Cablegate: Ambassador Meets Mouride Caliph

DE RUEHDK #1539/01 3581010
R 241010Z DEC 09





E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Ambassador Meets Mouride Caliph

REF: Dakar 226

1. (SBU) Summary: During a meeting with Serigne Bara Lamine Mbacke,
the Caliph-General (or grand marabout) of Senegal's powerful Mouride
Muslim brotherhood, the Ambassador requested help to end child
trafficking and child begging and discussed transparency in
government and the fight against corruption, the situation in the
Casamance and reproductive health. She also commended religious
leaders for their role in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Senegal and
asked for the Caliph to exert similar influence in addressing these
issues. End Summary.

2. (SBU) In an unusually long meeting with the 84-year-old leader of
the Mouride Muslim brotherhood, the Ambassador requested the
Caliph's support to end child begging and the trafficking of
children by unscrupulous marabouts (religious guides) for the
purposes of begging. The Caliph, who rarely speaks, asked his
cousin and long time Embassy contact, Mame Mor Mbacke, CEO of the Al
Ahzar group that includes dozens of bilingual (French/Arabic) in
Senegal, to respond on his behalf (Note: The Caliph-General often
responds via intermediaries, rather than expressing his opinion
directly because of the potential impact of his words in Senegalese
society. End note). Mame Mor underlined that Mouridism focuses
both on acquiring a strong religious education and promoting strong
work ethics and that begging was contrary to both of those tenets.
He remarked that while Touba is the country's second most populous
city it has no industry and no major companies and yet people do not

3. (SBU) On the issue of transparency, the Caliph nodded while the
Ambassador discussed good governance and the fight against
corruption. (Comment: The Caliph, who tends to stay out of
politics as much as possible while maintaining a great deal of
political influence, probably did not comment due to the sensitive
nature of the topic that is currently at the heart of the political
debate, with both civil society and opponents focusing on the fight
against corruption and calling for President Abdoulaye Wade to step
down as a precondition for increasing transparency and good
governance in Senegal. End Comment)

4. (SBU) The Ambassador then raised the very sensitive issue of
reproductive health, noting that an average of 5 women and 41
children die every day in Senegal. She added that this situation
could be avoided and that the USG through USAID was helping Senegal
preserve the lives of mothers and helping children survive thanks to
a birth spacing program. The Ambassador asked the Caliph to support
the program, which was summarized for him in the local Wolof
language by Dr. Baye Mbow, a former doctor who now works for USAID
and who designed the child spacing program. The Caliph was clearly
engaged by the topic as he leaned forward and intervened directly in
the discussion, rather than using his spokesperson. He acknowledged
that Islam recommends a minimum of three years' spacing between
children (beyond the two years mentioned in the briefing he
received). The Caliph also said that child nutrition should be
improved and insisted that hospitals and health centers should have
enough equipment to do their work.

5. (SBU) Finally, the Ambassador highlighted her concerns about the
rise of terrorism and narco-trafficking in West Africa, underlining
that Senegal's southern region of the Casamance was particularly
vulnerable because of its proximity with the two Guineas and a
28-year-old low intensity conflict that has seen a recent uptick in
violence. Responding for the Caliph, Mame Mor said that while
religious leaders generally intervened only in spiritual issues and
matters of general interest, he conceded that foreigners in the
region, such as drug traffickers, were a danger to peace, adding
that certain legacies of the colonial period - such as artificial
borders - did not help either. He averred that, in their view, the
role of a religious leader was to educate people to become better
citizens. He added that in the Casamance or other parts of the
country religious leaders needed to teach citizens to balance their
self-interest with the general interest, and that the Caliph would
certainly play a role in trying to achieve this balance.

6. (SBU) Comment: It is difficult to overstate the level of
influence of the Mouride caliph-general in Senegalese society.
While the Mourides are not the largest Muslim brotherhood in Senegal
(the largest group is the Tidjanes), they are the most economically
and, therefore, politically powerful. Historically, they have
remained aloof from politics, but have recently become more actively
involved as a result of President Wade, who is a Mouride. Wade
often sought and received the support of Bara Mbacke's predecessor,
Serigne Saliou Mbacke. The President continues to attempt to curry
favor with the head of the Mourides, recently offering land and
state money to build a massive Mosque honoring Amadou Bamba, the
founder of Mouridism, on a site in the heart of Dakar. Since the
death of Serigne Saliou Mbacke, many have speculated that the
Mouride brotherhood's influence would begin to wane as a result of

DAKAR 00001539 002 OF 002

infighting within the Mouride hierarchy with the transition to the
first leader who is not a son of the founder of the brotherhood, but
the current Caliph appears to have kept the organization and its
influence intact. Irrespective of the caliph-general's political
influence or leanings, his opinion could have a dramatic impact on
Senegalese attitudes toward ending child begging and family
planning/child spacing. The Embassy will continue to elicit the
support of this important religious community in our efforts to
advance especially these issues. End comment.

© Scoop Media

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