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With a New England winter storm as an ironic counterpoint, a delegation of Senegalese officials arrived at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics Friday (March 8). In the lead was Macky Sall, who is only the fourth president of the Republic of Senegal since the nation was founded in 1960. The country of 12 million is at the westernmost edge of Africa, where March temperatures hover around 80 degrees.
Speaking mostly in French, with part of the audience listening on portable translation devices, Sall drew a picture of a nation close in values to the United States, and of a continent on the verge of power and prosperity. “Africa is the continent of the future,” he said — young and rich in resources.
At the same time, he acknowledged the economic, political, and demographic challenges ahead. In Senegal, for example, per capita income is $2,000 a year, adult literacy is around 40 percent, and fertility rates threaten to overtake resources. Senegalese women, on average, have five children each.
Sall’s talk coincided with International Women’s Day, which he marked by touting parity laws in Senegal that require political parties to field an equal number of male and female candidates. He also cited Senegal’s cash-transfer program as something that will especially benefit women, “the half that give life to the other half.”
The cash-transfer program is part of what Sall described as “a Senegalese New Deal, so nobody is left behind.” Fair taxation is another part of the plan, he said, along with universal health coverage — a mention that earned a burst of applause.
That New Deal will address the necessity of social justice, without which there is no “peace and stability,” and without which there is only the familiar spiral into unemployment and poverty. Paraphrasing John F. Kennedy, Sall said: “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”
Protection for all means “peace and stability,” he said — a fundamental requirement for improving the economy. “Senegal aspires to be a middle-income country,” said Sall, who envisions his nation an economic “African tiger.”