Touré is the right (wo)man for the job

2013-09-24 10:00

She can definitely hold her own against any man, says presidency adviser

She is everything but a token appointment, say supporters of Aminata Touré, a former UN official and justice minister, who became Senegal’s prime minister last week.

Analysts differ over the motives of President Macky Sall for sacking her predecessor, after serving in this position for just more than a year, and appointing the highly esteemed Touré in his place.

Some say it is a clever move to appoint the only real heavyweight member of his party in this position in the run-up to next year’s local elections.

Yet, others believe that Sall, who was elected following mass protests that rocked the political scene in the capital Dakar last year, is trying to pull out all the stops to fulfil his promise of improving the lives of ordinary Senegalese people.

One thing seems clear, though – the appointment of “Mimi”, as they affectionately call Touré in Senegal, has not gone unnoticed.

She has a strong track record of supporting women’s rights and has taken a principled stance against corruption in her previous position. Last year, soon after taking office, she voluntarily declared her assets.

Touré is the only female head of government in Africa, with presidents Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Joyce Banda of Malawi as the continent’s only female heads of state.

Rwanda, Burundi, Guinea Bissau, Mali, the Central African Republic and Senegal have all had female prime ministers in the past, though none of them held the position for longer than two years.

Touré’s female predecessor Mame Madior Boye stayed just more than a year before being sacked in 2002 by former president Abdoulaye Wade.

“The big difference with Mimi is she will be no token prime minister,” says veteran feminist and current adviser in the presidency, Penda Mbow.

“She is audacious and has a strong political background, having started as an activist very early on,” she says.

Touré (50) was a member of left-wing movements while at university in Senegal and in France. In the 90s, she joined the far-left And-Jëf/African Party for Democracy and Socialism in Senegal before leaving for Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and the US, working for the UN.

She was in charge of human rights and gender issues at the UN Population Fund in New York in 2010 when she decided to return to Senegal to join Sall’s Alliance for the Republic party.

Mbow believes Touré’s appointment, and that of other women like the current Energy Minister Maimouna Ndoye Seck, is the result of the social transformation in Senegal that began in the 70s.

Although problems still persist regarding women’s rights in marriage – polygamy is a very common practice in Senegal – and there are still rare incidents of excision practised on young girls in rural areas, Senegalese women have been at the forefront of the struggle for emancipation in Francophone Africa.

Mbow says: “She can definitely hold her own against any man.”

Touré has been praised for her work as justice minister this past year. She spearheaded the prosecution of high-level politicians linked to corruption during the former regime of president Wade.

Notably, it was under her watch that Wade’s son, Karim, was put behind bars and is now awaiting trial for corruption allegations amounting to €1?billion (R13?billion).

Touré also managed to finally secure the arrest of Hissène Habré, the former dictator of Chad, who has been living in exile in Senegal since 1990 and is being accused of crimes against humanity.

Political journalist Mamadou Thior says he believes most Senegalese people supported her efforts, even though opposition politicians decried a witch-hunt against them.

“She is one of the few ministers who did a good job,” says Thior.

Her main challenge as prime minister will be to help Sall with economic reforms to try and reduce poverty.

Sall (51), a geological engineer by profession, has put measures in place this year to try and limit price hikes of basic foodstuffs such as rice and sugar, and has reduced income tax for government employees.

Still, many inhabitants of this West African nation live in dire poverty. Joblessness, powercuts and housing shortages plague the everyday lives of Senegalese people.

Shortly after taking up her position, Touré announced her new Cabinet, notably excluding the international pop star Youssou N’dour from the new team.

N’dour was a great support for Sall in his election campaign last year and was rewarded with the position of minister of culture and tourism.

“Tourism is our second biggest industry and he was definitely not the right man for it,” says Thior.

Touré also caused some controversy by appointing well-known human rights activist and former head of the International Federation of Human Rights,

Sidiki Kaba, to replace her as justice minister. Kaba has in the past expressed his support for same-sex marriage, something Sall has publicly rejected.

Commentators say the controversial issue was probably discussed before Kaba was appointed and he has since agreed to tow the line.

»?Louw is a journalist, writer and analyst focusing on Francophone Africa

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