Interview with His Excellency Fode Seck, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Permanent Representative of Senegal

8 November 2012

As you will see, Mr Ambassador is a discrete and modest person. However, there is one subject close to his heart and that is … how can he best contribute to the development of his country, and that of Africa and diasporas. So now we will leave the floor to Mr Ambassador …

Q: Mr Ambassador, what is your background?

Simply put, I’m a career diplomat.

Q: You are very committed when it comes to famine, food security and nutrition. Why are these topics important for you?

I still remember the terrible years of drought. The northern part of my country forms part of the Sahel region. In the 1970s, Senegal and the neighbouring countries were faced with the worst drought in modern history. One of the results was a huge exodus of the population from the northern part of Senegal across the Gambia River to the southern part called Casamance. This added to the complex situation that already existed in Casamance because the southerners felt that they had been invaded by the northerners. This is still fresh in my memory I was at university in those days. This alerted me and the rest of the population of Senegal, and all the other countries in the Sahel region for that matter, to find a solution to the problem and to do everything possible to fight famine, to fight malnutrition.

It took six or seven years before the situation went back to normal. The cattle died of thirst, but not the humans. Many people became internally displaced, walking with their cattle from the North, through The Gambia down to Casamance where there was more water and greener fields.

Q: Is this the same situation that we are witnessing now?

For the time being, the answer is “no”, because since that time, in collaboration with the international community, the country has implemented strategies and policies for reforestation, the introduction of hydraulic resources and meteorological services to mitigate and, hopefully, prevent this kind of situation from happening again.

Q: Your country has recently been mentioned as a role model for democracy in French-speaking Africa. What does this mean for you?

It gives me a feeling of pride, but at the same time one of modesty, because a “role model” is saying too much. Each democratic experience is unique. You know as well as I do that the weeks before the elections were very tense, even tragic, because there was violence and death. Looking back we consider this as a test imposed on the institutions, on the Senegalese people and, in particular, on the politicians of Senegal. The results were that we witnessed one of the freest, most transparent elections and we therefore have the feeling that democracy in Senegal has become stronger.

Q: You have just headed the Senegalese Delegation to the UNCTAD XIII meeting in Doha. What are your impressions, and what do you consider as the main outcomes of this conference?

First of all, I would like to say that I had the heavy responsibility of heading the Senegalese delegation because the new government had just taken office, and the newly appointed Minister of Commerce, a lady, who should have been the head of the delegation, was busy taking up her duties and, for this reason, was unable to attend. The delegation consisted of officials from the Ministry of Commerce, the Ministry of Finance, as well as from APIX, the Senegalese agency for the promotion of investments. The delegation was made up of people that reflected the agenda, which was very rich in events. Compared to all the topics that had to be covered, the delegation was quite small, and therefore we were only able to attend the sessions dealing with the most fundamental questions –– in addition to the plenary sessions and the special sessions. For instance, there were international fora dedicated to investment; one whole day was also dedicated to the role of women in development. Women came from all over the world to attend this session where we discussed how to mainstream gender issues in development. Together with UNCTAD, ITC and the other participants, we are currently exploring the proposals to see how we can strengthen the role of women. It has been shown that where women are empowered in the development process, justice and peace are strengthened.

Q: Trade and agriculture are two areas where the African countries are facing problems. What measures are needed to improve this situation?

If we manage to solve these issues, Africa would emerge stronger on the world stage because, throughout history, agriculture has been the foundation for development in all countries at all times. One should bear in mind that Africa was under colonial rule for a long time and we have not always been responsible for our own development. But, nevertheless, this is not an excuse. Even though the continent has been independent for the last fifty years, we see that the agricultural sector in Africa has not, as a general rule, met its expectations. We need to reinforce the capacity and the production basis of our agricultural sector, either on a national, regional or even a continental scale. This may be achieved by promoting, in particular, the small, family-based agricultural sector, because these are the ones who produce the basic food for the African population. We also need to create space for the big agro-businesses, but this does not imply that the small producers have no role to play. My convictions have been reinforced during the time I spent in Brazil where I saw how these small producers contributed to turn that country into one of the big players in the world’s agribusiness. In particular, they transformed the exports of the rural sector, including agriculture, cattle breeding and fish farming.

Q: In other words, you would like to see this kind of investment?

Of course, I would like to see many investors who could help boost our agricultural sector.

Q: With your new president in office, have there been any major changes in your country’s foreign policy? Do you foresee any changes?

As a former cabinet minister, a former prime minister and the former president of the national assembly, President Macky Sall is no newcomer in Senegalese, African and international diplomacy. Quite the contrary: he has contributed to a great extent to shaping a dynamic Senegalese foreign policy.

I would rather say that pressing foreign issues have imposed themselves on the President, even before he took up office. Have you seen what happened in Mali and Guinea-Bissau? Recently, he hosted an extraordinary session of the Communauté économique des États de l’Afrique de l’Ouest (CEDEAO–ECOWAS) dedicated to the situation in both Mali and Guinea-Bissau. If there is one area where there is almost a consensus in my country, it concerns foreign policy. One cannot but give priority to the policies that reflect one’s geography and environs. President Macky Sall paid his first official visit to The Gambia –– as is normal. I do not know if I have answered your question, but these are some of the highlights of Senegal’s foreign policy.

President Macky Sall will certainly impose his own style and make the necessary changes in the Senegalese diplomatic architecture with a view to reinforcing Senegal’s presence in the world. At the same time, he is consolidating peace, stability, good governance, the promotion of human rights and sustainable development, at home, in the region, on the African continent and on the broader international stage. In this way he will better foster the economic and social development of Senegal.

Q: How does it feel to be an ambassador in Geneva at the heart of the multilateral system in these turbulent times?

It’s true that multilateralism is at stake and this statement is not too strong. At the same time, this danger represents an opportunity for the different players to unite their efforts so as to reinforce multilateralism and make it stronger. There really is no alternative to boosting world trade, global health, balanced disarmament, enhanced peace and security for all, protection and promotion of human rights, mitigation of climate change and promotion of the green economy. We cannot go back to the old system because it will not benefit anybody. Everything has become global and I believe that, despite the fact that some still promote protectionist measures through bilateral channels, multilateralism is the only way to go.

One example is the success of the recent UNCTAD XIII Conference in Doha. Before going there, a lot of delegations did not think it would be possible to reach a positive outcome or an agreement. Luckily, we were able to turn those challenges that we were facing into a success story as the Group of 77 and China managed, together with the developed countries, to renew the mandate of UNCTAD for another four years.

The Doha mandate confirms the Accra agreement and opens up new aspects taking into account the new geo-political and geo-economic situation that has evolved since the Accra meeting four years ago. Therefore, we all think that UNCTAD has come out stronger than before.

The Senegalese Permanent Mission in Geneva is also tasked with the responsibility of co-ordinating human rights issues for the African Group in Geneva from June 2011 to December 2012, and for health issues from 1 January to 31 December 2012 . This will add to the burden of my normal duties as both Permanent Representative in Geneva and Ambassador of Senegal to Switzerland .

Q: Finally, Mr Ambassador, where would you like to see your country a couple of years from now?

I would like to see it among the “emerging countries”. This is the ambition of President Sall. We are currently among the “least-developed countries”, and we have the ambition to “graduate” –– as they say in the UN jargon –– and emerge as a stable country in a no less developed and peaceful sub-region of the continent. Africa is a rich continent, but Africans are poor, and we have to change this.

Through your magazine, DIVA, I call for more investments in Africa, the next “frontier”. We have a dynamic youth sector representing more than 50% of the total population of 1 billion Africans. We want to combine this strength with the vast land, sea, forest, mineral and water resources to make Africa one of the major players of this millennium –– especially through the knowledge economy.

Albina Goosens