the country, so that there is not any difference for the creditor, because he also the guarantee of the government.

Let's say Senegal -- the debt of Senegal is X-trillion, this debt will be put: the debt of Ivory Coast, the debt of Mali, in a common fund. However, a team of economists, well known in the world, that agrees with me that next year that Africa should be in out of debt. And this is my -- the aim. This is proposal.

MAKGABO: Diop says however, no formula for eliminating debt will work as long as there is corruption in government.

E. DIOP: We have paid the debt. If you see the wealth that get out Africa every year, you will see that if $1 get into Africa, $2 get out to Africa. I think the problem; the main problem for us is to be just honest.

MAKGABO: The president says he is working to eliminate corruption but the general reform he is pushing can only be achieved with a better education system. So if he has his way, a third of the country's revenue would go to scholarships for all of its students. This he hopes would help Senegal reverse immigration and keep more of its citizens at home.


MAKGABO: President Wade is up for re-election in 2007, and if some of his plans are implemented, they could just secure him another seven years in the presidential palace.

Still to come on the program, an emotional visit to the infamous Gori Island. That's coming up in just a moment.


MAKGABO: Welcome back. You're watching INSIDE AFRICA.

And this week, we're in Senegal where tourism is one of the country's biggest foreign currency earners. According to statistics more people visit Senegal than they do any other country in the West African sub region.

And once you're here, a must see is the No. 1 tourist attraction, Gori Island.


MAKGABO (voice over): It was known as Bear by the Senegalese, Ile de Palma by the Portuguese and Good Reed by the Dutch. But it was the name that the French gave to this island that stuck, gori. Gori means "good harbor." But there was certainly nothing good about what happened here, for hundreds of men, women and children, their traumatic stay in the confines of this house of slaves would be their last on the continent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): When they were brought here they were first sent to the gallery. They had African guards who disciplined them if they tried to rebel. After that they were separated and put in different rooms: men in one room, women in another and the children in one.

MAKGABO: From the outside, the island located a little more than three kilometers from Dakar, is picture perfect. In fact, many have said if these people were not here, one could easily be mistaken for a small village in Provence in the south of France. But that fa‡ade belies centuries of crimes against humanity.

Starting in the 16-century, Gori Island became one of the main transit points of the slave trade on the African continent, thanks to its Portuguese colonizers. They began selling people from here in 1536, but the house of slaves itself was built in the 1700s by the Dutch. Its construction helped to make processing and containment here a lot easier.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): In this room, for example, we had 15 to 20 people. They sat against a wall. They had chains around their necks and arms. Once a day, the chains were unlocked to allow them to go to the bathroom.

MAKGABO: The balls attached to the chains made escape impossible. Each one weighed at least 10 kilograms and that guaranteed drowning if you tried to swim of the island. Disease was also rife and many died while awaiting their departure.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's an incredible thing to imagine.

MAKGABO (on camera): For thousands of African slaves this was the point of no return. After spending two to three months in insufferable conditions, they were shackled to boats bound for the Americas and Europe. Despite the trauma they'd already been through here on Gori Island, the thought of what lay ahead must have been even more horrifying.

(voice-over): In those days it was the young girls who fetched the highest price.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): A woman's value depended on her breasts and whether she was a virgin. For a young girl, if her breasts were not firm she was not considered a virgin. She was therefore sold as a woman. At the time, the value of a child depended on the condition of his teeth. The value of a man depended on his strength. A man had to weigh at least 60 kilograms, for those who weighed less were placed in what was called the Inept Room. They were given fattening food to strengthen them.

MAKGABO: There was even a holding cell for those who misbehaved.

Through the centuries several countries fought for control of the island. The last colonial power here was France, which abolished slavery in 1848.

But debate has raged over the extent of Gori's role in the slave trading business, even a "World Heritage" site designated by UNESCO in 1978 did little to end disagreement. Many argue that Gori was only a minor slave center, and that history is being distorted in order to attract more tourists and their dollars.

Scholars here insist, however, that the site serves only to remind people of the atrocities during the slave trade.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The actual reason they are here is not tourism. It is because most of them have heard about Gori Island's history, about people had suffered here, about how people were being kept here; the condition in which they were being kept.

MAKGABO: Living conditions here have improved over the years. There's now even a small hotel on Gori Island, the site's bougainvillea line narrow lanes offering a glimpse into a past so near, and yet so far away.


MAKGABO: Now, if you'd like to go online to read a little bit more on Gori Island or Senegal's economy, log onto our Web site. It's And as always, we're asking you for your thoughts and comments on stories you see on the program. This week is no exception. Send that to

That's our look inside the continent for this week. I'm Tumi Makgabo.



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