Category Archives: Senegal

CFA: West Africa’s Brexit Moment

CFA Facebook post republished with permission of  TOS.

Today Senegal celebrates its independence; strangely enough, I am not in a celebratory mood. 50+ years of so-called independence, the more things are the same.

I am somehow very encouraged by President Alpha Conde’s and Kabore’s recent remarks, which makes me think that something is brewing…I posted an article in a private forum and feel the need to share it with a bigger audience in the hope to widen the tent that will lead our leaders to the waters…Here you go.

“If you want your independence then take it”, uttered De Gaulle in 1958 frustrated by young men heckling him.  Independence was given a few years later, but independence was not gained, as the terms were never negotiated in good faith but dictated by France and the CFA became a by-product of that.

At recent events, the Minister of Economy of Senegal suggested that Senegal is not considering dropping the CFA, which given the current climate, to me is a political response to an economic problem.

In contrast the President of Chad, Idriss Debby landed on the opposite side of the argument and clearly established himself as the only head of state siding with a growing number of Africans, who have come to accept that Africa cannot be truly independent if its financial system is controlled in France.

In many parts of Francophone Africa, there is an emerging sense that economic growth cannot happen without economic independence, especially with 50% of CFA member countries’ reserves being deposited into the French coffers. Such an awareness implies that people are ready for an alternative and a clean departure from the CFA and transition into an independent currency.

A move like this has to be strategic and deliberate simply because doing away with 70 years of political and economic control, will not be without peril. The French economy came out of its economic crisis after World War II in big part because of the CFA and relies on this system of exploitation to remain a strong economy in Europe.

Therefore, dropping the CFA, without a clear well laid plan and implementation strategy might not be a winning strategy, but a knee-jerk reaction. It is also important that we take timeless lessons from previous movements that called for change such as the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street etc. These movements were well-meaning and all called for positive changes, but they were all reactive and started without a clear end game and solid alternative in place.

So my question is how do we form a coherent strategy consistent with the efforts already being put forth on the ground, and overcome the challenges ahead? Here is a summary of what I think might be a good starting point:

  • Understand the forces at play: Understanding the lay of the land, including the historical backdrop, the parties involved will help us not duplicate efforts and coordinate our efforts to support the different fronts that are on the ground presently. The first step should be to research and take stock of all the current issues, and what the movements are doing, including the Front contre le Franc CFA, led by people like Kemi Seba, who have been fighting the good fight for years now.
  • Build on strengths of the movements already on the ground: A number of organizations have been laying the ground for years, but efforts have not been coordinated enough to reach a critical mass. I think the time is ripe and we can build on the January 7, 2017, events that were synchronized in Paris, Abidjan Dakar etc.…  Some research will be beneficial in order to know what people are doing and what is working, and what is not. Based on this information a framework can be built for how we can contribute positively to the cause. However, so far it seems the conversation has not gone beyond denouncing and asking for the end of the monetary servitude, for I am yet to see any concrete steps that lay a blueprint of how to achieve this objective and the ultimate goal of self-determination.
  • Develop a framework to complement these efforts: The framework should consider an end game, formalize the necessary steps, and then develop an initial response to potential challenges for each step. The benefit of this approach is that it allows us to look ahead, identify, anticipate and help us adapt to changing situations.
  • Educate ourselves and inform others, to build a critical mass: The only way to be effective is to have a full understanding of the high and low points of what an independent currency would bring in terms of positive changes. There are several resources from African-born experts who have written and spoken extensively on the subject, such as Nicolas Agbohou who wrote “Le franc CFA et L’euro contre l’afrique,” Demba Moussa Dembele, author of “Sortir l’afrique de la servitude monetaire” and many others. There are also many short and easily digestible videos available on the subject.
  • Enlist Monetary Policy and Economic development experts: We need to know what our competencies are and seek out outside experts such as Dr. Abdourahmane Sarr President of the Center for Local Economic Development Financing (CEFDEL), on areas where we do not have either expertise or sound plans in place. A winning proposition will have to add something positive to the debate, therefore it is important to know what winning strategies are currently being executed and try to complement the gaps we can identify.
  • Craft a value proposition to engage those on the sidelines: Assuming that despite framing the value a departure from the CFA will bring, we do not succeed in getting people to get involved, we should be able to pivot and appeal to people’s selfish nature, and what they stand to gain, for example: If a person lives in the US, and sends money home monthly, could they be swayed if they see that they monthly remittances can drop considerably? If the person lives in Senegal and wants to start a business or grow their business, could we explain how this will possibly affect access to capital and help them export?
  • Attack the CFA weaknesses and offer alternatives: Every solution has weak points and every problem presents new opportunities. Let’s list these out, and take the message within our networks and above. Winning people’s support and buy-in will build momentum and bolster enough support to put pressure on our leaders to hold referendums and in term force on the hand of France to accept new terms in its relationship with its former colonies.
  • Negotiate a win-win economic partnership with France: Coming up with a creative offer for France will be a better solution than a confrontation, which will simply be suicidal, and will lead to more destruction of our economies. Let’s capture our imagination, if you have ideas or know others who might have ideas on how we can give incentives to France to accept a different partnership agreement that can allow both parties to benefit, please share these ideas.

If you subscribe to this vision, I challenge you to engage people in your networks, one conversation at a time. The lives of close to 150 million people depend on this, so if you are from Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Togo Cameroun, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, or know someone from those countries, get educated, get involved and be the change you want to see.

Read up on the CFA Franc.

Image source: Silicon Africa

Dakar & Mauritius Redux

Updating previous visits by @Honoluluskye and @kkaaria, here are more travel tales from Dakar  and Mauritius  by @kahenya and @carolmusyoka respectively 

Getting There:  My best bet on this would be to fly from Nairobi, through Addis to Bamako and then on to Dakar. It’s a more comfortable ride than Kenya Airways (KQ) and from what I heard, has better quality of inflight services. KQ was delayed at take-off and was not really worth it. Cost of the ticket return is about US$ 1400 + tax.
Senegal now has an Embassy in Runda, Nairobi – and it’s mandatory that you obtain a visa here, or you’ll get turned back in Dakar. The visa process is not really complicated, but also accept that there are numerous delays at the embassy, and book way ahead of your travel (about  3 weeks. The cost for the visa (for under 30 days) is Kshs 1,750 for Africans and Kshs 3,500 for non-Africans.
On Arrival: In Dakar, getting out of the airport was fairly easy; they scrutinize your visa and picture to ensure that it is you, but once you get your passport stamped, you are good to go. It took about 45 minutes from getting off the plane to getting into the hotel. There were no unexpected taxes or fees, and the cost of a taxi back and forth between our hotel, and the airport was about US$ 15.00.
Getting Around: I stayed in the hotel where the conference was so there wasn’t much commuting taking place. There are numerous ways to get around, from what seemed to be a well-built bus service, but more  common were small taxis which are very reasonably priced for the distances covered.
Bring your French with you, and it will get difficult, so it is always best to get the hotel concierge involved if you are uncertain about where you want to go, but for the seasoned traveller, walk out of the hotel, walk a bit of a distance and then flag down a taxi and you are guaranteed to get reduced rates. Walking is also a good way to get around, and I did that a lot, in the evenings when it was cooler.
Not once, did I feel insecure about walking around at night, and I did walk out as late as 1.00 AM. I was told to mind vendors who can be very pushy but that was it. I could not quite remember being warned about crime and did not see anything happen. Its quite a peaceful place.
Social Scene: For something good, expect to pay about US$ 200+ per night though it may get affordable. In 3 days, the electricity failed once for a few minutes and that was it. I ate dinner out twice, which cost about Kshs 1,000 per meal. There was a lot of fish involved, and rice. I randomly picked meals and they were quite good.
I used a bit of extremely bad French and English. I did not ever once run into an English written publication. Everything was French. A lot of the Senegal people I met were more interested in telling me where their fabric shops were and talk about Gorée Island, but besides all that, did not quite talk much else. When it comes to Agriculture, I watched a news clip one evening, and if my French was right, the government was encouraging people to focus more on agriculture and was going as far as creating access to clean and safe water for consumption and agriculture.
Stay in Touch:  Making calls was very easy. I bought a SIM card from Orange/Sonatel, put it into my phone, waited about 30 minutes for it to be activated and that was it. The network also has monthly BlackBerry packages, but it seemed overkill to buy that for 4 days.  Roaming from Dakar is expensive, hence the choice of buying a local SIM-card – and if you save your numbers in the + {country code} {number} format, it is as easy as dialing as if you are at home. Call quality was ok, but sometimes sounded poor as most of their international calls are routed through VoIP.
Calling from Senegal across Africa and overseas seemed to be affordable, possibly the most affordable city in Africa! I topped up about Kshs 850 ($10) and that was more than enough for me to call Kenya, South Africa, China and USA every single day for a few minutes and text non-stop. I also managed to find the Tablet Cafe at Medina set up by Google which was impressive and the hotel had very good Wi-Fi hotspots that allowed for Skype access.
Odd Points:  The Senegalese are a bunch of really nice people, very warm and affectionate and really go out of their way to make you feel at home. What I found odd was that they also work out a lot, and right outside the hotel, you will find local joggers every morning and evening – more than I have seen anywhere else in the world. A taxi driver pointed to some senior government official going for a jog with 2 bodyguards one afternoon.
Somewhat related, the Minister of Communication, Telecommunications and Digital Economy, Cheikh Abiboulaye Dieye, impressed by arriving on time to give his speech, and then keeping to the allotted time without diverging into political rhetoric or making outlandish statements.
Going to Gorée Island had to be the highlight of the trip, seeing the actual guns used in the making of the movie, The Guns of Navarone, which were actual forward artillery pieces during World War II made it just about the best thing there is to see, but also learning (and seeing) about what slaves had to endure before being shipped off to the New World. Even the movies we watch today have nothing on the reality of what really happened.
Shopping & Sight-Seeing: There are many European style malls – like Sea Plaza which was right next to the hotel, which put places like Westgate and Junction to shame. I guess many of this malls are there due to the proximity to Europe an actual real focus on investment as well as French and Arab influences which are easy to see. It shocked me that things there are quite affordable even in malls, unlike Kenya where buying some things seems to be a compromise if you are buying for a mall. I bought a lot of fabric and artwork, as well as some books to read and catch up on my French.
I spent about US$ 500 for shopping and stuff, managed to get a bit of bowling done, went out for drinks and a cigar at some fancy lounge and stuff like that.
Biggest surprise about the Country: Honestly, after watching news clips about Dakar, I expected a downtrodden backward country, but that was not the case. Dakar is a beautiful and fairly well developed country. There were times you could not distinguish between being in Dakar and being say in Corsica or Ibiza due to the Mediterranean atmosphere. Their Duty-Free was also very impressive, featuring a tobacconist where obviously, I had to make a stop and shop.
Getting There: You have two options; Nairobi-Madagascar via Kenya Airways, then Madagascar-Mauritius via Air Mauritius or a direct Nairobi-Mauritius flight on Air Mauritius.  Though direct flights are only on Saturday, Tuesday and Thursday, it is preferable as Madagascar is horrible, and can take up to five hours during which you wait in a room without food and drink. Tickets cost about $700.
On arrival, there is no visa requirement just a yellow fever certificate requirement. It was a very busy immigration area but the officials are friendly.
Getting Around: There is a public transport system and taxis are available, but I didn’t use any as I was at a conference. I also felt pretty safe getting around. They are insane about speeding and there’s a deep respect for speed limits in designated zones as there are traffic cameras and strong penalties for breaches.
Communications: Do not use Safaricom roaming…..horrifically expensive. the hotel i stayed in was all-inclusive and had Wi-Fi but it was very slow.
Social Stuff
– English is widely spoken. French too and the Mauritians are exceedingly friendly!!!
–  A good hotel will cost about 100 euros all-inclusive and the electricity was quite reliable
– In terms of food, there is lots of Indian influence so a staple is rice and curry.
Shopping & sight-seeing: Port Louis market and Gran Baie lovely for shopping and hanging around – and there is plenty of tourist stuff to do like boat tours, swimming etc.
Biggest surprise about the country?  How small it was – 65 kilometers long and about  45 kilometers wide

Guide to Dakar (Senegal)

A guest post by Angela (@Honoluluskye)

I will preface this entry by saying that this was a very short trip for a conference, held at a luxury hotel. Being very busy with conference events, I was unable to travel out of the hotel environment more than a couple of times. Hence, I know that this is a skewed perspective of the country, but hope it helps!

Getting There I flew the most direct route available from Nairobi to Dakar via Kenya Airways. We stopped in Mali on the way over and stopped in Ivory Coast on the way back. Including the one-hour stop to refuel, the entire flight from Nairobi to Dakar took approximately 9 hours. The roundtrip flight cost of $1,450 was more than it costs me to fly to the US from Kenya!

There were no unexpected taxes upon arrival. As an American citizen, I was lucky in that I also did not need a visa, and they simply stamped my passport upon entry. It was not as easy for my Kenyan colleagues as some had not arranged for a visa’s prior to leaving Kenya and therefore had to leave their passports at the airport. But at least they were able to enter the country! Not sure if they had to pay some fees on their way out…

Language: French is used everywhere. There is also mother tongue for many people though and I heard some Wolof being spoken in downtown. I believe there may be an English newspaper though I did not see one. It was difficult for me to communicate because I don’t speak French and most don’t speak English.

Getting aroundI had a free hotel transport van waiting for me so don’t know the real cost of taxi from airport. But I found out that from the Radisson Blu back out to the airport via taxi, (flagged down from the hotel), was about 5,000 CFA (~ 10 USD). I know that this was expensive, and it’s the maximum that you pay.

I hired a taxi to take me to the various markets in Dakar for three hours. The driver started out saying 20,000 CFA; we haggled and he was pretty stubborn, until we finally agreed to 12,000 CFA. But he accompanied me around to all of the markets and also acted sort of like a bodyguard/escort the entire time, which I appreciated. Therefore, I ended up giving him 18,000 CFA for about 3.5 hours of driving around. Usually, reasonably short, one-time, taxi rides should cost about 1,000 CFA (and if you can speak French you can probably get it down to about 850 CFA).

Popular transport for locals are walking and also a matatu-looking bus (see picture). These are usually brightly painted, and the doors open up on the back of the vehicle making them sort of look like police vehicles. I am not sure the French name for these vehicles…

It felt very safe walking around, even at night, as is the case in many Muslim countries, however the advice given was to take a taxi. There were also many MANY joggers/runners alongside the beach during sunrise, and sunset and you’d observe many practicing Muslims, washing their feet and faces in the street.

Business & Infrastructure
CommunicationsInterestingly enough, upon immediate exit from the airport, all of the touts waiting outside were trying to sell… ORANGE SIM cards for mobile phones. I had a Safaricom line, but did not activate it for international use, and so it did not work in Senegal. The Wi-Fi in the hotel was not as good as I would have expected.
Roads: They were smooth tarmacked roads, with NO TRAFFIC! Woah! And it’s 4 pm on a Wednesday! How is that even possible??
Hotels: I stayed at the Radisson Blu which was incredibly expensive, in the range of 200-450 Euros/night. It had reliable electricity, but I don’t know if it was run on a generator.

Shopping & Sight-Seeing: Some of the major shopping markets are Cour des Maures, Sandaga, Tileene, Colobane, HLM. Sightseeing places were the National monuments and Institut Francais. The beach is two minutes out of the airport, and as soon as you get off the airplane you can smell the salt in the air… nice!

Getting around, I spent 10-20 USD on food and about 100 USD on gifts. I learned that Senegal has very nice silver jewelry. Here is an artisan/jewelry maker whom I was impressed with by his creative designs and reasonable prices.

Food & Drink: The main local dishes were fruits, vegetables, and rice. There are some nice French places to eat as well.

Summary: Similar to Cairo but more African/French.