Senegal president praises Guard partnerships
September 22, 2010
BURLINGTON, Vt. -- The National Guard State Partnership Program is increasing understanding between African countries and the United States, the president of Senegal said here Sept. 19.
"Each country can learn something from another," President Abdoulaye Wade said in an interview here at the end of a two-day visit to Vermont. "The National Guard ... will know better Africa, because to know a country is to know the people. You should have contact with the people.
"We have invited the National Guard to Senegal. At any time, they would be welcome."
The West African country is paired with Vermont in the almost 20-year-old, 62-nation National Guard State Partnership Program.
The SPP initially focused primarily on former Soviet Bloc countries after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It has expanded into Africa with the establishment of U.S. Africa Command and Defense Department emphasis on building partnership capacity.
Wade's visit here en route to the United Nations in New York included cultural visits and meetings with Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas; Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael Dubie, the adjutant general of the Vermont National Guard, and other elected and appointed state and local leaders, business executives and private citizens.
It was Wade's second visit to the United States and his first to his nation's partner state.
"I did not know where was Vermont," Wade said, speaking in English, a second language after his native French, the official language stemming from 19th century French colonization. Senegal gained independence in 1960.
"I am very, very happy to be here," Wade said. "I regret only to have not been here before. ... Now I think that beyond the [official partnership], we have an opportunity to establish relations between the Vermont private sector and Senegalese private sector."
The SPP has enriched Wade's understanding of the United States, he said.
"Generally, ... we talk only to the federal people," he said. "I had the opportunity to meet the governor. ... I met also the mayor [of Burlington] and the [state legislative] representatives.
"From this ... I note that the officials of Vermont are very interested in knowing more about Senegal and to establish very good cooperation."
The warmth of Vermont Guardmembers and residents, the green landscape and the prosperity of the about 208,000-resident Burlington-South Burlington Metropolitan Statistical Area were all striking to Wade, who quizzed civic leaders about the state's economic model.
"I was wondering how [this] number of people ... could create this city which has the same level of development as the great cities of the states," Wade said.
Leaders explained the contribution of business, services and tourism to Vermont's quality of life, Wade said.
"I'm sure that coming back to my country I'll take benefits from this short experience," he said.
Ambassadors have said that one of the benefits of the SPP - one program among combatant command and State Department tools - is that it establishes long-term relationships at the more personal state level, giving partner nations a better understanding of the United States.
An individual state with one or two partnerships can develop closer relations than at the federal level, where government must juggle contacts with 193 sovereign states and additional states with de facto or emerging sovereignty.
Vermont's relationship with Senegal started as a purely military-to-military partnership that Wade characterized as very strong and based on mutual cooperation.
Until the partnership, the president was unaware of the National Guard.
"This was for me a surprise," he said. "I did not know that the governor had the National Guard."
"I was very impressed by the people. ... I was impressed by the presence of women in this army, and the size of [the Guard's] ... military capacity. Senegal's army will really benefit from cooperation with the [Vermont] National Guard."
Since it's pairing with Vermont, the Senegalese military has introduced females into the noncommissioned officer ranks and also increased the profile of NCOs, for example by including NCOs in leadership meetings they previously were not invited to attend.
The Vermont National Guard has contributed training and experience to Senegal's army, Wade said.
Among the president's goals, which he said the SPP can help:
"First of all, the strengthening of the cooperation with our army," he said.
"We need many things. We need arms, we need trucks ... we need training of our soldiers. We need also cooperation between the two armies for military exercises."
Wade expressed interest in sending members of the Senegalese armed forces to U.S. military schools and in pilot training.
The president wants to improve the education of all Senegal residents.
"Education is the most important thing we have to do," he said. "It's the basis of development. Senegal is the one country in the world that spends 40 percent of its budget on education. ... This is to win long-term development."
The level of education spending might not be sustainable because of the need to invest in health and other sectors, he said.
The president said he is interested in exchanges between Vermont professors and students and their Senegalese counterparts, academic research and medical assistance and education.
"I believe in research," he said, especially related to agriculture, industry and production.
Wade wants to establish stronger relations between Senegal's emerging private sector and the United States and increase Senegalese exports and U.S. business investment.
The president talked with Vermont leaders about the African Growth Opportunity Act, a decade-old U.S. initiative that offers tangible incentives to African countries to continue opening their economies and building free markets.
Although Senegal is included, "We have not exported to the United States because of the state of our economy do not allow us," Wade said. "We have not the capacity. ... I call Americans ... to come to Senegal, to invest in Senegal, to benefit from the [AGOA] advantages given by their own government."
Wade invited Vermont business leaders to visit. Senegal, whose president called the nation "the jewel of Africa," is geographically the closest African country to the United States, a seven-hour flight to the capital city of Dakar.
Unlike many African nations, Senegal has a convertible currency pegged to the Euro, Wade said. It is a member of the 15-nation, 300-million population Economic Community of West African States.
Senegal, a 94-percent Muslim nation, is one of the most stable democracies in Africa, according to the CIA World Factbook.