Senegal - Leadership

Wade's pursuit of the presidency for 26 years is a tribute to his perseverance and tenacity. Senghor nicknamed him 'Diombor' (hare in Wolof) for his agility and durability. His trademark is his shaved head, which adds to his mystique as the iconoclast of Senegalese and African politics. In the 1980s, he coined the word sop (change in Wolof), which became the PDS slogan and rallying cry for Senegalese youth in the 2000 elections. He is a great speaker, and unafraid of criticism, which he draws frequently because of his impulsive, didactic style. Indeed his frankness and single-mindedness are sometimes mistaken for arrogance.

In the 2000 presidential campaign, Wade endeared himself to the youth and elderly. He became known by the press as "General Wade" and "Président de la rue publique" (literally, president of the public streets) because he often could be found on the streets talking with young voters. He urged youth to be active in developing the country and building a democratic society. He demonstrated his capacity for warmth and respect by announcing a 15-day mourning period to remember Léopold Senghor, the country's first president who died in December 2001 at the age of 95.

Wade has declared his right as an African to intervene in matters around the continent. Indeed, he takes great interest in African events, having served as Diouf's emissary to Zaire where he attempted to mediate differences between Mobutu and the opposition. He also interceded with General Sani Abacha for General Obasanjo's release from prison, and with President Lansana Conté of Guinea for Alpha Condé's release from prison. In December 2001, he took over as head of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the Union Economique et Monétaire Ouest-Africane (UEMOA). In April 2002, Senegal hosted an international conference on the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD). He is a committed liberal and pan-Africanist, who advocates a federation of West Africa, albeit without Nigeria.

Wade's record over his first three years in office has been mixed. Strikes by postal workers, bank employees, and teachers testify to social unrest and unmet wage and benefits demands. His government's delay of local elections in the fall of 2001 and the replacement of elected officials with appointees (délégations spéciales) were widely criticized. Wade's government, however, released a poverty reduction strategy paper (PRSP) on time, and reduced the budget deficit, which relieved tensions with the IMF. As promised during his campaign, he was pushing ahead on the building of pre-schools throughout the country.

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