Sunday,2007-05-20: Looking Beyond the Borders – Senegal and France

Posted on 21 May 2007. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 508 |

The Mirror, Vol. 11, No. 507

The combination of public holidays and special arrangements for a staff retreat to reflect and to plan in the Open Institute, which affected also the possibility to observe and to translate materials from the Khmer press provides also an opportunity to use the weekly editorial to look to some other countries – and to take it as a challenge to compare with the Cambodian realities, always with a spirit to consider what could be learned from good and bad experiences in spite of quite different situations.

Being involved also in Internet affairs, this provides me sometimes with interesting information, and the idea: “What if also in Cambodia…?”

Senegal, a country of almost 11 million inhabitants (the Cambodian population is estimated at present to be more than 13 million) and only very slightly bigger than Cambodia, situated at the Atlantic coast of Africa, had also been under French colonial rule. French continues to be the official language of the country, used in administration and education. Though not as a result of war – different from Cambodia where the majority of expatriate Cambodians left the country as refugees – there is a large Senegalese expatriate community, not only in France, but also in the USA and in several countries of Europe. Recognizing the important role of the Senegalese expatriate community in forming the international public image of Senegal, and of contributing to the economy of the home country by transferring about US$820 million per year to their country of origin (the annual amount of the development aid negotiated at the Consultative Group of countries supporting Cambodia is in a range of US$500 million per year), the government of Senegal organized a symposium in 2001 to create an organized partnership with their expatriate nationals, listening to their concerns and problems, and looking for ways to assist them where they are, and also offering opportunities to return and to be successfully reintegrated into society. In response to this symposium, in 2003 a Ministry of Senegalese Expatriates was created, and in the current year a High Council of Senegalese Expatriates is to be set up as an independent, voluntary institution, to have an official platform where both sides can have a voice.

It is a concern of the government that at present, the transferred resources go – understandably – to about 75% into sustaining and improving the daily life of the individual family members who receive such funds, and the major part of the rest goes into buying real estate or creating commercially trading businesses. But hardly any is going into creating productive industries. The government would like to guide part of such funds towards small and medium-sized industries, especially in the agricultural sector: to the production and processing of agricultural products, to assist a wider sector of the rural population. For this, efforts are also initiated to accumulate individual resources towards sustainable, larger investment projects.

Are there any comparable data available, related to transfers of resources from the Cambodian expatriate community, transfers through official banking channels, and through unofficial methods, making resources available through other channels like in Senegal – from family business abroad to family business carried out by relatives in the home country? What channels of communication exist, for the communication between the expatriate Cambodian communities and the Cambodian public, beyond those along the lines of political parties?

= = =

Having had Commune Council elections in 2007 and moving towards the National Elections in 2008 in Cambodia, it is interesting to observe what happened after the recently held presidential elections in France. The election campaign between a conservative and a socialist candidate was a very fierce and competitive one, resulting in a much higher percentage of voter participation than at other times. Nicolas Sarkozy, the winner and a person from the right wing spectrum of politics, had promised to break some of the traditions of the past to make the French government more efficient and to strengthen the country France in the international community. It would be an “open and participatory” government. Some initial decisions point into this direction.

First, the number of ministers was cut down from 30 to 15; there are now all together only four persons with the rank of Secretary of State supporting their work. In the first meeting of the Council of Ministers the president said: “The basic message is simple: to do everything to be successful.” Seven of the 15 ministers are women. But it is not only the numbers which were a surprise, but also that such important ministries as the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Justice are headed by women. And in addition to a male Minister of General Education, there is a female Minister of Higher Education and Research. As a sign of the promised “opening to the left” a member of the Socialist Party – a person from the main opposition force – who had held different ministerial positions in the past, was entrusted with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The mother of Rachida Dati – obviously not a French name – the Minister of Justice, is an immigrant from Algeria, and her father is an immigrant from Morocco.

One newspaper commented that it is difficult to imagine that Charles de Gaulle, one of the former presidents, would have done what could be seen last Thursday, when the new president walked up the stairs into the Elysée Palace, in black shorts and with running shoes, after having done some exercises in the Palace Gardens, and carrying his laptop computer to his office. Simplicity and effectiveness. One will see what happens in the general elections in France, scheduled for mid June, in less than one month’s time.

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