Diouf, Abdou 1935–
Abdou Diouf 1935–
President of Senegal
Abdou Diouf is an able administrator and talented diplomat who was groomed by Senegal’s first president, Leopold Senghor, to take over when Senghor retired. After serving for more than ten years as Senghor’s prime minister, Diouf assumed the presidency in 1981. According to Sheldon Gellar in Senegal: An African Nation Between Islam and the West, “Diouf assumed office after a remarkably smooth and peaceful transition [and] quickly asserted his authority as an energetic and forceful national leader.”
Diouf’s talent for diplomacy was evident when he served as chairman of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) for the customary one-year term in 1985-86. During his term he addressed a special session of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly that was convened to discuss the economic crisis in Africa. Keesing’s Record of World Events noted that when Diouf stepped down from his OAU position after one year, his “term of office was considered to have been particularly successful, in that during this period international attention had become increasingly focused on Africa’s problems, while the African countries themselves presented, on the whole, a more united front.” In 1987 Diouf was awarded the Africa Prize for Leadership.
Historically, Senegal has been linked with France and was in fact France’s first colony. In the mid-1600s France established its first settlement there at Saint Louis. Two centuries later France developed Dakar, now the capital of Senegal, to serve as the administrative capital of its West African colonial empire.
Senegal is a country with a long democratic tradition. As Abdoulaye Wade, secretary-general and leader of Senegal’s main opposition party, the Senegalese Democratic party, noted in Africa Report, Senegal conducted elections to French Parliament nearly a century before other African territories began to do so. By the mid-1800s, then, citizens of Senegal were represented in the French National Assembly. But according to Michael Crowder in Africa South of the Sahara, “Until the reforms introduced in 1947 by the Constitution of the Fourth Republic, the administration of French West Africa was largely unhampered by criticism or effective checks from its African population.”
Following the collapse of France’s Fourth Republic in 1958, then-President Senghor saw the opportunity to negotiate for the independence of African territories. A
Born September 7, 1935, in Louga, Senegal. Education: Attended Lycee Faidherbe, St. Louis, Senegal; graduated from Ecole national de la France d’outre-mer, Paris, 1960. Politics: Democratic socialist. Religion: Moslem.
Began career in Senegalese politics as director of technical cooperation and minister of planning, 1960; assistant secretary-general to the government, 1960-61; secretary-general to ministry of defense, 1961; governor of Sine-Saloum region, 1961-62; director of cabinet of minister of foreign affairs, 1962-63; director of cabinet of president of the republic, 1963-65; secretary-general to president’s office, 1964-68; minister of planning and industry, 1968-70; prime minister, 1970-80; president of Senegal, 1981—; secretary-general of Parti Socialiste Senegalais (Socialist Party), 1981—; president of Confederation of Senegambia, 1982-1989; chairman of the Organization of African Unity, 1985-86.
Awards: Joint winner, Africa Prize for Leadership, 1987.
Addresses: Office —Office of the President, avenue Roume, BP 168, Dakar, Senegal.
Senegalese constitution was drawn up two years later, but Senghor admitted to Time that “the colonizing powers did not prepare [Senegal] for independence.”
Since the achievement of independence in 1960, Wade and other critics of Senegal’s ruling Socialist party have faulted the nature of the country’s democratic tradition. Although Senegal has enjoyed a multiparty democratic system since the mid-1970s, the Socialist party has been in power for nearly three decades. Noting that a true democracy means an alternation of power among different political parties and not simply the existence of more than one party, Wade and other champions of democracy in Senegal have pressured Diouf to introduce additional electoral reforms.
Diouf is a Moslem who graduated from the Ecole national de la France d’outre-mer in Paris in 1960. Starting in the administration of President Senghor as director of technical cooperation and minister of planning, Diouf rose gradually in Senegal’s political ranks. He held a variety of posts during the 1960s that gave him a wide range of political experience. These positions included service as regional governor, cabinet director, and secretary-general to the president’s office, and ministerial posts for defense and the armed forces and for planning and industry.
President Senghor’s first prime minister was arrested in 1962 following an alleged coup attempt. The position of prime minister was then abolished, with Senghor himself taking over the duties of the post. In 1969, though, Senghor submitted a constitutional amendment bill to the National Assembly that provided for the creation of a new post of prime minister. Under this bill the prime minister would be nominated or dismissed by the president, but he would be responsible to the National Assembly. The bill was approved unanimously by the National Assembly in December of 1969 and was then ratified by voters in a referendum held in February of 1970.
On February 26, 1970, President Senghor appointed Diouf as the country’s first prime minister since 1962. According to the Historical Dictionary of Senegal, “At the time the choice was widely interpreted as reflecting a Presidential preference for a low-profile subordinate in the new office. Diouf, however… remained in office and extended his rule into all facets of government through many changes in the Cabinet. He [earned] praise as an extraordinarily able and efficient administrator.” It seems clear that Senghor was aware of Diouf’s talents and that the prime minister appointment was part of Senghor’s plan to groom Diouf as a potential successor to the presidency.
When President Senghor announced his imminent retirement toward the end of 1980, the Senegalese government was faced with a declining economy and intense pressure for political reform. During the last two years of Senghor’s term in office, Diouf had been given responsibilities of increasing importance in the administration. He was charged with overseeing the country’s finances and instituted strict management of the economy during extremely difficult times.
Although a three-party political system had been in place in Senegal since 1976, there were many unofficial parties that had been formed by dissenting politicians. When Diouf took over as president in January of 1981, he also became secretary-general of the Socialist party. Undertaking a vigorous reorganization of the political system, Diouf immediately lifted restrictions on political activity. As a result, several more opposition parties were officially registered.
Diouf faced his first presidential election in 1983 and led the Socialist party to a clear victory in the legislative elections held at the same time. The Socialist party won 111 out of 120 seats in the recently expanded National Assembly, with the Democratic party taking eight seats and the Rassemblement national démocratique (RND) party taking one seat. Diouf won the presidential election with 83 percent of the vote. Wade, his strongest opponent, took nearly 15 percent of the vote.
In forming a new government in April of 1983, Diouf sought to strengthen his own office by again abolishing the post of prime minister and purging the so-called “old guard” from his cabinet. His prime minister, Habib Thiam, was named president of the National Assembly but resigned a year later in protest over the suppression of his former post.
From the beginning of his new term Diouf was faced with increasing pressure by opposition politicians to institute electoral reforms. Among the points of contention was the prohibition on political parties from forming coalitions in the legislative elections. As a result, some opposition parties boycotted the interim elections. A lack of unity within the opposition only contributed to the success of the Socialist party in municipal and rural elections.
In the presidential and legislative elections of 1988, Diouf was returned for a second term as president. The Socialist party won 103 seats in the National Assembly, with Wade’s Democratic party winning the remaining 17 seats. Wade and other opposition leaders charged that the elections were rigged, claiming victory for Wade in the presidential elections. As recently as 1991 Wade told Africa Report that he beat Diouf in the 1988 elections by a margin of 56.8 percent to Diouf’s 40.2 percent.
When violent rioting broke out after the election results were announced, Wade and other opposition leaders were arrested. Wade received a one-year suspended sentence on charges of incitement to violence and attacking the internal security of the state. Following the sentence both Wade and Diouf appeared conciliatory, announcing they would meet to discuss further reforms. Diouf also granted an amnesty to everyone who had been charged or convicted in the aftermath of the 1988 elections.
The process of political reform continued with the establishment in 1988 of four multiparty political commissions. But restrictions imposed by Diouf on the operation of opposition parties led to protests against the Socialist party. In April of 1989, Diouf announced changes to the electoral code, but his announcement was met with demonstrations during which more than 150 arrests were made. Among the reforms approved later in the year by the National Assembly were greater access to state-controlled media by opposition parties, a shorter period of time for election campaigns, and measures to insure fair voter registration.
Responding to criticism of a long-standing problem regarding the size of the civil service in Senegal, Diouf instituted an extensive government reorganization in early 1990. One-quarter of the cabinet positions were eliminated as part of a government streamlining to meet requirements of an economic restructuring program of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
Diouf’s later political reforms involved an experimental coalition cabinet. In May of 1991 he resurrected the post of prime minister and restored Habib Thiam to that position. More significantly Diouf brought his fiercest critic, Wade of the Democratic party, into his cabinet as minister of state. Citing his fear of further destabilization in Senegal, Wade accepted the post and quickly solved one of Senegal’s most difficult internal problems: he obtained an amnesty and cease-fire for a separatist group that was operating in the southern Senegalese province of Casamance.
According to a report in Business America, “Senegal… experienced the lowest economic growth rate of any African state not affected by war or domestic strife.” The country’s gross domestic product (GDP) has grown at an average rate of 2.3 percent since independence. Having a very limited resource base, Senegal’s economy is largely dependent on agriculture, with peanuts being the primary export crop. Recurring droughts have impoverished the rural population, causing extensive migrations from the country into the towns. The population of Dakar has swelled to 2 million, accounting for about one-third of Senegal’s total population of 7 million. Of those 2 million people in Dakar, only 300,000 have regular incomes.
Development and diversification of Senegal’s agricultural sector was apparently hindered by a corrupt state body, the National Office for Cooperation and Assistance for Development (ONCAD), which was finally dissolved in 1980. ONCAD had a monopoly on peanut marketing and allegedly skimmed profits at the expense of the rural farmers. As a result, farmers became alienated from government policies and turned to growing subsistence crops. By 1984, the nut crop was the lowest since the country gained independence two and a half decades before.
When he first assumed office, Diouf inherited a deteriorating economic situation that was being bolstered by an influx of foreign aid. With its foreign debt rescheduled four times over a period of five years from 1981 to 1985, Senegal was facing the prospect of all donor aid being cut off. Harsher conditions were attached to aid beginning in 1985, and Senegal was forced to agree to more drastic reform measures that included reducing the civil service, cutting government expenditures, and raising the prices of basic foodstuffs. With an economic reform policy in place for 1985, Senegal received a pledge of $500 million per year for seven years from the World Bank Consultative Group.
In 1985, at an International Conference on the Emergency Situation in Africa held in Geneva, Switzerland, Senegal was named one of the 20 African countries most severely affected by previous years of drought. That same year Diouf was named president of the Permanent Inter-State Committee on Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS), a regional body with a goal of attaining food self-sufficiency. Diouf also sought to obtain international aid for all affected African nations through the United Nations. As chairman of the Organization of African Unity, he led an appeal to the UN that resulted in a special session of the General Assembly in New York to address Africa’s economic crisis. In May of 1986 he spoke before the assembly and urged that agricultural development be made a top priority.
The economic situation in Senegal has worsened since the mid-1980s. As president of CILSS, Diouf issued an appeal in 1987 for international assistance in dealing with an invasion of migratory locusts. The threat reemerged in 1988, and that summer saw increased crop destruction from locusts and grasshoppers across the continent. At the end of 1990 Senegal was among ten African countries facing exceptional food emergencies following two consecutive years of drought. The severe economic crisis put extreme pressure on Diouf to find a solution and at the same time keep the support of an increasingly impoverished constituency.
As president of Senegal, Diouf strengthened his country’s ties with France and other members of the European Economic Community (EEC). Diouf went to Paris during the first year of his presidency in 1981 to welcome French president Francois Mitterrand to power. Mitterrand and Diouf enjoyed a particularly close relationship based on their shared political philosophy of democratic socialism.
Cooperative agreements between France and Senegal called for a French commitment of economic aid in the range of $20 million.
In October of 1982 Diouf attended the Ninth Franco-African summit conference held in Kinshasa, Zaire. He joined representatives of 37 other countries in what was the largest Franco-African gathering ever held. Mitterrand was present, a sign of his interest in maintaining and expanding France’s influence in Africa. Throughout the 1980s Diouf was considered a leading exponent of closer ties to France, with Mitterrand pushing for greater French influence in Africa through economic aid programs. In 1987 Mitterrand went so far as to call for a “Marshall Plan” for Africa that would provide large amounts of monetary aid from other countries to stimulate economic growth.
Closer to home, Diouf had a number of border disputes to contend with during his first decade in office. Through an agile foreign policy, he solved most of the problems, including those with the Gambia and Guinea-Bissau. The Gambia, a neighboring country that is territorially situated like a wedge in southwestern Senegal, virtually cuts off Casamance, Senegal’s southernmost province, from the rest of the country. Senegal and the Gambia are so interrelated that a Senegambian Confederation was put into effect in 1982 following an attempted coup against Gambian president Sir Dawda Jawara. The confederation was officially dissolved in September of 1989, but the two nations resolved their regional differences and signed a treaty of friendship and cooperation in 1991.
In addition, after years of maritime disputes in the international courts, Senegal reached an agreement with its southern neighbor Guinea-Bissau, allowing Senegal access to offshore oilfields near the coast of Casamance province, which is situated between the Gambia to the north and Guinea Bissau to the south. With the solution of the Casamance separatist problem in 1991, Senegal stands to benefit from development of those potentially rich oilfields.
Throughout his first ten years in office, President Diouf demonstrated a remarkable ability to solve problems through administrative and diplomatic measures. He maintained a dialogue with opposition politicians and introduced electoral reforms. He worked to establish and maintain good international and regional relations for Senegal. His biggest problems—namely Senegal’s overwhelming foreign debt and the economic crisis resulting primarily from drought—have not been of his own making. With a true multiparty democracy becoming a reality in Senegal, Diouf’s biggest challenge is to gain and keep the support of the populace. “It is much more difficult to undertake … unpopular measures in a democratic country,” Diouf admitted in an interview for the Christian Science Monitor.
Critics continue to find fault with Diouf’s brand of democracy, claiming too much government intervention exists in areas such as the election process and the media. Still, Diouf remains committed to his long-term goals of bureaucratic reform, economic recovery, and the eventual privatization of industry in Senegal. Commenting in the Christian Science Monitor on his country’s progress during his first ten years in office, he asserted, “If there hadn’t been democracy, and therefore a certain taste for initiative, a certain freedom to undertake things, I think we would have advanced more slowly.” If Diouf should lose the 1993 elections, it would be the first time since independence that another party has taken power in Senegal.
Africa South of the Sahara: 1992, Europa, 1991.
Colvin, Lucie Gallistel, Historical Dictionary of Senegal Scarecrow, 1981.
Gellar, Sheldon, Senegal: An African Nation Between Islam and the West, Westview, 1982.
Keesing’s Record of World Events, Longman, 1991.
Africa Report, January-February, 1991; March-April, 1991; September-October, 1991.
Business America, May 25, 1987.
Christian Science Monitor, May 22, 1990.
Time, January 16, 1984.
"Diouf, Abdou 1935–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 12, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/diouf-abdou-1935
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