As Senegal today celebrates the 52nd anniversary of its independence, I just returned from the inauguration of the country’s new president, Macky Sall. Last Thursday, I was honored to receive a call from the White House asking me, on behalf of President Obama, to lead the official U.S. delegation attending his inauguration. Ambassador Johnnie Carson, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, and General Carter Ham, Commander of U.S. Africa Command, joined me on the delegation, which was rounded out on the ground by our U.S. Ambassador to Senegal and Guinea-Bissau, Lewis Lukens.
The delegation represented agencies which carry out the three “D”s of U.S. foreign policy: diplomacy, defense and development. We share these interests with Senegal, our longstanding ally. Our delegation joined world leaders from across Africa, Europe and beyond to witness the historic inauguration of Senegal’s fourth president. Pride, promise and peace—and a celebratory mood—pervaded the historic transfer of power from former President Wade to President Sall. It was an important moment to witness, and our delegation’s presence affirmed the strong ties of cooperation and friendship between Senegal and the United States.
The inauguration ceremony uptown was well-attended; the chairs and aisles were full. Spectators filled the streets afterward as President Sall met former President Wade at the presidential palace, bringing downtown traffic to a halt. While the delegation presented congratulations on behalf of President Obama, the Senegalese were congratulating each other. One Senegalese would greet another with “felicitations,” French for “congratulations,” to which the other would respond “ño ko bokk,” which means “it [this peaceful democratic transition] is ours collectively to share.” Several Senegalese shared with me their disappointment that this election was viewed as unusually calm, because they think peaceful elections should be the norm, and until they are, much work needs to be done.
In fact, Senegal’s festive occasion unfortunately did not garner as much press attention as the crisis unfolding in neighboring Mali. What a sharp contrast between the march toward democracy and the regression from it. On the one hand, thousands had gathered to celebrate Senegal’s commitment to a strong and mature democracy and to a peaceful and orderly transfer of power, where the needs of the nation and its citizens trump the agenda of individual politicians. On the other hand, the seizure of power by elements of the military in Mali was an unconstitutional, anti-democratic action, which the U.S. Government and the international community have condemned and which prompted MCC to halt operations in the country.
Both in his public speeches and our bilateral meeting, President Sall reiterated Senegal’s commitment to good governance, transparency, economic opportunity, and food security, which align with the country’s MCC compact. These are the same priorities I heard from the Senegalese people as I met with small groups of private sector and civil society representatives.
Although a short trip, Assistant Secretary Carson and Ambassador Lukens joined me to meet briefly with the team implementing our compact. We commended the team’s ongoing work and congratulated them for launching the first work tenders, signaling the end of the design phase and the beginning of the works phase. We reminded the team to stay on top of its game as so many people in the regions of Casamance and St. Louis are counting on the construction of the MCC-financed roads and irrigation infrastructure to unlock agricultural productivity and deliver greater access to markets and services.
Our partnerships thrive with countries committed to democratic governance and the rule of law, and what I saw unfold in Senegal is proof of this commitment. We are encouraged that the Sall administration has prioritized the full implementation of Senegal’s MCC compact. The people of Senegal deserve and expect nothing less. Let’s continue this work that transcends politics and personalities and belongs to the people of Senegal, eager to replace poverty with prosperity and continue forward on a path to greater economic progress.