The world woke to unusual images on their television screens last week with looting, vandalism and rioting portrayed on the streets of the Senegalese capital. The worst civil unrest in Senegal in decades was short-lived, but has left a distinct mark on the country’s international image.
After all, Senegal has presented itself as the shining star of West Africa in recent years. In addition to the country being an oil and gas hub spot, Senegal is also a center for renewable energy investment, business development, and for galvanizing growth in sectors such as tourism and fishing. Accordingly, it is not surprising that images of burning cars and stone-throwing protestors caused concern, particularly when they are followed by shots of destroyed supermarkets and fuel stations, all of which are symbols of well-established foreign companies in Senegal.
It is curious that a story about a political leader being taken to court on rape charges who is then arrested for inciting civil unrest translated into violence against foreign companies. Curious and concerning, that popular dissatisfaction be directed in this manner: to undermine businesses and wealth-generating enterprises.
Senegal is undergoing a veritable economic revolution that has the power to lift millions out of poverty and provide jobs, wealth and prosperity for the whole nation. Through the exploitation of its energy resources, both renewable and non-renewable, Senegal is witnessing a renaissance that will open a myriad of new development opportunities, power the country and offer the next generation of youth choices that no Senegalese has had in the past. However, for this potential to be fulfilled, the country needs foreign investment, know-how, training, skill-transfer and, above all, stability. No foreign company is interested in investing in a destination where its offices are at risk of being vandalized every time an opposition leader is unwilling to face the country’s legal system and uses social fears to distract the public debate.
President Macky Sall has done a tremendous job in attracting investors and opening opportunities in the Senegalese market in which business is already producing jobs, wealth and growth in the economy, particularly through the country’s vast energy resources. These efforts must be supported by all and maintained through a stable, business-friendly and transparent environment.
If we turn on ourselves through violence to express our grievances, we will end up driving away the very opportunities to address the problems behind those grievances, be it poverty, unemployment, social inequality or access to education. We need to stand together behind the political leaders that are driving our country and our continent forward, and support those companies that are developing our resources so that together we can create value, jobs and wealth for all.
Senegal is the hotspot for energy investment in West Africa right now, owing to a string of huge offshore hydrocarbons discoveries since 2014 (as well as its compelling renewables potential).
The emergence of Senegal as a regional energy power is an exciting story. But for almost two decades, in fact, the country has been producing its own natural gas onshore, an hour’s drive from Dakar. Further investment could unlock Senegal’s onshore potential.
Introducing Onshore Senegal
Fortesa International, led by CEO Rogers Beall, started exploring in Senegal in 1997 and from the start, Beall aimed to create a business that was fully Senegalese. Today, the company has a staff of 125, with two expatriate mentors and some African expatriate staff, but the vast majority (around 98 percent) is Senegalese nationals. Beall has continually advocated for Senegal with U.S. companies and now serves on the U.S.- Africa Committee for the African Energy Chamber.
As AOP drove out to the Fortesa production site this week, Beall pointed to a plateau in the far distance, while we passed through a shallow valley. That, he said, is the edge of the 120-square-kilometer Thiombane Dome geological formation. It sits on the eastern side of the carbonate shelf edge that runs north to south along the coast of West Africa.
The emergence of Senegal as a regional energy power is an exciting story
Volcanic eruptions in the sea 175 million years ago, joined up by sand blown in from the Sahara, created the Dakar peninsula. That same feature on the carbonate shelf edge extends deep into the Atlantic Ocean, and this is the basis for the massive offshore oil and gas fields generating so much excitement globally. This is where North America used to connect to Africa, and where we are driving now used to be the state of Georgia before it was the deep ocean bed. The African plate itself never moved.
“The single place between Morocco and Guinea where that shelf comes onshore is east of Dakar,” says Beall. Here, on land and a short drive from the capital, Fortesa is operating seven wells (one out of service temporarily due to an accident – the company’s first serious one – on December 20, 2020) tied back to a gas processing plant. The manifolds and tanks were built in Senegal, the whole facility was assembled by a local team, and on our visit, we met with dozens of Senegalese workers who had trained with Fortesa and were operating the facilities.
The Gadiaga field usually produces 3 million cubic feet (mcf) per day and could produce 7 mcf per day. This small field has produced just over $95 million of natural gas. But, as Beall says, “This is small potatoes compared to what Senegal needs.” The geology says that Gadiaga may sit next to a much larger gas field situated on the edge of the shelf in the Thiombane Dome. This strong potential is what Fortesa wishes to explore and develop, with fellow investors.
Natural Gas Could Do More
Fortesa’s operation may look familiar in the Niger Delta, where local companies have been producing onshore from marginal fields since 2002. But in this region, Fortesa’s gas production business is unique, and like the most effective Niger Delta marginal field companies, it enjoys the support of the local community to staff and safeguard the well sites, pipe yard and processing plant.
Energy independence is the key to Senegal’s success, says Beall. Energy poverty is a trap that ties people down to subsistence living from Senegal to Somalia. Natural gas, available in abundance onshore as well as far out to sea, can be a fuel to remove those limits.
“Right now, this country is paying $14 per mcf by using heavy fuel oil. [In doing this] they are making six times the pollution, six times the negative effect on the planet, and nearly double the cost,” says Beall. “We are able to make the investment and take the risk of drilling onshore, and [in this region] only Fortesa is doing this.”
Natural gas is cleaner and cheaper than the alternatives. It provides direct and indirect jobs for hundreds at Gadiaga, and more of it is available onshore. The company is keen to expand within its acreage to find and develop the onshore elephant that the geology points to, as well as optimizing current production. But with European and other Western financing institutions now shutting down funding for hydrocarbons, few options are available to fund expansion.
The Foundation Is Already There
Fortesa built a foundation for Senegal’s emergence as an energy player. Beall believed in the potential of Senegal before many in Europe and North America had thought to examine the country’s subsurface. His company worked with or trained many of the people now going on to run the sector or work at the national oil company Petrosen and others.
Onshore gas growth is possible and would lead to direct job creation and sustainable energy provision to households and businesses – and save on costly and high-polluting fuel oil imports.
“This is one of the most cost-effective operations in Africa. Fortesa has essentially unlocked the value of Senegal’s energy resources. The projects run by Rogers and his team are sound and are an example of projects that can generate cash and deliver the return on capital that investors are looking for,” said NJ Ayuk, Executive Chairman of the African Energy Chamber, to AOP. “I see a team that is focused on improving asset-level economics, reducing capital outlay, and stretching their dollars to do more with less.”
AOP’s mission is to bring investment to African energy of all kinds, with a view to making life better for people and businesses. Issues of climate change and sustainability must be addressed urgently. But comparatively clean natural gas and the people that produce it (and industries that can use it) should not pay the price for Western institutions’ opposition to funding hydrocarbons. “We need to give a chance to people to advance,” Beall told us. “Let’s do things that work.”
China’s President Xi Jinping pledged during a visit to Senegal on Saturday to strengthen economic ties with Africa, a continent already awash with cheap Chinese loans in exchange for minerals and huge construction projects.
Xi arrived in Senegal on Saturday for a two-day visit to sign bilateral deals, the first leg of an Africa tour that will also take him to Rwanda and South Africa, the latter for a summit of BRICS countries: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
China now does more trade with Africa than any other nation does, and its consistent overtures to the continent contrast sharply with the United States, whose President Donald Trump has shown little interest in it.
The visit was Xi’s first trip to West Africa as president, but his fourth to Africa, he told a joint press conference with Senegalese President Macky Sall after their third ever meeting.
“Every time I come to Africa, I have seen the dynamism of the continent and the aspirations of its people for development,” Xi said. “I am very confident in the future of Sino-African relations.”
Earlier, Xi was greeted by a brass band and hundreds of people waving Chinese and Senegalese flags and wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the two leaders’ faces.
LOADING UP ON CHINESE DEBT
Africa is in the midst of a boom in infrastructure projects, managed and cheaply financed by China, part of Xi’s “Belt and Road” initiative to build a transport network connecting China by land and sea to Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.
China has pledged $126 billion for the plan, which has been praised by its supporters as a source of vital financing for the developing world. In Senegal, Chinese loans have financed a highway linking the capital Dakar to Touba, its second main city, and part of an industrial park on the Dakar peninsula.
China’s ambassador to Senegal Zhang Xun was quoted by the local press in March as saying China had invested $100 million in Senegal in 2017.
“Senegal takes a positive view of China’s role in Africa,” Sall said at the news conference. “For its contribution to peace and stability and equally ... for the financing of budgets.”
But critics say Africa is loading itself up on Chinese debt that it may struggle to repay, with estimates ranging in the tens of billions of dollars. That could leave African nations with no choice but to hand over controlling stakes in strategic assets to the Chinese state.
U.S. officials have warned that a port in the tiny Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti, a host to major U.S. and French military bases, could suffer this fate, although Djibouti rejects the fear.
In Guinea, meanwhile, one of the world’s poorest nations, China is lending $20 billion to the government in exchange for aluminium ore concessions.
As well as trade and minerals, China has also seen Africa as a source of political support. Chinese diplomacy has, as of May this year, succeeded in getting every African country except Swaziland to break off diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which China sees as a renegade province.
With next year’s presidential elections on the horizon, Senegal is gripped by political and economic unrest. The recent killing of a student by a police officer during university protests over unpaid bursaries is just one tragic indicator of the upheaval, discontent and uncertainty which characterises the current climate.
Amid the turmoil, the Senegalese football team’s forthcoming participation at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia presents a beacon of hope. Street vendors have begun to sell replica shirts in the national team’s white and green, and a mood of cautious optimism is unfolding.
In a country where the passion for sport is ubiquitous, a successful performance by the Lions de la Teranga at the world’s most prestigious tournament has the potential to bring momentary joy to a beleaguered population. This is precisely what happened during Senegal’s previous, and to date only, appearance at the World Cup finals in 2002.
Entering the tournament as rank outsiders, a team of relative unknowns proceeded to sensationally beat the reigning champions and overwhelming favourites France in the opening match. They then managed to advance to the quarter finals – as one of only three African teams to do so in the history of the competition.
Many of the stars of the 2002 generation went on to become household names in European club football. The likes of El Hadji Diouf, Salif Diao and Papa Bouba Diop forged successful careers in England. The events of 2002 – and in particular the hugely symbolic victory over their former colonisers – announced Senegal’s arrival as a force to be reckoned with in the global game.
Wrestling has overtaken football
However, over the next decade and a half, Senegalese football stagnated somewhat. The national team failed to qualify for any of the subsequent three World Cups, and their performance at the African Cup of Nations was largely dismal.
Meanwhile, there is widespread agreement that the hugely popular sport of traditional wrestling has overtaken football as the nation’s favoured pastime. Combats between wrestling superstars sell out vast arenas and saturate the media. The Génération 2002, as they would enter into lore, became a mythical emblem of past glories rather than the beginning of a new era of dominance.
It is only now, after several false starts, that the team – coached by the 2002 captain Aliou Cissé – promise to recapture the glory of that famous outing in Japan and Korea. In contrast to the 2002 squad, most of whom played for lesser teams in the French championship, the current crop are far from unknown.
Led by the mercurial talents of Liverpool winger Sadio Mané, the 2018 Lions boast a wealth of elite players from Europe’s leading football clubs. Kalidou Koulibaly of SSC Napoli is one of the game’s most in-demand defenders and Keita Baldé Diao is a star of the future at AS Monaco.
Midfielders Idrissa Gueye, Cheikhou Kouyaté and Badou Ndiaye are all established at English Premier League clubs. There is a genuine sense that this team can achieve something special at the World Cup, perhaps even emulating their illustrious predecessors.
Opiate of the masses
It’s often suggested, misquoting Karl Marx, that sport (and football in particular) has replaced religion as the “opiate of the masses”. It provides illusory moments of happiness while distracting from problems or hardships. Indeed, it is often proposed that sporting success can be translated into political capital, allowing a regime to appear in a positive light, or glossing over its failings.
Following this logic, it is indeed possible that a successful World Cup in Russia might be welcomed by the incumbent president Macky Sall, currently facing much opposition in his bid for reelection. Seen from a different angle, however, sports can also expose a society’s fissures and tensions.
When Cissé announced the 23 players who would form the squad in Russia, he was not only listing the names of the elite athletes who would represent the country – he was revealing much about the relationship between football and Senegalese society.
It is striking to note, for instance, that not one single member of the squad plays his club football in Senegal. Among the 32 nations participating at this year’s tournament, only Sweden are in the same position of having their entire squad playing abroad.
The squads of the other African qualifiers – Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, and Tunisia – each include at least some players from their respective domestic leagues. Certainly, this points towards the relative weakness of the Senegalese league. It is chronically underfunded, does not usually attract large numbers of supporters and pays low wages.
Football conveyor belts
A flourishing domestic championship does not appear to be the primary aim of professional football in Senegal. It is perhaps no coincidence that two of the more successful teams in recent years have been the 2013 champions Diambars, and Génération Foot, victorious in 2017.
These clubs, set up with external assistance from sportswear giant Adidas and French club, FC Metz respectively, are academies dedicated to producing a conveyor belt of footballing talent for export to European leagues, while also pursuing educational and developmental goals.
Cissé’s selection includes a combined total of seven players who moved to Europe from these two academies, including the superstar Mané. With the increasing globalisation of football, the development and sale of talent has emerged as a lucrative industry – albeit one which has yet to contribute significantly to the development of Senegalese football at a domestic level.
Instead, there has been a proliferation of football schools and academies determined to cash in on the boom. With it, a wave of young men desperate to forge careers in European football.
While conducting a year’s fieldwork on sport aspirations in Dakar, I met countless young men who professed dreams of playing in Europe. In some cases, their families were counting on their success to lift them out of poverty, and enlisted the support of dubious agents to engineer trials and transfers. These often turned out to be scams.
This is a common story in African football – yet it reflects the economic situation within which the sport is embedded. Youth unemployment is at consistently high levels and irregular work in the informal economy often the only realistic prospect. Therefore becoming a well-paid footballer or a wrestler can seem like a worthwhile pursuit to thousands of young Senegalese men.
Many Senegalese migrate to Europe – by acquiring a visa, or by risky Mediterranean crossings. Indeed, Senegal’s long history of migration is reflected in the World Cup squad, with 10 squad members having been born in Europe, mostly in France.
Football, then, can be viewed as a prism through which to understand social phenomena. In the case of Senegal, even the announcement of the World Cup squad allows us to reflect about historical migration patterns, youth unemployment, and risks and inequalities in the global sports industries.
However, football can also bring about cohesion and togetherness. When the Lions de la Teranga face Poland in their first match in Russia, the whole Senegalese nation will be united in roaring them on to victory – and perhaps the beginning of another magical World Cup.
This article is based on research conducted as part of the GLOBALSPORT project based at the University of Amsterdam and funded by the European Research Council.
Senegal opens a flagship new airport lastweek, seven years later than originally planned but with ambitions to become a west African regional hub with a capacity for three million passengers.
President Macky Sall will cut the ribbon at Blaise Diagne International Airport (AIBD) at midday (1200 GMT) in the town of Diass, 47 kilometres (29 miles) from the capital of Dakar, while a plane from new airline Air Senegal will make the first symbolic takeoff.
Work began in 2007 on the 645 million-euro ($767 million) airport under former president Abdoulaye Wade, but unforeseen problems and a change of construction company have repeatedly delayed the project and ballooned costs.
Blaise Diagne -- named after the Senegalese MP who was the first African elected to France's parliament -- is at the heart of Sall's "Emerging Senegal" plan, which includes the construction of a new city, Diamniadio, close to the site in Diass. As the country invests more heavily in tourism, Senegal is also betting on the facility's strategic position close to several beach resorts that are already heavily frequented by European holidaymakers.
"The airport will be key in the promotion of 'Destination Senegal'," Prime Minister Mahammed Boun Abdallah Dionne said in a speech on Tuesday, adding that airport services at the site would contribute to the development of the special economic zone nearby.
With a capacity of three million passengers, Blaise Diagne will still rank far below the busiest African airports and a long way off challenging Nigeria in the west African region, though plans for up to 10 million travellers are in the pipeline, according to officials.
- Uncertainty for new airline -
Passenger numbers have increased in recent years at Dakar's current airport in the middle of the city, leading to long waits at security and contributing to chronic traffic jams, and the old Leopold Sedar Senghor airport will become a military airfield from Friday.
The new airport boasts six footbridges direct to flight cabins, and will be able to service a range of aircraft including Airbus's massive A380s.
Work was completed on the 4,500-hectare site -- with 2,000 hectares unused in case of required expansion -- by Turkish consortium Summa-Limak after a disagreement with Saudi Arabia's Bin Laden construction derailed the final stage of preparations. But bets on whether Blaise Diagne would open on time have lasted until the last minute amid complaints by major European airlines over fuel capacity and regulations.
Summa-Limak will now operate the airport for the next 25 years, furthering ever-closer economic ties between Ankara and Dakar.
A train linking the airport with the city is not expected to open for years, leaving taxi drivers in pocket but ordinary travellers nervous of arriving on time for flights in a city with unpredictable traffic.
Backed by loans from France's development agency the African Development Bank (ADB), the West African Development Bank (BOAD) and Islamic lender the Islamic Development Bank (IDB), officials are celebrating the airport's completion -- but the future of Senegal's new airline is less certain.
Air Senegal still does not have all the licences required to begin commercial flights and has a fleet of just two ATR 72-600s, but Aviation Minister Maimouna Ndoye Seck said international ambitions for the airport meant a well-performing national airline was "a necessity".