By Arnaud Liege, political analyst @africapractice
President Macky Sall’s first-round victory in the country’s recent presidential election re-asserts his strong position and provides him with a clear mandate to deliver the second phase of his economic plan. Sall now intends to make full use of this renewed mandate to accelerate key reforms. He has already set the tone in the very first Council of Ministers on Wednesday 10 April, summoning newly- appointed cabinet members to deliver fast results and announcing an unexpected constitutional reform.
Sall’s cabinet: old guard and new political appointees
Sall has reinstated Prime Minister Dionne and appointed a smaller government made up of 32 members and 3 secretaries of state, largely made of political appointees. Beyond the imperative of achieving strong results within the first months of their mandate, Sall expects each cabinet member to play a significant role in the upcoming local elections scheduled for early December 2019. Their performance in the electoral contest will be closely scrutinized and ultimately assessed to determine whether they are retained in the future. This partly explains Sall’s decision to put in place a cabinet which has a notable political dimension to it as opposed to growing its technocratic credentials.
Among the heavyweights of the ruling Alliance for the Republic (APR), only those who have significantly contributed to Sall’s re-election, alongside key members of his inner circle, have been retained. This is notably the case of Sall’s trusted confident Oumar Youm, promoted to Minister of Infrastructure, Land and Transport, as well as former Minister of Justice Sidiki Kaba, promoted to the strategic Ministry of Armed Forces, and Malick Sall, who has taken the justice docket in return for his significant contribution to his electoral success.
While the new administration has been characterized in some quarters as a government of continuity, a total of 22 ministers from the previous administration have not been retained. This has inevitably resulted in frustrations, starting with one of the APR’s founding members and former Minister of Housing, Farba Sarr, as well as other notable members of the ruling Benno Bokk Yakaar (BBY) coalition. Rivalries and tensions within the ruling party have been further exacerbated by Sall’s decision to retain unpopular members of his old guard including former Minister of Infrastructure and Transport Abdoulaye Daouda Diallo despite his controversial track record, notably at the head of the Ministry of Budget in 2012-2013. Diallo has now been re-assigned to the Ministry of Finance, where he will further gain in influence. Another unpopular decision is the appointment of Cheikh Oumar Hann as Minister of Higher Education, notably accused of mismanagement, by the National Anti-Fraud and Corruption Office (Ofnac) in 2017.
The decision to split the Ministry of Economy and Finance in two suggests a slight weakening of the strategic influence of this office, which had been very powerful under the leadership of Amadou Bâ – likely one of the reasons Sall was looking to split it up. This has been evident in the negotiations between Bâ and Sall, with the former reportedly refusing a perceived demotion to running a split ministry, taking up the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs instead. Bâ’s pivotal role in the 2017 parliamentary election, notably in the ruling coalition’s victory in Dakar, combined with seven years at the head of the Ministry of Economy and Finance, the cabinet’s most powerful docket, has significantly grown his influence and clout. If Bâ has often been the source of conflicts with his fellow cabinet members, he has also created strong relationships within the administration, which will necessarily be tested going forward given his less central role. However, Bâ’s real challenge will be in December 2019 as he seeks to win over Dakar as the flagbearer of the ruling coalition, a considerable opportunity to further build his presidential profile.
On a more positive note, the most notable newcomer is Mahktar Cissé, leaving the post of Director of national electricity company Senelec to become Minister of Petroleum and Energy, succeeding Mansour Elimane Kane. Although Kane oversaw major developments in the emergence of the country’s nascent upstream oil and gas sector, including the adoption of the revised petroleum code in January 2019, he lacked the political clout to retain his post. Cissé therefore enters the cabinet for the first time with the reputation for being an excellent administrator, as shown by his track record successively as Director of Customs and Senelec under the Wade administration, both of which were lifted from deep-rooted crises during his tenure. Beyond the fact that he is a competent official, Cissé ultimately owes his appointment to his strong political alliances within the APR and is anticipated to be amongst the key influencers of this new administration. However, his lack of significant oil and gas experience also creates some risks to future engagements and decision-making which will have to be carefully watched.
Within the Presidency, Sall brought his former Minister of Armed Forces, Augustin Tine, to the post of Chief of Staff, succeeding Oumar Youm. He also appointed Mame Mbaye Niang as his new Private Secretary to succeed Moustapha Diakhaté, who enjoyed the protection of First Lady Marieme Faye Sall. Former Minister of Tourism ousted during the previous government reshuffle, Mbaye Niang has been called upon due to his strong clout in Touba, the epicentre of the Mouride brotherhood, which the ruling party has historically struggled to capture from the opposition, including in the latest election. Despite Moustapha Diakhaté’s departure, First Lady Marieme Faye Sall also played her part in placing members of her entourage in positions of influence, including her brother Mansour Faye, promotedto Minister of Water and Sanitation, as well as Ndeye Saly Diop Dieng, retained as Minister of Women and Family, and Matar Ba, retained as Minister of Sports. While the First Lady does not directly oversee her husband’s affairs, she has been critical in positioning her entourage in key ministerial positions since Sall’s first election in 2012.
Accelerated path to economic development
Sall has already indicated that his second term will be devoted to continuing and accelerating priority projects planned in the second phase of Plan Sénégal Emergent (PSE), the country’s development framework seeking to make Senegal a middle-income economy by 2035. Launched in 2014, the plan has delivered significant results including a decline of unemployment to 4% in 2017, an uptick in growth forecasted at 7% in 2019, and the delivery of major infrastructure projects, notably a new airport and a 113-kilometer long highway. Sall seeks to maintain the momentum in phase 2 (2019-23), with a focus on seven priority areas: agriculture, infrastructure, industry, energy, digital economy, tourism and finance.
The implementation of the second phase of the plan notably coincides with the start of hydrocarbon production slated for 2022. The transformative economic impact of the oil and gas industry’s development raises many expectations among populations who expect spillover effects on their purchasing power and lower energy costs. The country is currently heavily dependent on energy imports and as such, vulnerable to associated shocks. With the recent major offshore discoveries, Senegal’s offshore is now positioned as a prosperous basin. The adoption of the revised petroleum code in January 2019 has further increased its attractiveness to foreign investors, although the adaptation of the regulatory framework to the upcoming era of hydrocarbon production continues. The ratification on the very first Council of Ministers of an additional inter-state cooperation agreement on the development and operation of the Grand Tortue Ahmeyim gas field and on the tax and customs regime are positive indicators of Sall’s desire to enable the industry to take off rapidly.
Towards a presidential system?
At the outset of the first Council of Ministers, the announcement of a constitutional reform process that could see the post of Prime Minister abolished has surprised many, including within the ruling party’s own ranks. The decision to embark on a reform process did not form part of Sall’s election campaign and no prior consultations with civil society had been held on the issue. Prime Minister Dionne, who has ironically been tasked with delivering this reform process, will have to present a proposal for the amendment of no fewer than 22 articles of the Constitution to the National Assembly, where the ruling APR has a comfortable majority. Until then, Dionne will continue to serve as Prime Minister but will be automatically appointed as Secretary General of the Presidency should the reform be enacted; a post currently empty following Seydou Gueye’s disavowal.
The constitutional change would bring the cabinet directly under the executive’s purview as relates to the implementation of government policies. The presidential-style political system would result in a troika led by Macky Sall, and supported by the Secretary General of the Presidency Mahammad Boun Abdallah Dionne, and the Secretary General of Government Maxime Jean Simon Ndiaye. It is anticipated that the reform will meet civil society and political resistance due to concerns over allocating too many powers to the executive office in a system in which the Presidency already acts as a strong authority over government policy and decision-making. Beyond accumulating power, it is also part of Sall’s strategy to blur the lines as to who could succeed him in 2024. Historically, the position of Prime Minister in Senegal has been an excellent lever for gaining access to the presidency, Sall being the latest example. Despite calls for consultation and even a referendum, Sall is determined to expedite the reform and seek its adoption by as early as June. This will most likely lead to heated debates in the next few weeks and could potentially spark political protests.
Senegalese opposition under Sall II
Upon the validation of the electoral results by the country’s Constitutional Court, Sall called for an open and inclusive political dialogue in a symbolic attempt to appease tensions across the entire political sphere following a relatively heated election. At this stage, it remains uncertain what Sall seeks to achieve beyond what has been interpreted as a paternalistic move, in which key opposition figures are unlikely to take part. In the early stages of his second term, Sall will certainly seek to consolidate power and is seemingly unlikely to meet significant resistance. With no evident primary political adversary capable of transcending political cleavages to rally the disunited opposition, he has very little reason to assume a genuine conciliatory approach towards opposition forces.
Despite Sall’s first-round victory and in the absence of his fiercest rivals – Karim Wade and Khalifa Sall – the performance of two opposition candidates remains noteworthy. Former prime minister Idrissa Seck, who had already unsuccessfully contested the 2007 and 2012 presidential elections, demonstrated once again his resilience by ranking 2nd with 21% of ballots cast, although most opinion polls had forecasted him 4th with around 8%. Seck notably won a symbolic victory in the department of Mbacké and in its capital, Touba, holy city of the Mouride brotherhood, despite Sall’s inauguration of the Ila Touba highway during the campaign. Political dynamics in Mbacké confirm once again the role of Mouride brotherhood as an influential national body and further announce a hotly contested battle in Touba for the upcoming December 2019 local elections. Another notable contender is political newcomer Ousmane Sonko who obtained third place with 16% of the votes. Sonko has recently grown his political clout amongst the Senegalese diaspora in France, Canada and the USA but also in his electoral stronghold in Casamance. Popular among the youth, his performance will undoubtedly open new prospects ahead of the local elections.
Note from the blog administrator: Very good article but I noticed some mistakes:
- Mansour Faye is new minister of community developpment, social and territorial equity
- Cheikh Oumar Hanne was not chief of OFNAC but was expected to be prosecuted by this body
- the construction of the new airport bad started before Macky Sall came to power