French Connections Did Senegal's Macky Sall Fund France's Marine Le Pen?

Ahead of her trip, Le Pen wrote in the French newspaper L’Opinion, saying her visit ‘can become the two driving forces behind a rediscovered relationship of trust between Europe and Africa.’

On Friday, Senegal’s former prime minister Cheikh Hadjibou Soumare was taken into custody and charged with libel after he asked if President Macky Sall had provided funds to French far-right National Rally leader Marine Le Pen. Soumare’s lawyer, Mame Adama Gueye, told AFP that Soumare had been charged with libel and spreading ‘false information’ before being released on bail.

In an open letter, Soumare—who served as budget minister and then prime minister from 2007 to 2009 under former president Abdoulaye Wade—asked Sall whether he had donated 12 million euros ($12.7 million) to Le Pen, who was unnamed in the letter, but was described as a ‘French political figure’ whose party is distinguished ‘by hatred and rejection of others’.

Soumare asked:

If by any chance all of this were true, please enlighten the Senegalese people as to whether you acted as president of the Republic of Senegal or as a leader of a political party and with what money.

Soumare’s letter followed a meeting between Sall and Le Pen in January. It was her first trip abroad since she lost the presidential elections in April 2022 and has been perceived as laying the groundwork for her presidential aspirations in 2027. In the first round of the 2022 polls, Le Pen won 6.09 per cent of the votes of French nationals in Senegal, against 38.40 per cent for Jean-Luc Mélenchon and 33.68 per cent in favour of Emmanuel Macron.

Senegal maintains good relations with France; in December, both countries signed agreements focused on youth development to bolster further cooperation between them. Ahead of her trip, Le Pen wrote in the French newspaper L’Opinion, saying her visit ‘can become the two driving forces behind a rediscovered relationship of trust between Europe and Africa.’

The meeting held in Sall’s presidential palace in Dakar and was the last stop in her three-day visit. Le Pen met with members of the Eléments Français au Sénégal (EFS), the French armed forces in the country, and visited farms and two hospitals. She also visited the island of Gorée, where there is a museum and memorial to the victims of the Atlantic slave trade.

Le Point quotes Le Pen as saying:

It is very important not to lose contact with Africa. I wanted to start by going to Senegal, which is a pivotal country on the continent, says Marine Le Pen. The vision that I carry is not only a Franco-French vision. It is also a vision of France in the world. It is important to be able to confront it abroad.

In a statement by government spokesman Abdou Karim Fofana, Sall’s government condemned the letter. While the allegations remained unaddressed, Soumare’s claims were dismissed as:

…cowardly and baseless insinuations, which clearly demonstrate an evil desire to discredit the person of the president of the republic, to undermine the institution that he embodies and to harm relations between Senegal and a foreign power.

Le Pen’s visit and Soumare’s arrest were met with criticism by Dakar’s political elite; former prime minister Aminata Touré, who is running for president at the 2024 presidential elections, condemned the meeting, describing Le Pen on Twitter as ‘the embodiment of racism and xenophobia’. Touré also called for Soumare’s release.

In the letter, Soumare also asked if Sall, elected in 2012 and re-elected in 2019, planned to delay the presidential elections in February 2024.  While a third term would be unconstitutional, the recent crackdown on opposition candidates has roused suspicion locally and internationally. In February, the opposition leader of the Patriots of Senegal party, Ousmane Sonko, was detained amid a trial for defamation after he accused the tourism minister, Mame Mbaye Niang, of corruption. Sonko also faces rape charges that if convicted would see him face up to ten years in prison and render him ineligible to run for president.

On Saturday, there were protests in Paris to denounce Sall’s attempt at running for a third term. However, the Senegalese president, who is also the president of the African Union, has been silent on whether he would be seeking a third term in 2024

Recommended Reading

Here are some Republic articles to read for more context on political financing:

The views, thoughts, and opinions published in The Republic belong solely to the author and are not necessarily the views of The Republic or its editors. We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editors by writing to [email protected].