Senegal is a relative late-comer to the resource sector but with a geologist as president, is pushing ahead to develop a trove of deposits ranging from gold to uranium to oil. “A geologist by training and a former minister of mines, [the president] Macky Sall has a keen interest in the extractives sector,” says Vincent Rouget, a Senegal analyst for Control Risks.
The government is also making the most of its connection to the Islamic world; most of its population of nearly 14 million is Muslim. Last year Mr Sall brokered an agreement with the Abu Dhabi Development Fund (ADDF) for a Dh53 million loan for infrastructure development. This brings the ADDF’s lending to Senegal to a total of Dh140m for projects mostly focused on water and agricultural projects.
Senegal has also sent a contingent of troops to Yemen in support of Saudi Arabia’s fight against Houthi rebels there.
Mr Sall is one of a new generation of emerging African leaders who come from technical and professional backgrounds, a departure from the former generals that have traditionally held sway over the continent’s politics. This shift is making itself felt particularly as countries negotiate tricky resource legislation and contracts.
Niger’s president Mahamadou Issoufou – a former engineer with the French nuclear firm Areva, – fought and won a bruising two-year battle with his former employers over uranium royalties that France wanted renewed based on agreements dating back to the 1960s. Guinea’s Alpha Conde is another example; after a lifetime working as an attorney in France, in 2010 he took over as the country’s first elected leader and as a first act of office, tore up a suspect agreement to mining rights on the country’s huge Simandou iron ore deposit with Steinmetz Group. As a result, Steinmetz is now being investigated for corruption by the US authorities.
According to Mr Rouget, Mr Sall has overseen a national contract review process and is also involved in the revision of the mining code.
Sizeable potential oil reserves off the coast are the latest resource to attract attention, but other industries are benefiting, too, says Manji Cheto, the vice president of Teneo Intelligence, a US corporate advisor and risk analysis company. “Under Mr Sall, the government has undertaken significant structural reforms that continue to improve the country’s investment attractiveness, and this has positive spill-over across all sectors.”
This has allowed the development of the Sabodala gold mine in the north by the Canadian company Teranga; Senegal is also growing as the regional centre for mining activities in neighbouring countries, such as Mali and Mauritania, because of its well-developed infrastructure and political stability.
More than anything, Senegal’s benign politics and stability are its biggest attraction for investors. It even largely dodged the Ebola epidemic that ravaged some of its neighbours. It only had one confirmed case, and its swift reaction to the disease is held up by the World Health Organisation as a model in fighting the contagion.
“Senegal has, since independence in 1960, developed its reputation as a regional bastion of stability. Unlike most of its neighbours,” adds Mr Rouget.
“The country has never suffered a military coup and has since 2000 witnessed two power transitions in free, fair and peaceful elections.”
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