Cablegate: Senegal: Opposition Launches National Dialogue

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1. (SBU) Summary: Despite tremendous government pressure and
intimidation against it, Senegal's main opposition has successfully
kicked off a three- to six-month long National Dialogue (Assises
National) to diagnose and propose solutions to the country's
political, economic and social problems. Although President
Abdoulaye Wade accused its organizers of plotting to overthrow the
government, the very well attended opening ceremony brought together
civil society groups, NGOs, political parties of all stripes,
religious leaders, and representatives of various players of the
local economy. Representatives of Western embassies, including the
United States, attended the opening ceremony in spite of being urged
(and in some cases threatened) not to go by the foreign minister.
However, the government successfully coerced every African, Asian,
and Arab representative to boycott the event. END SUMMARY.


2. (SBU) President Abdoulaye Wade called the National Dialogue a
"plot to overthrow his government by politicians disguised as civil
society leaders." Farba Senghor, Minister of Air Transportation and
spokesperson of the ruling PDS (Democratic Party of Senegal) warned
leaders of NGOs, private sector companies, and even religious
brotherhoods that President Wade would be counting his friends and
those who participated in the National Dialogue will have
deliberately chosen to be against him and "should not come back
asking for mercy if sanctioned." The Minister of Interior
separately pressured an independent TV station, 2S TV, not to air a
program on the National Dialogue featuring Ms. Penda Mbow and Mr.
Mohamed MBodj, two members of civil society who are the intellectual
architects of the National Dialogue. On May 30, the Prime Minister
Cheikh Hadjibou Soumare gathered his cabinet around midnight to
deliver a message to the nation to invite people to boycott the
National Dialogue.

More Threats

3. (SBU) President Wade also instructed Foreign Minister Cheikh
Tidiane Gadio to call all the main foreign representations in
Senegal to urge them not to go. In discussions with our colleagues,
we were informed by the Swedish charge d'affaires that she was
threatened by Foreign Minister Gadio who told her that "she would
bear the consequences if anything went wrong." The ambassador of
Switzerland, according to their deputy chief of mission, was
similarly threatened. Most Western countries chose to ignore the
government's pressure and intimidation. Along with the United
States, France, Germany, the EU, Canada, Austria, Spain, Belgium,
Sweden, the Netherlands and Romania, attended the opening ceremony.
Note. Charge d'Affaires was received by the FM Gadio in a private
meeting in which Gadio cited the seditious nature of the Assises as
a reason the U.S. "would not want to be there." We were not overtly
threatened with retaliation. End note. In stark contrast there was
not one representative from Asian, Arab or African countries.
According to former Environment Minister and National Assembly
Deputy Abdoulaye Bathily, several African embassies, including those
of Ghana, Nigeria, and South Africa, had indicated they were
planning to attend the opening ceremonies but felt obliged to not do
so after having been importuned by government officials.


4. (SBU) In a discussion with former Army Chief of Staff, General
Keita, who is the Secretary-General of the Assises, he revealed that
President Wade personally called him the night before the Assises at
his office to ask him not to go. The spokesperson of the National
Dialogue Ms. Rahmet Sow, a leading figure in the small opposition
party Jeuf Jeul, told Embassy, "The [Mourides] Caliph in Touba [the
country's leading religious figure] had promised that he would send
someone of import, but that the government handed out so much money
over the last few days that they were persuaded not to go."

Yet Intimidation Backfires

5. (SBU) Clearly, President Wade's strategy to scare people off
backfired. The meeting was extremely well attended by a wide and
eclectic array of actors. All the major religious families,
including five from the Mourides branch who chose to defy the
Caliph, were in attendance as well as a representative from Cardinal
Sarr, Archbishop of Senegal. Senegal's better known NGOs such as
Forum Civil and Mouvement Citoyen as well as leading labor chiefs
took an active role in preparing the Dialogue. President Wade and
his entourage, by choosing to boycott the Dialogue, treating the
organizers of the Assises with contempt and using authoritarian
methods to sabotage the project seems to have made a strategic
mistake and a tactical blunder. Prominent Senegalese figures felt
insulted by these tactics and showed their support of Senegal's

DAKAR 00000637 002 OF 002

democracy by ignoring the government's ham-handed attempts to
intimidate them.

6. (SBU) The chair of the Natinoal Dialogue, Professor Amadou
Makhtar Mbow, a former director general of UNESCO, reiterated his
appeal to President Wade to join the gathering. Mbow, who is
well-respected by his countrymen, responded to Wade's accusations
that they were plotting his overthrow by noting that "the Assises do
not exclude anyone and are not against anybody." He said that he
recognized the legitimacy of Wade's government, but that this
legitimacy did not preclude the Senegalese from "freely exercising
their right to ponder their own future." MBow gave a stark analysis
of the country's situation noting that many Senegalese would starve
without remittances from immigrants. He further commented that
after forty years of independence, fifty percent of the population
still live below the poverty line and forty percent of the poorest
households share only 17 percent of the country's income.

A Two-Pronged Strategy

7. (SBU) In the coming month, local teams will spread throughout the
country's thirty-five districts to hold discussions with local
populations to hear their ideas on a wide array of topics from
public policies, democracy, good governance, environmental
degradation, to the agronomic situation. Syntheses of these
discussions, after validation at the local level, will be aggregated
at the national level. Concomitantly, thematic committees will hold
interviews with intellectuals and key actors at the national level
to seek their views and recommendations for the future of the
country. The whole process of the National Dialogue is supposed to
last between three and six months and will end with a national
plenary that will validate all the conclusions and recommendations.


8. (SBU) The National Dialogue is the vehicle that Senegal's weak
opposition wants to ride out of isolation after their disastrous
decision to boycott the June 2007 legislative elections virtually
excluded them from any of Senegal's national political institutions.
Seeing its initial success, it will be difficult for Preside Wade
to continue to ignore a movement of political opponents and civil
society leaders who seek to peacefully promote the strengthening of
democracy and good governance in Senegal. The opening of the
Dialogue, despite the threats of the GOS, was attended by a quality
audience of heavyweights who will be difficult to disregard. It now
seems that the ability to bribe or threaten opinion leaders and the
support of the Caliph of the Mourides may no longer be adequate
means to relegate dissent to the sidelines. As former Minister
Bathily told us, the opening of the Dialogue showed that many
opinion leaders think the time has come to put Senegalese democracy
back on track, improve governance, and to weed out the corruption
that has become endemic under President Wade.

© Scoop Media

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