Senegal's peaceful handover of power from Abdoulaye Wade to Macky Sall in March this year brought hope in the country: hope for more jobs, better education, food and energy for all and, importantly, accountability from political leaders.
Corruption remains a major concern in a country where resources are poorly managed and government spending remains opaque. In the 2010/2011 Transparency International Global Corruption Barometer, 88 per cent of Senegalese said corruption had become worse in the previous three years.
Macky Sall has promised to tackle corruption in his country and Senegalese citizens are increasingly ready to stand up against all forms of corruption.
In September this year Huguette Labelle, Chair of Transparency International, visited Senegal for a meeting with President Sall and to see first-hand the work of Forum Civil, Transparency International’s partner chapter in Senegal. You can read an interview with Labelle below.
– Huguette Labelle
Campaigning across the country
In June 2012 Forum Civil launched a countrywide campaign to promote citizen and community participation, and galvanise Senegalese young and old to stand up against corruption and impunity.
Volunteers from Forum Civil have fanned out across the country to collect the real life stories of how corruption is affecting the lives and livelihoods of ordinary citizens – including their access to education, health, water and road infrastructure – and encourage them to demand accountability.
The organisation is amassing signatures for its No Impunity petition. This asks government officials to declare their assets and for the new anti-corruption body appointed by President Sall to take action quickly to tackle corruption in public institutions, particularly the politicisation of the judiciary.
Hundreds of people have already attended meetings and rallies in ten cities including Bambilor, Guediawaye, Kaffrine, Saint-Louis, Matam and Dakar. The campaign is using a documentary film on the National Agency for the Organisation of the Islamic Conference made by Forum Civil which showed how corruption and a lack of transparency in the management of the Islamic Conference held in Dakar in March 2008 cost Senegal millions of dollars.
The No Impunity campaign will culminate in December when Forum Civil hands the petition to the government and the Parliament and organises a musical concert in Dakar for the hundreds of volunteers and citizens that have been the voice and face of the campaign.
Transparency International Chair Huguette Labelle discusses her experience in Senegal
What was it like to visit Senegal and Forum Civil, Transparency International’s partners in the country?
My visit to Senegal was exceptional. I had the opportunity to meet with President Sall and others in the government and Parliament and to spend time with our chapter Forum Civil. Visiting Forum Civil was quite special. It’s such a vibrant organisation with dedicated and energetic staff and a large number of highly committed volunteers who are mobilising people in our effort to fight corruption. They have several initiatives, including special progammes for young people and women.
While I was there I was able to visit Bambilor (a small community about 40 kilometres from Senegal’s capital Dakar), where Forum Civil had organised a gathering of citizens and civil society organisations. People had travelled fair distances to come together and discuss how to fight corruption in the land sector. I took this as a positive sign that there are good leaders in those communities who are able to mobilise people to come forward with legitimate demands.
Moreover, these people trust Forum Civil to put their recommendations to those in power and get results. What really struck me is the way the Forum Civil staff and volunteers really listen to people’s concerns and then try to help find solutions. This is a very interesting time in that citizens are ready to fight corruption.
Is corruption high on the agenda?
I met with President Sall and I was particularly interested to hear how he will act on his promises to curb corruption. Corruption was high on the agenda before the elections, but the electoral period brought it to the fore and corruption became a daily issue in the country. President Sall has already laid out a very strong and comprehensive statement regarding corruption and what should be done about it, which was highly welcomed by the people.
What does the new government have to do to curb corruption?
Based on our past experience of countries around the world, the most important thing now is to move on the actions that have been identified as important, and to do so quickly, before corruption forces move into high gear to try and prevent reform. The government must ensure that the justice system is functioning independently, so that there is no impunity for those who are found guilty of corruption.
How can the international community help Senegal curb corruption?
The Senegalese government has indicated that it wants to deal with stolen assets. This is an important issue for the world community to work with this new government. The government needs to move quickly on this too, first by undertaking appropriate audits and investigations within Senegal and by working simultaneously with countries where it is likely that these assets are located. I understand that this work has already been initiated. It will be important for the Senegalese justice to take its full course. The government should not be deterred by the pressure that will inevitably come. That would be a recognition that impunity is acceptable – which is never the case.
What can ordinary Senegalese people do?
I think that the people must not take corruption as a given. They need to come together and ensure that they work with their local and national governments to identify the problems and to find solutions. They should not accept paying bribes in order to access services which should be free. They should not tolerate impunity; they should not accept that corruption is a way of life. It is not, and should not be.
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