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TRADE-AFRICA: Senegal and South Africa Moving Closer?

Stephanie Nieuwoudt

CAPE TOWN, Jul 21 2008 (IPS) - Senegal’s opposition to United Nations sanctions against Zimbabwe aligns Pres. Abdoulaye Wade’s government with that of South Africa. This should boost the two countries’ bilateral relations, which have seemingly been improving in the wake of a recent bilateral trade treaty.

Wade said at the Group of Eight summit in Japan recently that he did not believe that sanctions would change anything for Africans. By speaking out against sanctions, he showed solidarity with South Africa, the strongest economy in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and various other African states.

This development follows shortly after South Africa and Senegal’s recent conclusion of a bilateral trade treaty.

Relations between the two countries seem to be improving after tensions when Wade put forward his own Omega Plan at the time when South African president Thabo Mbeki was spearheading the Millennium African Plan, the frontrunner of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).

NEPAD was adopted after negotiations with Wade to incorporate parts of the Omega Plan. However, since then Wade has become increasingly disenchanted with the initiative. He is on record as having said that NEPAD ‘‘has not built one kilometre of road in Africa’’, criticism that is said to have angered Mbeki.

Wade’s ‘‘support of (Robert) Mugabe (of Zimbabwe) is part of the old school of thought where African countries show solidarity towards one another,’’ Willie Breytenbach, a professor of political science at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa, told IPS.

He added that sanctions imposed by African states against one another ‘‘would be merely symbolic (as) trade among African countries is negligible’’.

One of the recent positive moves to intensify regional trade includes the signing of a bilateral trade treaty by the South Africa-Senegal joint commission for bi-national co-operation in April this year.

The treaty focussed on the following areas, among others: agriculture, arts and culture, defence, environment and tourism, minerals and energy, transport, trade and industry, the empowerment of women, youth issues and communications.

Currently, South Africa is by far the dominant of the two trading partners. Last year South Africa exported goods to the value of 405 million rand (33.8 million euros) to Senegal while imports from Senegal totalled just more than three million rand (250,000 euros).

Ronnie Mamoepa, spokesperson of the South African government’s department of foreign affairs, told IPS that South Africa is out to consolidate bilateral relations with all countries on the African continent.

But analysts say that this particular agreement is not so much focused on economic gains as it is on strengthening political ties.

‘‘My sense is that the agreement is driven by foreign policy’’ rather than just trade policy, said Peter Draper, a researcher at the South African Institute of International Affairs attached to the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Closer political cooperation makes sense. Breytenbach pointed out that both countries are powerful in their own regions. South Africa is the leading state in SADC while Senegal is the most significant player in Francophone West Africa.

Despite the differences of their political principals, Senegal and South Africa are founding members of NEPAD, an initiative of the African Union (AU) aimed at promoting the advancement of the continent.

No sign of tension could be seen at the inaugural session of the bi-national commission. Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, South African minister of foreign affairs, said that some of the greatest challenges facing the continent were poverty, disease, underdevelopment and climate change.

She emphasised the importance of information and communications technology and commended Wade for the initiative he showed in promoting the Digital Solidarity Fund (DSF).

This fund aims to reduce the digital divide between the Global North and the Global South, thus opening up more opportunities for Africans. Some of the core objectives are to promote peace, sustainable development, democracy and transparency.

Cheikh Tidiane Gadio, Senegal’s foreign minister, said in response that his country fully backed the commitment undertaken during the AU Heads of State Summit in Ethiopia in 2007 to support South Africa in hosting the Soccer World Cup in 2010.

Gadio highlighted similarities in the two countries’ histories to make the point that their mutual cooperation would be of great benefit to Africa. ‘‘I truly believe that Senegal and South Africa can be a dream team for this continent,’’ he said.

Referring to cultural issues, Gadio said that important world heritage sites in the two countries – South Africa’s Robben Island and Senegal’s Goree Island – should be protected.

Robben Island is a former prison island used to detain those who resisted colonialism and apartheid. It gained international notoriety as the place where former South African president Nelson Mandela and other activists were imprisoned by South Africa’s apartheid regime.

Goree Island, off the coast from Senegal’s capital Dakar, is infamous as holding and transfer point during the slave trade.

In 1987, at the height of apartheid, a renegade group of prominent white South African journalists, artists, actors and business leaders met with members of Mandela’s then outlawed African National Congress (ANC) in Dakar.

Mbeki was one of the group on the ANC’s side who met with South African poet, author and painter Breyten Breytenbach and former opposition politician and liberal thinker Dr Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert, among others.

The meeting led to the launching of the non-governmental Goree Institute by former Senegalese president Abdou Diouf which has been led by Breytenbach; Slabbert; Nigerian human rights activist Ayo Obe and others.

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