Le Père du libéralisme panafricain

For the 2nd straight year, I have been in Dakar for the celebration of Senegal's Independence Day - today, the 4th of April. This year was out of the ordinary, though, because the holiday was extended to 3 days, to double as the inaugural for octogenarian President Abdoulaye Wade's 2nd term - this time for 5 years instead of 7. He emerged victorious on the February 25 elections by a huge margin decried by his opponents, who nonetheless could do little to combat the power of incumbency.

20 African heads of state turned up, not the least of which was the "Brother Guide of the Revolution", none other than Moamar Qadhafi, who once again graced the city with his presence and his controversial calls for African unity and even a pan-African army - not to mention reparations from France for Senegal's colonial past. Par for the course as far the Colonel goes, but this year had an interesting twist, as the French Ambassador reportedly walked out on the ceremony before Qadhafi's speech (I will add a link as soon as I can find a reference).

There is lingering worry in Senegal about the change in France's relation with its former colonies with the upcoming election - generally speaking, there is fear that a victory by Nicholas Sarkozy could prompt economic instability. The CFA (African) Franc, a regional currency pegged to the Euro, is backed up by the French Treasury, and - so the worry goes - Sarkozy's lack of appreciation for the historic ties of France and West Africa could lead to further devaluation. A French businesswoman I met this morning, however, rejected that analysis, since the CFA Franc was previously devalued under the old-school leadership of François Mitterand. And interesting side-note: Sarkozy's main competitor in the April/May presidential elections in France, Socialist Party nominee Ségolène Royal, was born in Dakar.

Also, in recent days, Wade greeted an international conference assembled in Dakar devoted to "International Liberalism". The banner shown in this photo (apologies for the poor quality), touts the Senegalese President as "The Father of pan-African Liberalism". Wade, who was educated in France and is married to a French woman, certainly represents the elite of African society - and his preference for "western" values showed through in his speech broadcast on the eve of Independence Day, during which he spoke at length about the equality of women in the workplace and government.

Under Wade's leadership, Senegal has enjoyed excellent relations with the United States and he has personally played host to both George W. Bush and Condolleeza Rice. I guess it figures that a "compassionate conservative" holds such a self-professed liberal in such high esteem. Then again, this is the same President who hailed the Iraqis for approving "the most progressive...constitution in the Arab World." Right up the neo-con's alley. I guess he's a "progressive conservative" these days. Do as I say, not as I do.