Last odds and ends about Senegal.
They don't like W. Senegalese, without an exception I could find, don't like George W. Bush. The reason is simple: he paid a visit there in 2003, and it was a disaster. This was just after the Iraq invasion, and basically the whole city of Dakar had to be shut down. He went out to the island of Goree to make a speech, and all of the people who lived there -- a thousand or so -- were taken off for a day. Security, right?
I found a pissy article about it online. I discounted it heavily because, you know, The Nation. But according to the Senegalese, it's basically correct. Senegal doesn't seem to be one of those touchy countries, but it was a bit much. And, you know. Way to make a small, friendly country dislike us, Mr. President.
Railroads. Turns out the Senegalese railroad has a glorious history of strikes and activism; one of Senegal's greatest literary works is a novel that's based on a strike in 1947. (h/t Tzintzuntzan!) This makes the whole privatization thing more baffling, mind.
History. I need to read more about French Africa; it's way more interesting than I realized. The French were dicks, but if you were going to be colonized -- and in the late 19th century, yeah, you probably were -- you could have done worse. They were more competent than the Portuguese and less hypocritical than the British, yadda yadda. From a West African point of view, they were in many ways more obnoxious and damaging after independence. That's because they kept intervening in the region, usually to prop up the local evil strongman -- sort of like the US in Central America, except more so, and nobody outside the region ever cared much.
Birds. Two sorts stick in my mind. One, the kites -- big scraggly hawks. The country is full of them. They'll eat any sort of meat -- rats, lizards, fish, garbage. They make big messy nests in baobab trees and spend all day soaring around on thermals. They're not handsome, but they're wonderful fliers, and very relaxing to watch.
Two, the local weaverbirds. Little yellow guys with black heads who weave hanging nests, like orioles. Loud, and fearless -- sit by the pool eating a sandwich, and they'd come scavenging for crumbs like sparrows in a park. Except they look like they'd cost $200 each in an exotic pet shop. So cool.
Oh, and not birds, but there were a lot of fruit bats around in the evenings -- big ones, with like a two foot wingspan. During the day they hang upside down in palm trees. Very neat.
WAEMU. WAEMU is the West African Economic and Monetary Union, or UEMOA in French. It's a union of eight Francophone West African countries; they've reduced mutual tariffs and share a common currency, the CFA, and a common Central Bank.
WAEMU is pretty damn impressive in a lot of ways. Here's the one that affected my work: all laws relating to the financial sector are WAEMU, not national. So, banking in Senegal? Is regulated by a loi bancaire that's identical in all eight member states. In this respect WAEMU is actually ahead of the EU, which has a central bank and a common currency but hasn't finished harmonizing its financial laws yet (and likely won't for many years to come).
The CFA used to be pegged to the franc and is now pegged to the euro. The exchange rate has only changed once in sixty years; that was in 1994, when it was abruptly devalued by 50%. Apparently this was supposed to help exports; it failed. There's a complicated and interesting story there, and maybe one day I'll dig it up. Meanwhile, West Africa is an interesting macroeconomic laboratory that nobody seems to be paying much attention to. Low tariffs and a common currency haven't done much for inter-regional trade, that's for sure. On the other hand, West Africa's interregional transport links suck -- there's exactly one international rail line (Bamako, Mali to Dakar) and most of the roads are awful. But at least you don't have to keep changing money.
End of the dry. It was the end of the dry season, which is the least attractive time of year -- very hot, very humid, dusty and hazy. Everyone was waiting for the rains. "Like the last month of pregnancy."
Even so, Dakar is pleasant if you can find a green spot with some shade: there are ocean breezes. Kaolack, umm, less so.
Cosmopolitan Dakar. Nationalism and the various convulsions of the 20th century have made a lot of former colonial cities much less varied. Alexandria is no longer full of Greeks and Jews and Armenians, the French and Spanish and Italians are gone from Algiers. But Dakar still has tens of thousands of French and other Europeans, and a permanent colony of thirty thousand or so Lebanese. And the Senegalese themselves are impressively varied -- tall and short, a wide range of facial features, skin colors mostly "black" but ranging from dark brown to matte black and blue-black. Furthermore, there's a huge range of costumes, from caftans and skullcaps to blue jeans and baseball caps. "Western" outfits and "traditional" garb are both common.
The result is that a street scene in Dakar is as varied as anything in New York or London. Which is nice.
BTW, head scarves are very rare, and veils are unknown. Senegalese women tend to dress up. Younger women mostly wouldn't look out of place in Paris; older women tend towards caftans and muu-muu like things. The general level of stylishness is high.
Dressup Friday. Speaking of caftans, most men wear one on Friday, because it's the holy day. And when I say caftan, I mean a really nice caftan, all clean and pressed. (It is astonishing how clean they are. I mean, I wouldn't dare wear a white suit in Dakar. Okay, I wouldn't dare wear a white suit anywhere, because I'd spill coffee on it. But still.)
Apparently even non-Muslims may wear a nice caftan on Friday. Just, you know, because.
People. Consistently pleasant and friendly. You do get guys trying to sell you stuff, and the occasional barnacle who won't quit. But that (I'm told) is the norm in West Africa, and Senegal less bad than most.
Also, in the circles I was moving in, everyone spoke French -- very well, usually -- and most were really well educated and seemed really competent. Obviously this is not at all representative; Senegal is a very poor country, and something like a third of the population is still illiterate. There was plenty of poverty in Dakar, and even more in the countryside. But there's definitely a critical mass of bright, educated young professionals. Whether they'll be used effectively is something else again.
Eh, that's probably enough for now. I liked it and would go back with enthusiasm.