Alleviating poverty in Senegal by enabling economic participation

Senegal economic partuciaption

Senegal, a country in West Africa with a population of more than 14 million people with more than 60 percent of the population under the age of 25, is a democracy lacking in social and economic progress. Construction, mining, fisheries, tourism, and agriculture drive the country’s economy. Senegal’s high illiteracy rate, high unemployment rate, and low human development index all contribute to its widespread poverty.

Enter the Centre d’Études pour le Financement du Développement Local (The Center of Studies for Development Financing Local, or CEFDEL), a new Atlas Network partner in Senegal. In a country where socialist approaches to policy are entrenched throughout the government and society, CEFDEL is promoting the values of liberty, autonomy, and personal responsibility — and focusing on a practical program of helping underprivileged people in Senegal participate in the economy.

A group watches at an event in Senegal.
The CEFDEL team

“(CEFDEL) considers that one of the main causes of poverty in Senegal is the lack of financial inclusion in sound money for the majority of the urban population and limited citizens’ participation in resolving development challenges in their communities because of low income and a centrally managed country,” said Dr. Abdourahmane Sarr, CEFDEL president. “As a result, the country has remained an aid-dependent subsistence economy, with significant central government development planning to achieve social progress. In this context, CEFDEL has been created to advocate for greater decentralization around major cities, reduced central government intervention, a more flexible exchange rate regime, and innovative approaches to achieving financial inclusion for the urban unbanked.”

A man poses for a photo in Senegal.

Dr. Sarr launched CEFDEL in 2010, and brings to the organization a wide array of experience in academia and international development, with degrees from George Washington University, Harvard, and HEC-Montreal. During his 14 years at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Dr. Sarr held positions in the African Department as a resident representative in Togo and Benin, and in the Monetary and Capital Markets Department where he led missions in monetary issues, the financial sector, debt strategy, and sovereign asset liability management. He has also served as a senior economist in the IMF’s Middle East and Central Asia Department, and as a macroeconomic adviser to the Central Bank of West African States. He has authored various studies on money, banking, and financial sector issues.

“While an official at the IMF, I developed ideas and solutions about this latter concern [urban people who are unbanked] and I created CEFDEL to implement those solutions,” Dr. Sarr said. “In addition to commissioning independent reports on the economic situation of the country and publishing related op-eds in the press, CEFDEL’s key focus has been to set up a social enterprise and a social movement to achieve its objectives.”

CEFDEL’s social enterprise provides money transfer services to people who don’t use banks, in order “to reinvest earnings in their communities — and to help them establish a community development fund that would facilitate their access to credit if they purchase and use a member-accepted electronic or paper means of exchange.”

The organization’s social movement is designed to help people support that social enterprise, and “participate in its governance and to demand greater autonomy, responsibility, and participatory governance in local communities.”

A panel meets in Senegal.
Training session with the Saint-Louis CEFDEL team

CEFDEL has already seen great success with its social movement, but the actual enterprise is facing pushback from the government.

“The social movement has been able to organize citizens’ days in major cities to evaluate the actions of mayors and highlight citizens’ demands, but the social enterprise, ready for launch, has been blocked by the government that claims that current laws and regulations do not allow the issuance of complementary and virtual currencies,” Dr. Sarr said. “CEFDEL disagrees with this decision and is helping the social movement organize to participate in upcoming parliamentary elections to elect members of parliament who support its ideas and solutions.”