African News

Senegalese oppose French army base closure

The decision by the Senegalese and French governments to close down French military bases in the African nation has met with massive opposition from local civilian employees who argue that it will render them unemployed.
They are calling specifically on the Senegalese leader, Abdoulie Wade, to ‘‘preserve’’ their jobs.
‘’in all cases, the civilian workers of the French will not accept being thrown into the street in exchange for small plots of land,” read a statement delivered by a faction of the affected people, which was published by Agence Presse Senegalese (Senegalese Press Agency).
They vowed that they are ready to defend their jobs by all means, which they described as threatened by the development.
France, in what is more or less a tradition in all its former colonies, maintains sizeable military bases with its troops working alongside local troops.
However, a presidential statement released last Friday announced the dismantling of French military bases across Senegal under an agreement between the two countries, which will come into effect by April 4, 2010, to almost coincide with the country’s fiftieth Independence anniversary.
The decision was reportedly reached by the two parties after a meeting between President Wade and the French Defense minister, Hervé Morin, in Dakar, last Friday.
The presence of the French troops in Senegal has been a subject of debate, with some Senegalese seeing it as a source of domination by the former colonial master, France.
Although it has not been official announced as to which party forced for parting of company, various reports indicate that President Abdoulie Wade, who has been a little bit critical of the former colonial power, is in favor of the troop withdrawal.
The visit of the French Defense Minister was described by local reports as a means of intervening to have Abdoulaye Wade, who have questioned the presence of the French army on the territory of Senegal, change his mind.
“There are governments in Africa who need to have agreements with visible outside powers, because it deters coup,’’ one local newspaper quoted a Dakar based French citizen who is clearly in support of the presence of his compatriots.
Local newspapers also quoted Defense Minister Herve Morin, in an earlier interview with French newspaper L’Express, as reiterating the need to revise the defense agreements ‘‘with some African countries.’’
‘‘Two agreements were signed with both countries,’’ recalled Herve Morin in the interview. ‘‘Discussions with other countries should arrive shortly. And with Senegal, as with all friendly countries, we must find a partnership in which everyone has the sense to find his account.”
”We can not prevent the government of Senegal to negotiate its defense agreements, but the Senegalese workers are entitled to claim protection from the President of the Republic”, affected Senegalese union officials said in their statement.
More than 3,000 civilians, who are employed in camps located at various areas in Dakar and outskirts, are said to be at risk of losing their jobs. There are several hundred Women who serve mainly as domestic staff for the French military officials.
Union members say that while they do not rule out eventual pull out of the French forces, ”as has been the case since our independence, withdrawal of French military forces stationed in Senegal should be done gradually and in time, to take into account the social dimension, which remains a major concern for workers. ”
The annual total spending on the French mission in Senegal is estimated at 22 billion CFA francs, according to various newspaper reports in Dakar.
Government accused of land grabbing
Already, another faction of the affected group has accused the Senegalese government of intentionally ‘‘driving away’’ the French army so as to enable it ‘‘snatch’’ the landed properties they will leave behind.
“It is now clear that the government of Senegal is driving the French army away to simply recover the land where it bases are located,” a statement by the union said.
And they added that the “base closures should not be on the basis of land grabbing at the detriment of mothers and fathers of families who earn their living thanks to the presence of the French forces.’’
The union stressed that it doubts the official reasons cited, which revolves around assumptions of none-independence.
According to them, based on their knowledge, “the French wants to maintain their bases for a long time in Senegal.’’
They therefore described as baseless assertions that the presence of the French troops in the country appear to put it under surveillance.
“Senegal has been an independent country for 50 years and the presence of the French army has no influence on national politics. Instead, the French Forces, with a discreet presence, observe complete neutrality in our country,” their statement said.

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