Interview with Cheikh Tidiane Gadio, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Senegal
It is not often that a Minister of Foreign Affairs comes walking into a Press Conferences without any bodyguards or surrounded by a huge bevy of people, but His Excellency Cheikh Tidian Gadio is one of them. He walked in the rain from his hotel to the Swiss Press Club. Despite his busy schedule, I was fortunate to be granted an interview. So let us just give His Excellency the floor …
You are the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Senegal. What is the reason for your visit to Geneva?
I was invited by the friends of Continent Premier, who do an excellent job in informing people about Africa. It reminds me of the days when I was in the United States studying for my Ph.D. At that time I did something similar-advocacy work for Africa-defending the image of Africa and contributing to a better knowledge about the African reality. Unfortunately, Africa does not have a strong voice internationally. Often, others do the talking on our behalf. By so doing, despite the fact that their intentions are well founded, the reality they present is not ours.
I find their endeavour extremely important because Switzerland is not only a crossroads, it is equally a very important country in the United Nations system, hosting the European Office of the United Nations. Switzerland, with its values and its work in Africa, is a country that we highly appreciate on our continent, especially in Senegal.
The year 2006 represents an important one for Senegal as it is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Leopold Sedar Sengor. Could you give us an overview over his contribution to Africa in particular and to the world in general?
The 100th anniversary of the birth of Sengor is an important event in Africa, but also for the world. President Sengor was a citizen of the world who defended Africa-the negro-African culture-and highlighted the contribution of Africa to what he called the universal civilization. He perceived the irreversible movement towards globalization of values, and studied them before anybody else did.
The year 2006 is definitely an important year for Senegal in particular, but also for Africa. In about two week’s time, our President, O Wade, is going to be awarded the UNESCO Peace Price. President Wade is a man of culture and a great intellectual.
You also came here to talk about Africa in a round-table at the Geneva Book Fair, and the third African Book Fair. Why?
I have always been passionate about the image of Africa-when I was a journalist, when I was teaching journalism. Even more so, as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Senegal, where I really have a tremendous opportunity to talk about Africa with passion, love and a great deal of consideration. I see the difference between the thousands of positive things happening in Africa, and the two or three negative things. Evidently, the press find the negative news far more "sexy" or interesting than the thousands of positive things. Positive actions by African women to defend their rights, speaking up, showing humanism, their know-how and their competences-these things are of no interest to the media. African children inventing things, working hard in the fields, preferring hard work to idleness-none of these things are very interesting. That African governments are waking up to democracy, human rights, good governance, transparency, making efforts-this too is not very interesting. I have told my journalist friends about this, and I repeat it today. If the trains arrive on time in the West, this is not news, but in Africa it is! When the trains are starting to arrive on time and the Africans have started to adopt a certain type of behaviour, one should applaud and encourage them.
What do you see about Africa on your televisions today? Massacres in one country, many people drowned in another, badly treated children … What kind of message does that give to African youth? Is this the reason why they are risking their lives, leaving Africa because of the images that are being transmitted from other continents? Each time they watch television, they cannot see what is happening around them in Africa. Television is dominated by powerful countries that choose not to mention the victories of Africa but highlight its setbacks and its problems. God knows, if we had an African television service based in Europe with a special focus on Switzerland, France and Belgium, and if we were to focus on what is happening in suburban zones and in police stations, filming only family dramas: somebody has strangled his wife; a child has drowned in a wash basin. If we only showed that, what kind of image would people have of Europe? The "other" is not only that … It’s the same case for Africa.
Concerning the reforms of the United Nations, what is Senegal’s point of view?
We have worked with the African group within the African Union framework in order to come up with a joint African position, called the "Ezulwini Consensus". This was the outcome of the Ezulwini meeting in Swaziland. This permits Africa to speak with one voice on the matter of the reform.
There is the global reform of the Secretariat. The Commission of Human Rights becomes the Human Rights Council. On these matters, Africa had no problems. Even more so, we supported Secretary-General Kofi Annan when he wanted to set up the Consultative Commission for Peace, because we thought that this was extremely important. The same for the reforms of the General Assembly, ECOSOC and the institutions in order to make them more efficient, more functional and operational for less costs, reduce the budget, stop the critics of the bureaucracy, the plethoric personnel, etc.
Now we come to the important issue that everybody is following very closely-the undemocratic character of the Security Council. Today, five countries have the power of veto and can decide upon the destiny of the world in critical moments. Everybody know that this is completely out of date, and that countries like India with 1 billion inhabitants-a future superpower in the next ten or fifteen years-should have a place on the Security Council as a permanent member. Emerging countries, such as Brazil in Latin America, should also have a place on this Council. We know that Japan has aspirations to join, so does Germany too. These are countries for which we, at least in Senegal, have a great deal of consideration and esteem. We definitely think that these countries ought to have their place on an enlarged Security Council. But, more than these countries that we consider as "friends", it is Africa itself that is the big looser in the international system.
Europe may say that it is blocked between France and the United Kingdom, because neither has the mandate to represent Europe. But France and the United Kingdom are both European countries, so nobody can do anything. Russia too is a European country, so Europe has three representatives. As far as the Americas are concerned, Latin America would tell you that "no", that they have not mandated the United States to represent them. However, there is one America country on the Security Council. Although China has not been mandated to represent Asia, it is at least seated on the Security Council.
So which continent is absent? Africa! That’s the reason why Senegal says that it agrees with le consensus desuni [the uncoordinated common position], and therefore it is necessary to include additional permanent members with the same rights. Either you suppress the veto right for everybody or everybody has the same right of veto. There are no first-class or second-class Security Council members. This is not good-it is not a democratic situation.
Now, they say that one will have to make a comprise, as those who already have the right of veto might use it to block the reforms that do not suit them. This proves the particularly unfairness of the actual system. But if we need to make a compromise, Africa is ready to do so, as Africa must enter the Security Council. Senegal has even put forward another idea. Until one finds a global scheme for the reform and the enlargement of the Security Council, why could not the international community accept that one African country is elected to join the other five Permanent Members of the Security Council? One could go from five to six members, which would be less problematic than going from five to eleven. The Security Council could be enlarged in this way. We think that this proposal ought to be seriously considered. Either the Global Reform is undertaken and Africa gets two permanent seats, or if we are not ready for this, there could be at least one permanent seat with the right of veto by one African country. The African continent would prepare a short-list of countries that would be capable of representing Africa. The international community should pronounce itself on this issue.
In collaboration with Continent Premier, Radio Cite