On March 29, the Africa Growth Initiative (AGI) hosted a private roundtable discussion with His Excellency President of Senegal Macky Sall. As an important anchor of stability and democracy in Africa, Senegal has achieved much success in addressing several longstanding development challenges, including youth unemployment, infrastructure deficiencies and macroeconomic instability. President Sall was elected to replace Senegal’s incumbent leader in April 2012, in a contest that reinforced Senegal’s international reputation as a leader of African democracy. Since assuming office, he has been elected chairperson of the Heads of State and Government Orientation Committee for the New Partnership for Africa’s Development. As a result of President Sall’s success in confronting his country’s challenges and solidifying Senegal’s commitment to democracy, he was invited to meet with President Obama as part of a formal visit to the White House.
The roundtable discussion allowed members of the private sector, U.S. government and policy community to discuss ways to improve U.S. commerce with Senegal and assist in building democracy and governance. President Sall spoke both of Senegal’s nearly century-long tradition of democracy as well as the governance problems the country has faced. Despite the governance challenges discussed, President Sall’s triumph in Senegal’s 2012 election and his invitation to join President Obama in Washington, D.C. were strong reminders of the important steps the country has taken to solidify democratic gains.
President Sall also emphasized the need for a changed perspective of Africa in the Western world. Exaggerated perceptions of risk and unfamiliarity with Africa and African markets are key obstacles to greater American engagement on the continent. A more robust dialogue among African and American policymakers and a more frequent exchange of people, goods and ideas could address this challenge. Diaspora bonds and other innovative mechanisms for greater engagement with Africans living in the U.S. were also discussed and evaluated.
Participants in the meeting expanded on how the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) contributes to good governance in Senegal and the region, and what the role of the diaspora should be in the process. One notable question concerned whether and how much the AGOA legislation encourages economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa. For instance, African countries that wish to export food to the United States can rarely do so through AGOA because of the challenges they face in meeting high U.S. standards. Other participants insisted that AGOA has been beneficial on balance and that the remaining challenges can be worked through in time. Some participants discussed how and if AGOA may be altered at its 2015 reauthorization, and in what ways Senegal would prefer it change.
The forum concluded with commitments on the part of Brookings to continue to address policy challenges in Senegal. Abdoulaye Diagne, executive director of Brookings’ partner think tank in Senegal, the Center for Social and Economic Research in Senegal (CRES), travelled from Dakar to participate in the discussion.