Senegal: hope amidst challenges

 There is jubiliation in the streets of Senegal today. Bassirou Diomaye Faye of the Patriots of Senegal party (Pastef) has won the Presidency by acquiring more than 50% of the votes cast in the first round. (If the leading candidate receives less than 50% of the vote, a second round featuring the top 2 candidates will have to be held). He defeated Amadou Ba, the nominee of the current ruling coalition which has ruled Senegal since 2012. 

Faye and Pastef campaigned on a platform of breaking free of the influence of France, their former colonial master, and charting an independent course. Despite achieving formal independence in 1957, the economy and finances of Senegal and other former French colonies have been tightly controlled by France. This has stunted the economic development of the former colonies, and has caused much resentment especially in the younger people. This resentment has led to coups where governments perceived as being too subservient to France have been overthrown –Mali in 2021, Burkino Faso in 2022 and Niger in July 2023.   

 However, the road ahead for Senegal, is far from smooth. As the table below shows, Senegal is significantly under-developed and consequently, poorer than Malaysia, with a per capita income that is 1/9th of that for Malaysia, in terms of purchasing power (ie after taking in account the difference in the prices of common consumer items in both countries). The relative poverty of Senegal is further highlighted in the under-five mortality and maternal mortality rates. 

Table: Vital Statistics of Senegal and Malaysia Compared and Contrasted







Land Area


198,722 km2


330,803 km2




18.38 mil


33.2 mil


GDP nominal (PPP)


USD 31.14 bil   (USD 78.55 bil)


USD 465.5 bil  (USD 1307 bil )


Per capita GDP (PPP)


USD 4,324


USD 39,069


Female Under-5 mortality 

per 1000 live births







Maternal mortality

Per 100,000 livebirths


1985: 760

2020: 260.9


1985: 55.1

2020: 21.1


Life expectancy at birth


67.1 yrs


74.9 yrs




USD 5.2 bil

Petroleum 17.8%, Gold 16.3%, Phosphorus compounds 13.2%, Fish and Molluscs 8.6%


USD 299.2 bil

Integrated circuits 26.4%,

Refined petroleum and natural gas 19.4%, palm oil 5.9%, Crude petroleum 3.4%




USD 9.7 bil


USD 238.2 bil

 The incoming government of the Pastef party faces monumental tasks. They are taking over a country which now imports approximately 70% of the food that the people consume . This is the result of pressure from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to slash all tariffs to trade, as these agencies are fixated on the idea that free unhindered trade will accelerate the rate of development in the developing countries. What happened instead was that agricultural surpluses from Europe (which heavily subsidises its agricultural sector) flooded the markets of Senegal and other African countries wiping out local food producers. Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa ,which used to supply food to Europe during the colonial period, are now dependent on food imports to feed their people. 

But as the table shows, Senegal, like many other African countries, has a negative trade balance – their merchandize exports are much less in value than their imports of goods. And we haven’t yet taken the outflow of dividends, profits and loan repayments into account. These service sector outflows will further exacerbate the balance of payment situation. In other words, Senegal is desperately short of the foreign exchange that it needs to import the food that it needs. Apart from food, medicines and other consumer essentials, Senegal also will need foreign exchange to bring in machinery and spare parts to increase its productive capacity.

 The challenges sketched above (and there are several others that we have not gone into) are certainly very serious, but they are not insurmountable. The conundrum facing the incoming government in Senegal is similar to what many nations in the Global South have had to face over the past 60 years – how does one find the resources to meet the peoples’ legitimate expectations and at the same time develop as rapidly as possible the productive base of a society ravaged by colonial (and neo-colonial) plunder.  

There are many economists who have grappled with these issues. Dr Clive Y Thomas, a Marxist economist from Guyana (Caribbean), is one of those who have given much thought to measures that need to be taken to breakout from the state of being under-developed. Among the ideas suggested by Dr Thomas in his book “Dependence and Transformation” are

          An urgent drive to increase the production of basic foods locally. Land has to be made available to those with farming skills and these farmers need to be supported

– water sources, fertilizer, etc. It is crucial that the intermittent flooding of the local market by agricultural surpluses from the EU is stopped. Food products should only be imported if domestic production isn’t sufficient. There must be a floor price for the food products that local farmers produce, so that their vocation is sustainable.

          The country must attempt to become self-sufficient in the production of as many consumer goods as possible. Scarce foreign exchange must be reserved for the really important imports such as medicines, medical and other equipment, machinery to increase the productive capacity of the local economy, etc. This might require suspension, and later, renegotiation of Free Trade  Agreements that stipulate low tariffs across the board.

          Commodities should be processed before export. That would increase export earnings.           One way of conserving precious foreign exchange is to curtail the import of expensive consumer items by the elite strata of Senegal society

– imported cars, clothes and furniture.

 All of these measures require the “buy-in” from the Senegalese population. It would be very helpful to the incoming government if they have been educating their supporters that the under-developed condition of the Senegalese economy will require time, and some degree of sacrifices to overcome. It would be essential to the process of regenerating the Senegalese economy for the party coming to power to have had already created a cadre of educated and committed young people who understand their role in rehabilitating Senegalese society. Hopefully Pasaef has not campaigned using unrealistic, populistic campaign promises like “we win today, and tomorrow everyone will have an easy life”.   

Whether or not Senegal will be able to overcome the very serious problems confronting it, depends on the preparedness of the movement that has mobilised the people and created this window of opportunity. Hopefully, apart from the issues that we have considered above, they have also made concrete plans to monitor and prevent the corruption of their leaders by businessmen both local and foreign. This is an ever-present danger in “free market” societies, and movements which are serious about reforming society need to address this danger.  

 Reclaiming our societies from colonialism and neo-colonialism and building sustainable economies to cater for our people’s needs is unfinished business in most parts of the Global South. Senegal’s move in this direction is certainly a moment to celebrate. Let us wish them all the best in their endeavour to rebuild their society.  

Jeyakumar Devaraj

Parti Sosialis Malaysia

1st April 2024