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September 27, 2010

Aid Award to Energize Senegal's Agricultural Sector

by Drew Hinshaw

Senegal is now one of a dozen African nations to win an award for good governance that comes with hundreds of millions of dollars for funding infrastructure and poverty reduction projects. 

At a ceremony late Monday, Senegal received its first disbursement of U.S. Millennium Challenge Account aid worth $540 million that administrators say will energize Senegal's agricultural economy.

At the disbursement ceremony in the capital, Dakar, spokeswoman Cassandra Butts told guests, including President Abdoulaye Wade, the funds would repave up to 376 kilometers of rural roads.

"Once rehabilitated, the roads will allow greater access to domestic and international markets and will facilitate the transport of goods, thus creating trade corridors.  The road projects will also foster cross-country and cross border tourism," she said.

She said the $540 million will also bankroll new irrigation projects in Senegal's rice-growing belt. "The irrigation and water resource management project will significantly contribute to increasing agricultural yield in the Senegal river valley through the improvement of over 30,000 hectares of irrigated land," said Butts.

"Moreover, the irrigation project will make a significant contribution to the gender equity agenda that has been developed by the government of Senegal and is a significant priority for MCC."

The money makes Senegal the 12th African country to receive direct infrastructural investment aid from the Millennium Challenge Account,  awarded for good governance.

For much of this year, questions lingered over whether Senegal would qualify as the nation continues to battle corruption.  

In March, U.S. Senator Arlen Specter wrote an open letter urging the aid agency to re-think its gift, considering what he called mounting evidence of corruption at the highest level of the government.

That letter and other statements by U.S. officials led to public rebukes from President Wade.  At one point, Mr. Wade even threatened to refuse the funds if the United States spoke about corruption as something that existed only in Africa.  

At last night's ceremony, Finance Minister Abdoulaye Diop said that those issues were in the past.

Diop says the Senegalese government has taken all the necessary steps to ensure the aid will be correctly implemented.  These projects have attracted a lot of interest from the Senegalese people, he says.  Therefore, the government will carefully guard the improvements it has made in terms of good governance, individual economic liberties, and other social investments.

U.S. administrators say the aid could be cut off if Senegal backslides on corruption reforms, but Diop said the two projects must be funded all the way to completion.

He says the ceremony formally marks the entrance into effect of this compact and must permit the continued disbursement of funds allocated to these projects.

Senegal's entry into the program makes West Africa the most heavily awarded region for the program that was created by the George W. Bush administration in 2004.