His Excellency Abdou Lahad MBACKE
Senegal and Kuwait enjoy a long and cherished relationship that began with the establishment of diplomatic ties back in the 1970s, said His Excellency Abdou Lahad MBACKE, Ambassador of the Republic of Senegal to the State of Kuwait, during an exclusive interview he recently granted to The Times.
During a diplomatic career spanning over three decades, the ambassador has ably represented his country at international conferences and at his country’s missions abroad. His first posting was in Saudi Arabia in 1981 as Second Counselor at the embassy in Riyadh. In 1985 he moved to the consulate in Jeddah as First Counselor. Arriving in Kuwait for his first posting as ambassador in 1988, the veteran diplomat has spent the past 15 years as Dean of the Diplomatic Corps in this country.
Saying that he has had both enjoyable and difficult times in Kuwait, the envoy elaborated, “Most of my time in Kuwait has been interesting and engaging, and the brief sad and difficult period was during the invasion of Kuwait by the Iraqi forces in 1990. On being informed about the invasion, the then president, His Excellency Abdou Diouf, requested me to stay back in Kuwait for as long as possible. I continued to remain in Kuwait and was among the last batch of diplomats to leave the country.”
“But ten days after the liberation of Kuwait in 1991, I was back in Kuwait. A C-130 Hercules aircraft from the French army dropped me off at Kuwait airport. Our embassy had been completely ransacked by Iraqi troops, so in the early days we had to work out of the Safir International Hotel, in downtown Kuwait. It was painful watching all the destruction that had been inflicted on this beautiful country; memories of dark clouds and burning oil fires still remain vivid in my mind.”
“During the invasion, our president had visited the late Amir His Highness Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, at his residence in Taif, Saudi Arabia. On that occasion, the president conveyed the support of the Republic of Senegal and its people to the Kuwaiti Government-in-Exile and to its legitimate rights. The president also dispatched a contingent of 500 army commandos to Saudi Arabia. Sadly 95 of these soldiers perished in a fatal air accident.”
“I remember an audience I had with the late Amir, on his return to Kuwait, during which His Highness expressed deep sorrow at the tragic loss of Senegalese lives and asked me to pass on his sympathies to the families of the deceased and to the President of Senegal. In addition to participating in several projects related to the reconstruction of Kuwait, strong personal level ties between His Highness the Amir and President Abdou Diouf were instrumental in cementing close bilateral relations between our two countries. These relations have only gone from good to better under the wise leadership of His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah.”
The Senegalese ambassador was persuasive while pointing out that the future belonged to Africa. “A sign of the growing influence of Africa is the increasing cooperation between Kuwait and African countries in numerous fields. There has been significant financial support from Kuwait for various projects in Senegal. The 2008 Islamic Conference, which was held in the Senegalese capital of Dakar, was a resounding success due to large measure to the substantial help we received from the Kuwait government. Also, the former Prime Minister, His Excellency Sheikh Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al Sabah, was a frequent visitor to our country. After his third visit in less than five years, the premier remarked that he would not think of flying over Africa without visiting Senegal.”
Describing the Kuwait Fund as a significant source of capital for infrastructure projects in Senegal, the ambassador added, “Senegal is among the first countries in Africa to receive support from the Kuwait Fund. Beginning in 1976, the Fund has loaned in excess of US$300 million to cover 26 different projects, including in the supply and development of water sources, rehabilitation of roads and ports, irrigation and livestock development as well as for supporting economic recovery programs. The latest infrastructure project by KFAED in Senegal is a 180km long road, for which the Fund is expected to soon send a delegation to Dakar. “
“Despite these large scale investments by a state institution such as the Kuwait Fund, the amount of private sector participation in investment projects is very limited. With the exception of a major project undertaken by the M.A. Kharafi Group, which is building a $60 million mega tourism project with residential villas, conference center and a golf link in Dakar, there is very little Kuwaiti private sector investments in Senegal. I would like to say that there is much more scope for development in bilateral trade between our two countries,” noted the ambassador.
Pointing out some of the major benefits of investing in Senegal the envoy noted that his country was a benchmark for political stability in Africa, “Relative to the African context, we are one of the few countries that has never witnessed a military coup d’Оtat. Political stability has been marked by peaceful transitions of power from one elected government to another. Our first president was a poet, the second a bureaucrat, the third a lawyer and the incumbent President His Excellencyw Macky Sall is a geological engineer by profession.”
“We have not only kept the Generals from power, we also have strict criteria when it comes to involvement of government officials in politics. For instance, as an ambassador I represent the people of my country and cannot be part of any political clique, until I retire. Also, while the majority of our 12 million people are Muslims and they are further divided along ethnic lines, none of the 160 or more political parties are allowed to represent any religious or ethnic factions. This dichotomy has ensured stable governments and a relatively peaceful political life for its citizens since the country gained independence in 1960.”
“The embassy is exerting tenacious efforts to remove misconceptions and bolster trade on multiple levels by encouraging visits by Kuwaiti business delegations to Senegal and promoting trade shows and exhibitions. A high-level joint commission meeting is envisaged in the near future and once agreements are initialized at this meeting we expect private sector investments to increase. Currently, Senegal receives Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) from over two dozen countries, and since 2011, there has been an appreciable increase in the number of FDI coming from Asian and Middle-East countries, especially China, Turkey and India.”
In a bid to foster the promotion of national and foreign investments and encourage participation in major projects and priority sectors such as Agriculture, Tourism, ITC, Health, Training and various other industries, Senegal has created APIX, a national agency for promotion of investments and major projects. APIX is tasked with establishing a competitive business environment, improving investment conditions and providing multipart support through its main facilitation center in Dakar and its regional offices across the country.
A liberal economy underlined by a vibrant and competitive private sector, highly qualified human resources, efficient infrastructure, a strong judicial and fiscal framework, as well as privileged access to markets in North America, Europe and over 300 million consumers in the regional Economic Community of West African States, makes Senegal a lucrative gateway for potential investors.
Detailing his country’s rich pool of human talent the diplomat said, “Realizing that human resources are its greatest wealth and crucial to the country’s future, Senegal spends over a third of its national budget on education and training. Education up to the age of 16 is compulsory and free. With six government universities including the University of Dakar with 40,000 students, and many more private institutions of higher learning, Senegal has a steady stream of highly qualified personnel readily available.”
Clarifying that the Senegalese economy has revived and stabilized following economic reforms initiated in the 1990s, the envoy continued, “Today, we have a per capita GDP of around $2,000, a growth rate of close to 5 percent and a rise in inflation of less than 4 percent according to latest economic reports. Nearly a quarter of our more than US$ 3 billion in exports is with India; Turkey has plans for significant investments in our country as well as across Africa, already there are more than five flights from Istanbul to Dakar and Turkish Airlines plans to cover the entire African continent by 2018. However, when it comes to investments in Senegal, it is China which is well ahead of the field.”
While some people fear that China is engaged in neo-colonialism, and is more interested in gaining rights to infrastructure and mineral resources than in developing industrial capacity in Africa, a recent poll in Senegal revealed that 86 percent of people polled held a positive view of China’s economic involvement in their country.
Tourism is also another area where Senegal has made major strides; with over 670,000 visitors in 2012; we are the fourth most visited country on the continent after South Africa, Kenya and Morocco. Besides being a safe and pleasant place to visit there are numerous tourism attractions across Senegal. On the cultural side, our national cultural troupe was here two months ago and Kuwait’s National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters has extended an invitation for Senegalese artists and painters to visit Kuwait in the coming months. We are also planning a Senegalese Cultural Week either towards the end of this year or early next year to promote travel destinations in our country.
“Kuwait is an exceptionally good place to serve as ambassador; at the core of diplomacy are the contacts you make and keep in your professional career. As an ambassador and as dean of the diplomatic corps in Kuwait, I have had the privilege to meet and get to know prominent personalities in Kuwait, both among ordinary people and government officials, as well as with diplomats from around the world. I am thankful to God for this truly fine blessing,” said the envoy in conclusion.