Thursday, October 19, 2006

Senegal: the new Côte d'Ivoire?

For most of its history, Côte d'Ivoire has been one of the main engines of the West African economy. As such, it was long a magnet for immigrants from other countries in the region. The civil war that erupted in 2002, as well as the anti-foreigner sentiment (known as 'Ivoirité') which provoked it, has put a damper on such migration.

Lacking Côte d'Ivoire's xenophobia and violence, Senegal (as well as Ghana) appears to be the new destination for West Africans in search of a livelihood. Though there is unrest in the southern Casamance region of Senegal, 'le pays de la teranga' has a democratic and stable government and a steadily improving economy.

It's also easy to go from other West African countries to Senegal, which becomes increasingly critical as western countries crack down on extralegal immigration.

Unlike would-be immigrants to the United States or Europe, [International Organization for Migration spokesman Amand] Rousselo explains, it is easy to move within West African countries. Thanks to a 1979 agreement, citizens from countries within ECOWAS, the Economic Organization of West African States, can move to any other ECOWAS country with nothing more than their identity card.

However, Rousselo adds that the influx of foreigners could lead to tension.

"The youth population in West Africa represents about 50-60 percent of the population," he added. "And the same percentage of youth is unemployed. You can imagine that sooner or later this will generate some social conflicts because the nationals will want to work, and the work will be done by foreigners even if they are done by people from neighboring countries."

Hopefully the Senegalese political class will deal with it in a more honorable way than their Ivorian comrades.

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