Senegal’s elderly Wade confident of third term


Senegal’s octogenarian president Abdoulaye Wade said he was confident voters would grant him a third term in a 2012 election and his age was no obstacle to enjoying five more years in power.

Brushing aside opposition criticism that he has failed during 10 years in office to stem poverty and corruption in the West African state, Wade, 83, said he had done more to build its economy than four decades of Socialist rule before him.
“The Senegalese are satisfied with what I have done…They know some things aren’t quite finished, but they think it would be hard for anyone to do better than me,” Wade told Reuters in an interview in a modest office in his presidential palace.

His optimism comes despite heavy losses for his liberal party in 2009 local elections and domestic criticism at failure to deal with rising poverty as the global slowdown chopped economic growth in half to just 1.7 % last year.

Economists say he can expect to growth to return to around four percent in 2011.

Wade looked spry and insisted he was in good health. He ignored suggestions that it was time for him to step aside for a younger generation, and said he could think of nobody better to run the former French colony than himself.
“I do not know of any African country doing better than I am,” he said, citing road projects, bumper output in agriculture sectors, and a policy of spending 40 % of the budget on education as evidence of his success.

Senegal prides itself as being one of the few sub-Saharan African states to have avoided military coups and to have seen changes of government through the ballot box. But critics see Wade’s enthusiasm for continuing in office as reminiscent of other elderly African leaders who refuse to give up power.

Asked whether he could envisage holding elections before his current five-year term runs out, he replied: “Absolutely not. We are not in a crisis.”

Father and son

Opposition figures say Wade is becoming increasingly authoritarian and is trying to massage a succession to his son Karim, who despite a lack of political experience runs a “super ministry” in charge of infrastructure and territorial planning.

Wade said the British-educated financier Karim, 41, had the right to stand for the presidency in the future but had so far not clearly revealed to him any desire to so.
“I could let him go for the next elections and actually I don’t know who would be able to beat him,” said Wade.
“If I wanted to promote my son, I would know how to go about it,” he said. “But for the moment that is not my intention.

Wade dismissed concerns about rising official corruption in Senegal, which last year dropped 14 places to 99th position on Berlin-based Transparency International’s index of national anti-graft efforts, saying it was exaggerated by the media.
“If it is that bad, why is it that investment has almost tripled since 2000?” he said of foreign direct investment currently at an annual 147 billion CFA francs ($305 million).
“We have 25 daily newspapers in this country most of the time they are making up accusations,” he added.

Wade who is three years younger than 86-year-old Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Africa’s oldest head of state said he would voluntarily hand over power when a sufficiently talented successor appears.
“At some point I will prepare to hand over the baton,” he said. “But my successor must be able not only to keep in place what I have done but also to build on it.”

Pic: President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal