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Economic and Political Involvement of The Senegalese Diaspora at Home

The Senegalese diaspora is one of the most dynamic in Africa. Known for its representativeness and reputation for hard work, it not only contributes to the country's diplomatic influence, but also constitutes a granary of human and economic resources for the country. So important is it to Senegal that, under the reign of President Abdoulaye Wade (2000-2012), it was elevated to the status of a region, and now boasts 15 members in the National Assembly. This article focuses on the Senegalese abroad, their geography, their contribution to the country's economy and, more recently, their increasingly visible political involvement.


The geography of the Senegalese diaspora

Spread over several countries, the Senegalese diaspora is characterized by its vast presence around the world. From South Korea to Argentina, via Europe where many Senegalese reside in Spain, France and Italy, the Senegalese diaspora shines through the diversity of its host countries. According to the OECD, in 2019, Senegal was the second country in the Community of West African States (ECOWAS) with the highest emigration flows to OECD countries, after Nigeria. Migration flows from Senegal to the OECD have risen sharply since 2000, from 9,700 people to almost 23,500 in 2019. Spain, Italy and France are the top three destination countries for Senegalese nationals in the OECD, but there has been a greater diversification of their destinations in recent years, particularly towards the USA and Germany, followed by Canada, Belgium and the UK. Overall, some 700,000 Senegalese emigrants were living in all countries of the world in 2020. Of these, 33% lived in a West African country, for a total of around 230,000 emigrants, over half of whom (133,000) lived in Gambia.

This strong presence in several parts of the world is also an asset for the Senegalese. The first profiles of Senegalese most present abroad are students. While France was once the most popular destination for further study, other countries are now welcoming more and more Senegalese students. Turkey, China, Canada and Russia are welcoming more and more young people from the land of Teranga in search of knowledge. In addition to students, the Senegalese diaspora living in Spain and Italy also includes a large number of merchants. In Turkey, for example, they distinguish themselves in the sale of small items such as belts, watches or wallets, and are often even recognized in the street with this trade. The Senegalese diaspora, however, is increasingly distinguished by the plurality of its profiles. They include industrialists, business executives, experts in the transport and IT sectors, and doctors, among others. These qualifications enable them to make a significant contribution to the Senegalese economy.


Contribution of the diaspora to the Senegalese economy

The diaspora contributes over 10% of Senegal's GDP (2021). They often send money to families back home, and are the main source of funds for household management. "Senegalese migrants transferred 1,600 billion CFA francs to their relatives in 2021, an increase of 5%. This represented 10.5% of Senegal's gross domestic product in the same year," said Habib Ndao, Executive Secretary of the Observatory of Quality and Financial Services (Oqsf). Not only do they contribute to daily spending, but they also compete in the construction of houses. Their impact on the housing sector is considerable, particularly in the Louga and Matam regions.

But Senegalese abroad are also investing at home, even if their investment potential is not yet fully optimized. In many regions, particularly in remote villages, the diaspora is building mosques, health centers and schools, as well as making humanitarian gestures in emergency situations. For example, online kitty campaigns are increasingly popular with Senegalese to help the sick, destitute families or to support home renovations. On these occasions, it's the Senegalese abroad who, through their participation, often raise the expected funds.

Under President Macky Sall and as part of his Plan Sénégal Emergent, the government has tried to strengthen the framework for attracting investment from Senegalese abroad, by getting them more involved locally with measures such as the Start-Up Act, which exempts young businesses from taxes for a maximum of five years, if they are located in a free zone.

Thanks to remittances, the diaspora plays a key role in raising the standard of living and living conditions of families back home. In this way, they contribute to government efforts to combat poverty and promote the economic inclusion of all populations, including the most vulnerable.


An important political role

The Senegalese diaspora has also become increasingly politicized in recent years. If the diaspora is attracting more attention and scrutiny from the foreign media, as has been the case over the last three years of political unrest in Senegal, it is also because it has demonstrated a political commitment unprecedented in the country's history. The riots that have marked Senegal since 2021, during the political tug-of-war between President Macky Sall and his fiercest opponent Ousmane Sonko (of the PASTEF party), have also had an impact on the political role of the diaspora.


Senegalese abroad supporting the PASTEF leader have often organized demonstrations in several major cities in Europe and the United States to denounce President Macky Sall's "authoritarian excesses" and the murderous repression of demonstrations in Senegal over the past three years. The most recent episode was the stormy reception reserved for the Senegalese President in New York last September, during the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly. Using banners, whistles and video loops on giant screens, Senegalese in the diaspora denounced the ongoing repression in Senegal and called for the release of Ousmane Sonko, who has been in prison since the end of July. PASTEF (a party dissolved under the same conditions) has also revolutionized the Senegalese political scene by stimulating participatory financing, often driven by the diaspora. In January 2024, for example, in preparation for the election campaign, the diaspora raised FCFA 478,000,000 for the party.

While the economic role of the Senegalese diaspora can still be further optimized within the framework of resource mobilization, Senegalese abroad already make a very honorable contribution to the country's development. They also represent human resources trained in the finest schools, who can look forward to returning home having already inherited a certain transfer of technology and skills.


France: des membres de la diaspora sénégalaise manifestent contre la "dictature de Macky Sall":

La diaspora sénégalaise, première VRP du pays de la Teranga :

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