SENEGAL’S SONKO: THE NEW SYNDICALIST PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE FRANCE FEARS
Department of Government, Uppsala University, Sweden – “Reviewing my past life, I believe I have work with sufficient integrity and dedication to consolidate the revolutionary triumph. […] I am also proud having followed you without hesitation, [and] of having identify with your way of thinking,” wrote Che Guevara to Fidel Castro in 1965, five years before the Black Leftist and jazz poet, Gil Scot-Heron, coined the phrase The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. Che, despite warning from Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt to avoid becoming “another Tarzan”, left Cuba and travelled to the Congo to help the African country in its struggle against imperialist forces.
This month, Senegal will hold a highly anticipated presidential election, a duel currently dominated by two candidates, Macky Sall, France’s right-hand man in Africa, and Ousmane Sonko, 44, a son of a former militant of the Socialist Party, which ruled the West African country from Independence in 1960 until 2000. Sonko, born in Thiés, is a graduate in Public Law of two prestigious institutions: the Gaston Berger University and the National School of Administration and Judiciary (ENAM).
After fifteen years of service in the Tax sector, Sonko, despite government pressure, established the Autonomous Syndic of Tax Officers. This led to his sacking from the Senegalese civil service and paved the way for the eventual founding of the Patriots of Senegal for Work, Ethics and Fraternity (Pastef – Les Patriotes) in 2014. In the 2017-legislative election, he won himself a seat in the National Assembly. The young and relentless Sonko painstakingly published the revealing book, Oil and Gas in Senegal: Chronicle of a Pillage (French title: Pétrole et gaz au Sénégal. Chronique d’une spoliation) – a book which chronicles the tangled web of corruption produced by the exploration of oil and gas in Senegal.
Educated, outspoken, charismatic, and not devoid of political vigor, Sonko is the candidate the French ruling elite fears. The euphoria which greeted his ascension to politics has won him the analogy to France’s Macron. But, mind you! Sonko is not Macron. Because unlike Macron, Sonko is the candidate the ruling elite in France fears. Some would say if Senegal is France, then Sonko is the gilet jaune. However, none of these commandeering metaphors can explain the ethos of patriotism that Sonko espouses. As a syndicalist turned politician, he has become a stern critic of Macky Sall, whom he has accused of signing bad contracts worth billions of dollars with foreign conglomerates, including Total, a French multinational oil and gas company. Sonko says he will renegotiate these agreements.
Armed with economic ideas and plebeian ethos, surrounded with the masses and the young rising class of intellectuals and members of the African diaspora, who live, work, or study in the West, the leader of Les Patriotes is willing to dump the CFA (African Financial Community; formerly, Colonies of France in Africa), a monetary instrument set up by Charles de Gaulle for France’s African colonies in 1945. Today, the CFA is used in fourteen former French colonies in Africa. The CFA is pegged to the euro, and France guarantees convertibility. After each of the fourteen countries had pooled their respective foreign-exchange reserves, half of each must be put in the hands of the French treasury in France. Sonko and his supporters believe that this is the definition of neocolonialism.
Critics of the CFA do not only see it as a colonial vestige but also as a goldmine for the political elite and the super-rich in the francophone monetary zone. France and Italy are currently in a diplomatic fracas after Luigi Di Maio, one of Italy’s deputy prime ministers, accused France of exploiting Africa through its monetary imperialism. Calls for the abandonment of the CFA have gained momentum across the francophone monetary zone and even among citizens of the francophone countries. For Sonko, Senegal cannot continue with the CFA Franc, because “it’s a currency that will never allow us to compete for export.”
Upon arriving in Paris by car from Belgium in November last year, Sonko was greeted with enthusiasms. He told cheering supporters in Paris: “The time of the dominant hierarchy should be behind us. We cannot continue with the CFA Franc.” Abandoning the CFA and the creation of black gold for oil and gas trading are just a few of his many popular ideas of diagnosing the problem of such a fragmented-multiclass state like Senegal. However, there is a difference of opinion about the CFA: On the one hand, the Pro-CFA extrapolate a catastrophic economic result tantamount to the one which gripped the francophone monetary zone in 2004; however, on the other hand, CFA-exiteers are of the conviction that no developing country whose currency rate is determined by a banker sitting hundreds of miles away in a developed country can progress.
The emergence of Sonko’s ideas owes much to his fifteen years of service in the Tax sector, where he saw money circulate, and from his youthful days in Casamance, Senegal’s impoverished and troubled region, where he grew up. Casamance, home to Africa’s longest-running conflict, used to be Senegal’s breadbasket, yet its populace is considered one of the poorest in Africa. Senegal’s natural resources, Sonko fears, is creating a vicious circle of poverty and political elitism, similar to the one that came to define the postcolonial state, where many of the African political elite came to serve the interests of European capitalists in the expense of their own people. Sonko’s nationalist ethos, unlike European or American nationalism in the twenty-first century, is not loaded with xenophobic traits and directed at immigrants: His is a plebeian appeal to the masses against the corrupt political elite.
Today, most young and educated Africans both in and outside Africa who have been following Sonko’s political speeches and campaigns have likened him to Thomas Sankara, the charismatic Marxist pan-Africanist and former President of Burkina Faso, who televised his revolution and got assassinated in 1987 because he was seen as a stumbling block to Franco-Burkina relations.
After Sonko had televised the revolution and received an incredible amount of support from people who followed him without hesitation and identify with his way of thinking, France is nervous because its leadership sees that Sonko is everything that Macky is not: an anti-imperialist and an industrial revolutionary whose ideas are anything but what France stands for when it comes to Africa. This serves as a harbinger that France’s influence on the continent is hanging by a thread. Whether he wins or not, Sonko has breathed new life into Senegalese politics – and this sends a chill down the spines of some people in France (or and why not say some people in Gambia’s State House?).