Does Karim Wade’s arrest mean “the time when one could pillage public goods is gone” in Senegal?

Karim Wade, the son of octogenarian ex-president Abdoulaye Wade, has been sitting in a central Dakar prison for nearly a month as he awaits trial for corruption charges. The younger Wade was arrested and formally charged with illicit enrichment after an investigation revealed that he amassed $1.4 billion in personal wealth.

During his father’s presidency from 2000-2012, Karim Wade held a number of posts including Minister of Infrastructure, International Cooperation, Energy and Air Transportation. As “the Minister of Earth and Sky” as he was popularly known, he was reportedly responsible for a total budget of one-third of state expenditure via Senegal’s largest infrastructure projects. Prosecutors have accused Karim of having stakes in large sectors of the economy including firms managing Dakar’s port and airports. The investigation also links Wade to a complex web of off-shore accounts located in Panama, the British Virgin Islands and Luxemburg. Wade’s lawyers have denied the charges against him and claim they can prove his wealth was legally obtained.

Interviews with people on the ground indicate that the majority of the population believes this is a good move for new president Macky Sall who pledged to crackdown on corruption and increase transparency. For a small number of people, however, the arrest represents a political “witch hunt” against former ruling Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS) on the part of the current government. Does Wade’s arrest mean that “the age of impunity is over” and “the time when one could pillage public goods is gone” as stated by Senegal’s Justice Minister, Aminata Touré or will this arrest encourage politicians to remain in office because they fear prosecution? Where should public officials accused of fraud and corruption be brought to trial, at the International Criminal Court (ICC), regional bodies such as Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) or neighboring countries?

4 thoughts on “Does Karim Wade’s arrest mean “the time when one could pillage public goods is gone” in Senegal?

  1. To add to Janette’s great commentary, the same cloud of suspicion that hangs over Karim’s head and led to this investigation into his riches, also hangs over Macky Sall. Macky has worked with Karim Wade when the former was prime minister (some argue he also worked to stop Karim’s graft, which led to his falling out with Wade father, Abdoulaye.) Macky’s wealth, as reported prior to his running for president, is also enormous (numbers vary widely but are still substantial), and raises the suspicion it was mainly, if not fully gained during his tenure in the government.
    Graft in Senegal, and I am sure almost everywhere else in Africa, is believed to be almost inseparable from the office. When Abdou Diouf, the president before Abdoulaye Wade came to power, following Senghor’s 20 years at the helm, his main campaign promise was to put a stop to it, and to pursue assiduously in justice any one suspected of it. This led to the prosecution of a couple medium sized fish, heads of corporations and banks, but left undisturbed, and unperturbed, all of the ministers and bigger fish, whose perceived guilt was not just circumstantial.
    Unlike Abdou Diouf, Macky is doubling down, intent on proving Karim’s guilt, if not in the courts of justice, at least in the court of public opinion. The population is impatient, eager to see changes that positively affect its bottom line; and it is feeling that after one year in power, Macky seems less change and more “more of the same”. Macky needs Karim’s head ( I mean conviction) if he is to have any chance of being reelected for a second term. Additionally, Karim is a convenient scapegoat, the perfect stand in for the abuses of his father and others (Macky himself?). Furthermore, because of the massiveness of Karim’s fortune (all of which he made while in office), and the fact that he, despite being the president’s son, is still not fully viewed as Senegalese (he was raised in France, is said to speak little Wolof…), and lacks the social, cultural and religious links and bonds that traditionally protect the guilty or the accused.
    Ultimately, we don’t know whether Macky’s prosecution of Karim Wade is the first step in the institutionalization of the crackdown of corruption as a strong and established force in Senegalese politics and government, or if it is mainly personal, a notch in his belt, helpful to him comes election time, otherwise merely a dune in the history of African politics, at best a marker.

  2. Macky Sall is next; no one here is dumb enough to believe that he has clean hands! It is a political witch hunt aimed at salvaging a very unpopular-if-new presidency, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean there is no good to come of it!

  3. Since when does the ICC take up cases of fraud and corruption? AIAC can and should do better than this. And this piece doesn’t do much beyond asking just a question.

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