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BGIPU explores challenges facing Senegal

In mid-November 2015, I led a BGIPU delegation to Senegal for a four-day working visit. I was accompanied by my colleagues Mark Pritchard MP (Conservative), Kate Osamor MP (Labour), Stephen Hepburn MP (Labour) and Dr Lisa Cameron MP (SNP), as well as BGIPU staff Anja Richter. Following the visit of Senegalese parliamentarians to Westminster in 2013, the aim of our delegation was to learn more about Senegal’s parliamentary system, and to meet with counterparts in the National Assembly and key government representatives to hear about Senegal’s challenges and how our countries can strengthen bilateral ties and cooperation.

Arriving late on Sunday the 15th of November, we were welcomed at the airport by the Honourable Ibrahima Sane MP, Chair of the Senegalese-British Friendship group, who accompanied us throughout the week and gave us useful insights into his country’s political system and society.

Our programme started on Monday with a briefing by HM Ambassador George Hodgson, who had been instrumental in making this visit happen and together with his small team provided excellent support throughout the visit. The first meeting took place at the National Assembly, where we were hosted by Monsieur Djibril War, Chair of the Committee for Foreign Affairs, African Union and Senegalese Abroad and Members of ECOWAS. This was followed by a meeting with the Committee for Defence and Security and the Committee for Law, Decentralisation, Work and Human Rights. After a brief courtesy call with Mr Mansour Sy, Minister for Work, Social Dialogue, Professional Organisations and Institutional Relations, we spent the afternoon with the Committee for Development, and Town and Country Planning.

On Tuesday we were welcomed by His Excellency Moustapha Niasse, President of the National Assembly, who had been crucial in the realisation of the visit. That morning we also had the opportunity to discuss Senegal’s foreign policy priorities with Mr Mankeur Ndiaye, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Senegalese Abroad. During the afternoon, we visited the Interior Ministry, where we were given an overview of current policing operations, followed by a very interesting meeting with representatives from the Health Ministry, who very openly discussed with us issues such as women’s health, female genital mutilation (FGM) and how Senegal managed to keep the Ebola epidemic out of the country. In the evening we attended a wonderful dinner given by Speaker Moustapha Niasse, where we had the opportunity to taste local fish delicacies.

Wednesday started with a meeting with the Committee for Health, Population, Social Affairs and National Solidarity, where we were able to deepen the discussion about health issues and in particular the fight against FGM. After that we had the chance to visit the local street market and some other points of interest in the city, which gave us a glimpse of the average life in Dakar. In the afternoon we went on an excursion to the island of Gorée, a UNESCO World Heritage Site a 25min boat ride from Dakar, where we visited the House of Slaves and other colonial buildings. In the evening Ambassador Hodgson kindly hosted a dinner for us, where we were able to engage with representatives from Senegalese and international NGOs giving us some valuable insights into their country’s society, in particular the situation of women.

On Thursday we visited the local British Council office, where Director Andrew Piner and his team presented us some initiatives they are doing to incentivise entrepreneur-ship in Senegal, and we had the chance to speak to participants of “Great Entrepreneur”, an educational programme which rewards innovative concepts that have social benefits and are created by young Senegalese. Very fittingly we then discussed with students their aspirations for the future of West Africa at the British Embassy, chaired by Ambassador Hodgson. In the afternoon we were privileged to get a frank briefing by Nigel Lazarus from the National Crime Agency (NCA) on the security situation in Senegal and West Africa, and how the UK is helping to fight Serious Crime in the region. The last activity of the day was a brief visit to a local shelter for street children, which left us all in a quite pensive mood.

Overall we were quite impressed with what Senegal has achieved over the last years. In a region plagued with instability and conflict (the armed attack on the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako happened just as we left Dakar), poverty-stricken Senegal has managed to remain a stable and peaceful country with a democratic tradition that has seen several peaceful transitions of power. Even though it neighbours Guinea, one of the three countries hit hardest by the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, Senegal only recorded one case and no deaths. It is therefore important for the UK to engage more deeply with Senegal and to encourage it to show leadership in West Africa. The UK is already active on the ground and we were immensely encouraged to see at first hand the opportunities for the people of Senegal being brought about in partnership with the UK, and the work that is being done by the NCA to keep Britain safe. However, we think that more needs to be done and look forward to an enhanced level of cooperation between our governments and parliaments. Our thanks go to our wonderful Senegalese hosts, who made us feel extremely welcome, the British Embassy in Dakar and BGIPU for making this important and insightful visit possible.

Ian Liddell-Grainger MP