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Cablegate: Senegal: Imams Call for Civil Disobedience

VZCZCXRO9891
PP RUEHMA RUEHPA
DE RUEHDK #1444/01 3531703
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 181703Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY DAKAR
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1593
INFO RUEHZK/ECOWAS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHLMC/MCC WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 DAKAR 001444

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPT FOR AF/W, AF/RSA, DRL AND INR/AA
PARIS FOR AFRICA WATCHER

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINS KDEM ENRG ECON SG
SUBJECT: Senegal: Imams Call for Civil Disobedience

DAKAR 00001444 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) Summary: On December 6, a group of imams (Muslim religious
leaders) led a protest in the streets of the Guediawaye suburb of
Dakar, to demand a reduction in the cost of electricity. They are
threatening to refuse to pay their bills and to spread the protest
by calling for the support of other imams across the country. The
imams also called on their followers to avoid using electricity.
End Summary

High Prices and Bad Service
---------------------------

2. (SBU) The Senegalese National Electricity Company (Senelec) is a
parastatal, which like the government itself, is in bad financial
shape. Its obsolete plants and cash flow problems are the cause of
endemic power cuts. As part of the government's IMF-monitored
program to return to fiscal balance, in July the government ended
massive, long-standing subsidies to the company. This resulted in
electricity price increases of 17 percent on average, with large
consumers paying up to 40 percent more. This move led to the
doubling of the bills of many households. Most Senegalese use
incandescent bulbs rather than energy efficient ones and old and
inefficient discarded appliances (freezers and refrigerators),
collected in Europe and sold on the local market.

New Religious Leadership
------------------------

3. (SBU) A protest led by imams is unprecedented in Senegal, where
they are viewed as social regulators who prevent or settle conflicts
rather than initiate them. The National Assembly Deputy who
represents the Guediawaye district, Khalidou Niasse, told Embassy
that these are new types of imams, "The two imams who led the
protest, Imam Sarr and Imam Diop are, respectively, a retired police
officer and a retired financial officer who used to work for the
government. They are not the traditional Sufi Imam from local
Koranic schools who do not grasp the sophistication of modern
society." According to reports, the imams went to meet government
leaders with a computer expert who had prepared simulations that
showed huge discrepancies between the increases announced and the
bills distributed. The rise of this new kind leadership is the
result of a deep transformation of the suburbs of Dakar which are no
longer just huge slums for the urban poor. Middle class civil
servants have moved to these suburbs, attracted by new and more
affordable housing development projects. This has changed the
sociology of these suburbs with new citizens who are more demanding
and likely to exert pressure on government authorities.

Mitigated response
------------------
4. (SBU) President Abdoulaye Wade responded promptly by firing the
CEO of Senelec. The government accuses the ousted CEO of failing to
properly communicate the price increases. The Prime Minister's
Office, following a meeting with protesters, issued a press release
indicating that out of the 721,350 subscribers of Senelec, 45
percent saw their bills decrease by three to ten percent to include
the poorest Senegalese (without noting that the poorest of Senegal's
population do not have access to electricity, and less than
one-third of Senegal's families have accounts with the utility.)
The Prime Minister's statement claims that 54 percent of customers
saw their bills increase between two and 30 percent. The GOS
further indicated that in 2009 they will seek to spread the use of
low energy bulbs through cooperation with Iran. They also promised
reparations to people who lost appliances because of frequent power
surges.

Imams maintain a radical line
-----------------------------

5. (SBU) The imams also met with Energy Minister Samuel Sarr. They
rejected the government's measures as stalling tactics saying that
they still wanted the cancellation of the official 17 percent
increase and the implementation of a scaled pricing system that
makes the largest consumers pay higher prices for each kilowatt they
use. The imams also argued, given that the price of electricity was
linked directly to the high price of oil, now that the cost of a
barrel is significantly lower than a few months ago, the cost of
electricity should also decrease. The meeting with the Energy
Minister did not bring a resolution and the situation remains
deadlocked.

Government Threatening to Take a Hard Line
------------------------------------------

6. (SBU) An advisor to the President told Embassy that the GOS will
suspend the electricity supply of those imams who refuse to pay
their bills. He added that these imams "received financial help
from the President as well as support for their mosques from the

DAKAR 00001444 002.2 OF 002


President's son Karim." He indicated that 90 percent of them belong
to the Tidjane Muslim brotherhood and the GOS will seek mediation
from the highest authorities of this brotherhood to calm tensions.
(Note: President Wade is a member of the Mourides brotherhood. End
note.) In the interim, the leader of the hard-line Islamic group
Ibadu Rahmane has expressed support for his protesting colleagues
and is calling for more widespread protests.

Imams Filling Political Leadership Vacuum
-----------------------------------------

6. (SBU) Comment: This confrontation with the government by imams is
a result of the leadership vacuum left by weak trade unions,
ineffective civil society participation in economic policy, and an
enfeebled political opposition. These imams are becoming
representatives for poor and working class Senegalese who have lost
faith in political and civil society leaders. By engaging in and
encouraging this civil disobedience, the imams are becoming a
conduit of the anger of Dakar's increasingly frustrated young and
unemployed urban masses. In the short term tensions look likely to
increase. End comment.
BERNICAT

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