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Senegal has never had a military coup, and the opposition won last year’s presidential election. It is also a predominately Muslim nation. President Obama arrived in Senegal the evening of June 26. At a joint press conference with Senegal’s president, Macky Sall, President Obama praised the country’s democracy and the rule of law. The president also publicly affirmed his support for gay rights; Senegal’s president responded that his country is not yet ready to decriminalize homosexuality. Obama also highlighted food security at a meeting with private sector and regional agricultural leaders.
The two first ladies visited a middle school named for Martin Luther King. The Obama family made the mandatory visit to the “Door of No Return” on Goree Island, now a monument to the victims of the Atlantic slave trade. Senegal has been a good start to the president’s Africa trip from the perspective of public messaging and engagement with African elites. The stop also had a useful Francophone regional focus when the president met with regional judicial leaders.
Dakar is essentially locked down for the presidential visit. Business has all but ceased. As is often the case with presidential visits abroad, there is public resentment at the seemingly overpowering U.S. security presence, including restrictions on movement around the city. Complaints have been publicized in Dakar’s free press. They are not much different from New Yorkers’ complaints about the disruption caused each year by the opening of the UN General Assembly. In Dakar, the grousing is most common among non-elites, who face the greatest disruption in their daily lives and have little or no access to the excitement of a presidential visit. Elites, on the other hand, are minimally inconvenienced, and a few of them are actual participants in the presidential visit.