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Senegalese President Macky Sall speaks at a World Leaders Forum event in Low Library Rotunda.

Senegalese President Macky Sall talked about confronting economic and environmental challenges in Africa and criticized a global power structure that he said favors western nations at a World Leaders Forum speech on Wednesday.

While Sall touted his country's development at the event in the Low Library Rotunda, he said there is still work to be done.

“Our first ambition is to fight poverty,” Sall said through a translator.

Sall went on to criticize aspects of the global political system that he believes hamper that ambition. He called for the international financial community to relax stringent laws that limit the country's ability to borrow money. 

“We favor the reform of the global and economic governance,” he said, describing borrowing constraints as typical of outdated attitudes about African progress, which he countered with statistical evidence of recent growth.

“We cannot validate the voice of the future with the tools of the past,” he said. “The world is changing, and so is Africa.”

Sall said that western countries have exploited Africa for centuries.

“After slavery was abolished, colonization was invented,” he said, calling colonization “a pretext to pillage the resources of the continent.”

Because of Africa's history with the West, Sall said, western countries now have a responsibility to help its development—not necessarily through aid, but through business partnerships.

“All countries have been helped at one point or another during their histories, even the U.S.,” Sall said, referencing the American Revolution.

“Invest in us!” he said.

Sall also criticized the makeup of the United Nations Security Council, which he called “the lynchpin of the security mechanism” of the global community. The 15-member council includes no permanent member states from Africa and allocates three rotating seats to countries on the continent. 

“The need for reform of the Security Council is only more urgent and legitimate because Africa, a continent that accounts for more than a quarter of the U.N. member states,” has only the three rotating seats, he said. 

While he stressed the importance of strengthening the rule of law, Sall dismissed one questioner who asked what the country was doing to protect the rights of gay citizens. Same-sex sexual activity is illegal in Senegal and is punishable with jail time and fines. LGBT people face widespread discrimination, and anti-gay laws have broad approval in the country.

The issue was highlighted this summer when President Barack Obama, CC '83, called on African countries to decriminalize homosexuality at a joint press conference with Sall during his visit to Senegal. Sall strongly rebuked Obama at the time.

While Sall did not directly address Obama's statement on Wednesday, he pushed back against the notion that Senegal should follow western norms on the issue of gay rights.

“You cannot impose something on Senegal that does not suit it,” Sall said. To do so would make Senegal “a dictatorship,” he said.

“I'm a free man,” he said, his voice rising. “There's no monopoly on the responses to social problems,” he added, resulting in applause only from the delegation of Senegalese citizens at the front of the room.

He did add later that, “Senegal guarantees all human rights.”

Stressing the importance of fighting climate change, Sall said that sustainable development may be the key to boosting Senegal's economy. He pointed to his government's legislation to protect fishing resources from overexploitation. 

“We don't have anywhere else to go,” he said. “We can't go to Mars. We have only this planet.”

Sall also addressed education. In response to a question from an audience member, he said that he'd like to see improved science education. Of Senegalese college students, “far too many are in literary fields,” he said.

He attributed the popularity of the humanities to a lack of public awareness of environmental and scientific issues, and poor scientific and technical education.

“If we raised awareness more, I think we could evolve and have more students interested in pursuing these fields,” Sall said.

He said the abundance of music and dancing shows on Senegalese television—and the lack of educational programs—could be to blame. He also suggested increasing vocational education.

Sall's visit to New York for the U.N. General Assembly came as Dakar, Senegal's capital city, faces a water shortage—there has been no running water in parts of the city for almost two weeks. 

Because of the crisis, Sall cut his trip short and returned to Senegal Wednesday night.

Students who attended the event appreciated Sall's comments as a fresh perspective on issues of foreign aid and development.

Andrew Pasquier, CC '17, appreciated the historical perspective Sall brought to the question of foreign involvement in Africa.

“He framed it like, ‘You exploited us for 300 years, so there's nothing unfair about helping us now,'” he said.

Ouleye Ndoye, GSAS '18 and a Ph.D. student in history, noted Sall's willingness to present real solutions in his remarks, despite the often vague nature of World Leaders Forum speeches.

“His point about televisions playing music from morning to night was absolutely true,” Ndoye said. “It's a tangible solution, and it's readily employable.”  |  @ColumbiaSpec

Correction: An earlier version of this article identified Ndoye as a Ph.D. student in African studies. Ndoye is a Ph.D. student in history. Spectator regrets the error. 

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