Cablegate: Senegal: A Controversial Return to Bicameralism

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1. (SBU) Summary: Senegal's return to bicameralism, following a
February 2007 amendment to the Constitution, was widely perceived as
a huge waste of funds and driven by a desire to create privileges
for a growing political class rather than strengthening the
country's democratic architecture. Three months after its inaugural
session in October, the Senate is still striving to justify its
existence to a citizenry that has lost faith in the legislature. End

A Rejected Institution

2. (SBU) Fulfilling an election promise to downsize political
institutions, President Abdoulaye Wade disbanded Senegal's Senate in
2001. However, seven years later, Wade has not only re-established
all the institutions he had eliminated but he has significantly
increased the number of professional politicians. Many Senegalese
are bitter about this U-turn and have voiced sharp criticisms
against Wade's consistent tendency to use scarce public resources to
reward political allies.

Would be House of Wisdom

3. (SBU) Senate 2.0, where the President appoints 65 out of its 100
members, reflects Wade's view that it should be "a chamber of
wisdom," which is why the Constitution stipulates that senators have
to be at least 40 years old to be eligible. An unusual factor is
that about 30 percent of its members are an illiterate group of
mainly Wolof speakers who are not part of the ruling elite and who
have taken it upon themselves to focus on how the government can
help the poor. Senator Khardiata Mendy of Casamance is one of the
charismatic figures in this group as highlighted by a December 2007
budget debate when she upbraided the Minister of Agriculture about a
lack of policies to motivate farmers, "During this rainy season, I
personally cleared vast areas of land with just my machete, but I
received neither fertilizers nor seeds from the government. It is
this lack of support that discourages young people who say that
farming is no longer worth the trouble."

Deficit of Legitimacy

4. (SBU) While constitutionally a second law-making chamber the
Senate actually functions as a consultative body. Thus, while the
Constitution allows 21 days for the Senate to do a "second reading"
of bills examined by the Assembly, bills still become law even if
the Senate does not approve them. Furthermore, mechanisms to
harmonize the relationship between the two chambers and regulations
giving the Senate power to block the passing of legislation have yet
to be enacted. The current President of the Senate, Dakar Mayor
Pape Diop, who was appointed by Wade and who will be interim
President for 90 days if the incumbent cannot serve, suggested that
an Ombudsman be appointed to create a bridge between the two
legislative chambers.

Spoiled politicians
5. (SBU) A senior staff member of the Senate told Embassy that "most
senators are very happy with their remuneration package. They each
get a free SUV, a monthly salary of USD 3,000 (Senegal's minimum
wage is 80 dollars per month), and diplomatic passports for each
senator and one spouse." He further commented that "many of the
senators had retired [from politics] and so the benefits they
receive were totally unexpected."

In search of credibility

6. (SBU) The Senate's budget rapporteur told the Embassy that the
Senate's main priority is to increase its credibility as a
legislative body and to that end a number of new rules have been
implemented to "encourage" participation. The regulations of the
Senate state that a Senator who misses committee work without proper
justification will not be allowed to take the floor in plenary
sessions. Furthermore, sanctions in the form of salary deductions
will be levied to all senators guilty of absenteeism. To make its
work more efficient during budget review, technical committees have
been eliminated and the financial committee that questions ministers
is open to all senators though only committee members can vote. The
first decision of the President of the Senate was to organize a
training session to familiarize the majority of the members with the
functions of a Senate and the rudiments of budget law. He also sent
them across the country to identify key economic problems and to
relay their findings to the various ministers during the examination
of the ministries' budgets.

7. (SBU) During a discussion of the budget of the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs, senators used foreign policy issues to underline
their credentials as defenders of Senegal's interests and of the

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Islamic Umah. They regretted that Senegal's support of the PLO had
weakened since the election of Hamas and the advent of Mahmud Abbas.
They wondered if that was due to the strengthening of economic
exchanges with Israel. They also vigorously condemned the Economic
Partnership Agreements (EPAs) that the European Union is asking to
sign with African countries to comply with the WTO's
non-discrimination regulations. One senator called the agreements
"a declaration of war."


8. (SBU) The creation of the Senate is mostly an effort by President
Wade to provide patronage to political allies but is also attempt to
divide and control the legislative branch and the country's other
leading politicians. Many senior politicians with the clout to
resist the president are likely to be tempted by the trappings of
prestige and power in the Senate only to find themselves without the
ability to impact legislation or policy. More importantly, repeated
constitutional amendments are undermining the stability of Senegal's
institutions and perhaps its democracy.


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