Is Senegal's Government Spokesman Selling Out?

[All links forward to articles in French unless otherwise stated] 

The reputation of famous investigative journalist Abdou Latif Coulibaly as a champion of Senegal's citizen protest movements has taken a serious blow.

Latif Coulibaly has become the target of accusations that this former director of the renowned La Gazette magazine turned minister of good governance and government spokesman has forgotten his journalistic ethics for the benefit of the current administration after he forcefully distanced himself from the citizen protest movements he once praised during a political speech last month.

These movements were paramount to the success of Senegalese democracy in the 2012 presidential elections that saw the defeat of Abdoulaye Wade against his opponent Macky Sall. The Movement of June 23 (M23) and Y’en a Marre (Enough is Enough) campaigns played an important role in sustaining protests against corruption and attempts at electoral fraud.

Latif Coulibaly was a prominent Wade opponent while those protests were underway as well as a flag bearer for good governance in Senegal. He is the author of several books, including “Wade, un opposant au pouvoir: l’alternance piégée” (“Wade, an opponent to power: the trapping of the opposition”), which is often referred to as the eminent condemnation of corruption and nepotism under the Wade regime.

But during a speech he gave in his hometown of Sokone in the southwestern Fatick region of Senegal on January 19, Latif Coulibaly announced that he was joining the ruling political party, The Alliance for the Republic, and attacked the June 23 Movement (M23) and Y’en a Marre  [en] (Enough is Enough) movement:

Je n’ai jamais été membre du M23. Jamais. J’ai combattu des idées sur la base d’un idéal bien avant le 23 juin. Des gens spontanément, à cause de l’évènement important, ont fait un travail remarquable au sein du mouvement du M23. Ils sont venus me trouver sur le champ de bataille. Je me suis lié avec eux dans une alliance. Personne ne peut prouver ma présence dans une réunion du M23.

I have never been a member of the M23. Ever. I have been fighting for ideas from a principled point of view well before June 23 (ed's note: the start of the movement). Thanks to that important milestone, many people spontaneously got together and achieved a great deal within the M23 movement. We all came together on the battlefield. I forged an alliance with them in that context. But no one can prove that I attended any meeting of the M23.

Mouvement Y'en à marre - photo de l'auteur avec son autorisation

Photo of Y'en a Marre movement. Used with permission.

This rejection of these movements did not sit well with a large number of political activists.

Facebook comments were not kind to the famous investigative journalist who used to denounce many political misdeeds during the Wade regime. Some accused him of happily sharing a governmental seat with people that he himself has listed as guilty of financial wrongdoings and misappropriation of public funds.

One such reaction was a rant posted by Françoise Hélène Gaye on the Facebook page “Réhabilitons notre Sénégal” (Bring Back our Senegal):

Le Sénégal est malade de ses “intellectuels” nous nous en sortirons le jour ou nous auront des concitoyens qui descendent en politique pour SERVIR et non POUR SE SERVIR. Triste scenario, triste argumentaire, je suis quand même déçue que vous soyez finalement comme tous les autres M. Coulibaly, votre silence depuis l'élection de Macky Sall [..] Il y a tellement de choses à dire à M. le président ! Il y a tant de mauvais signes précurseurs et vous décidez de vous taire ? Êtes-vous déjà fatigué ? Je demeure convaincue que vous faites erreur M. Coulibaly avec toute l'admiration et le respect que je vous dois, et surtout ne crachez pas sur la soupe. Le M23, c'est l'ensemble du peuple sénégalais en réalité pas une poignée d'individus.

Senegal is ill from its “intellectuals” shortcomings, we will finally have turned the corner when we will have citizens that go into politics to SERVE and not to HELP THEMSELVES. This is a sad state affairs and a sad conversation, I am however distressed that you Mr. Coulibaly are just like all others, [..] There are so many things to say to the President. There are plenty of warning signs and you decide to keep quiet? Are you already tired? I am convinced that you are making a mistake Mr. Coulibaly, with all the admiration and respect I have for you, you should not have spit in the face of the movements that carried you. M23, is really about all the Senegalese population and not a handful of individuals.

Françoise Hélène Gaye's criticism sparked more than 150 comments on the Facebook page between January 21 and 22. Fabienne Diop observed:

L’alternance piégée fut un chef d’œuvre mais je ne m’attendais pas à ce qu’il vienne à son tour, lui Latif, piéger notre nouvelle alternance

His book, “The Trapping of the Opposition”, is a masterpiece, but I did not expect that [Abdou Latif Coulibaly] himself would in turn trap the new opposition.

Ibrahima Badiane appeared to be more bitter about the situation. He wrote that Latif Coulibaly is not a man of conviction, noting that 2017, the year of the next presidential election in Senegal, is just around the corner:

 Latif geumoul dara (pour dire en Wolof, il ne croit en rien). Tout ce qu’il faisait, c’était juste se construire un nom auprès des Sénégalais et se victimiser… Mais on a tout compris,

Latif geumoul dara (in Wolof, meaning he believes in nothing). Everything he did was just to build a name for himself with the Senegalese people and portay himself as a martyr … But we all know it now.

Senegalese Internet users on the Facebook page also criticized Latif Coulibaly for having joined President Macky Sall's political party, Alliance for the Republic, saying he had turned his back “on the people's cause”, a cause that he always defended and supported during the Wade regime.

Meanwhile, a few voices came to the defense of the spokesman. For instance, Ousseynou Diakhaté wrote on Facebook:

Gueumoul dara (il n’a aucune conviction) parce qu’il est dans le Gouvernement, puis a choisi son camp politique ? Un larbin parce qu’il est porte-parole du Gouvernement ? Franchement Sénégal métina (il est dure de vivre au Sénégal)… Cela me fait penser à la chanson de Youssou Ndour, Woomat (Conduite) ».

So he has no conviction (Gueumoul dara in Wolof) because he is in the government, and he chose a political side? So he is just a servant because he is the spokesperson for the Government? Frankly the Senegalese people are a tough crowd (Senegal Metina in Wolof)… This makes me think of a Youssou Ndour song, Woomat (You drive).

1 comment

Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.