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African Leadership in Times of Coronavirus: Senegal sets an example

· Leadership

The coronavirus pandemic has put the spotlight on the importance of public leadership in a crisis context. It is bringing out the best and the worst of leadership around the world. Senegal, as are many other African countries, is setting an example of agile and courageous leadership.

The President’s behavior and actions

With the backing of its citizens, President Macky Sall took audacious measures from the onset of the epidemic in Senegal, even before a pandemic was declared.

  • He rallied his administration, his political opponents and religious leaders to “battle”.
  • He looked to learn best practices from other nations already suffering a steep increase in cases.
  • He exhorted all other African leaders to join him in making a concerted effort by following recommendations from the World Health Organization.
  • He took decisive measures quickly to isolate and treat the first victims of infection, to inform the public about the virus and to establish early and strict safety measures while introducing palliative measures.
  • He established Force Covid 19, a solidarity fund, with 1 billion Fcfa ($1.67M) to help the economy and guarantee the country’s supply of pharmaceutical products and food.
  • He is aware that confinement is an even greater burden for those who earn their living in the informal economy and has ordered the preparation of packages of soap, rice, oil, and milk (powdered) and the logistics necessary to deliver them in order to prevent people from leaving their homes to search for food.

There has been some criticism of the government’s actions, especially with regards to not so clear communication about the imposition of stay-at-home and curfew orders. Young people (approximately 60% of the population) have never experienced restriction of movement or curfew and don’t understand what they are and what they mean. This has led to incidents of defiance and consequent abusive use of force by law enforcement.

Yes, as elsewhere, there have even been isolated incidents of police brutality; they were immediately sanctioned, and the national police chief publicly expressed his apologies. It’s a problem that all nations around the world are grappling with as police forces test how far to go in punishing ordinary behavior. In Senegal, the president has made clear what is banned, and citizens help ensure enforcement is lawful. Excessive use of force is clearly identifiable, immediately reported and subsequently sanctioned. This is not the case in many other countries whose national leaders have yet to clearly communicate what is banned and how policing should work.

The public’s reaction and actions


Senegal’s leadership swiftly set direction and pace while unlocking people’s potential. Despite the grumbling of some and claims that government imposition of strict measures to prevent the contagion’s spread will create social fracture, overall general public trust in the government and the strong sense of community responsibility and collaboration are making evident that the social logic underlying the nation’s economy of affection is saving lives.


Average citizens, big and small businesses, and informal and formal institutions are all suffering the strict restrictions imposed but they’re also energetically tapping into their reservoir of unrealized potential to achieve all they’re capable of. Here’s are just a few of the initiatives being developed in Senegal.

  • The Institut Pasteur in Dakar is working on a coronavirus vaccine, in addition to developing a rapid testing kit. The Institute is the only vaccine producer in Africa that is pre-qualified by the World Health Organization (WHO). The Institut, in partnership with the UK company Mologic Ltd, is also developing a 10-minute testing kit that will be manufactured in Senegal and the UK and put on the market as early as June at a cost of $1.
  • Mr. Talla Sylla, the Mayor of the city of Thiès, located 70 miles from the capital Dakar, broadcasts a daily interactive radio program from, Monday to Thursday from 11am – 12pm, to raise public awareness.
The Mayor of Thies emitting his daily radio program

The 10th District of the city of Thiès has set an example of how to activate an economy of affection by deploying PANHACEA. This is an initiative that provides a working model for how to proactively inspire leadership at community level and establish an effective working partnership between formal and informal institutions to motivate individual agency in benefit of the common good.

  • A microenterprise, headed by Mr. Demba Diop, has developed a machine that can print protection masks in 3D.
Ditech, Senegal
  • A young software developer, Mr. Ousmane William Kebe, has just launched an educational video game called Car Rapide Senegal (fast-bus Senegal). The game takes place in Dakr, the capital, where people are confined at home to avoid spreading a contagious illness. The player has to help the Car Rapide, with automatic gear shifting, find the health care mobile units put in place by the authorities to help eradicate the illness from the city and the entire country once and for all. The objective is to park the Car Rapide in the right spot. It can be downloaded from Playstore.
Car Rapide educational video game
  • Young students in the Malika suburb of Dakar, the capital, are making protective masks.
Students in Malika suburb of Dakar make protective masks
  • A team of four researchers – Drs. Ibrahima Gueye, Ahmed Mouhamadou Wade and Ousmane Seydi from the Polytechnic University of Thiès, and Dr. Mamadou Lamine Diagne from the University of Thiès, have developed an emergency ventilator prototype, with single and multiple use capacity, that can be produced cheaply and quickly. At a cost of 40,000 Fcfa ($67 USD) per unit and a production of several dozen per day, this product, although for emergency purposes only and subject to official validation, can help equip intensive care units in hospitals
  • The TV channel TFM has launched “The Teachers’ Room”. It provides daily lessons to prevent children, who face weeks or longer out of school, from falling behind with their studies and to educate them about the virus. The program also provides a template for other countries in the region, where many households do not have ready access to the internet, but where television ownership, although not universal, is widespread.
  • A group of medical students at Cheikh Anta University of Dakar are producing a hand sanitizer for the Ministry of Health and Social Action and for the Daaras (traditional Quranic schools). Students at the Advanced Polytechnic School of Dakar has also developed a hand sanitizer.
Medical students at Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar make hand sanitizer
  • The singer and composer Salla Dièye and her husband Ousmane Ndong, known as Sisalisto et Thioukel, like many other performers in the country and around the world, voluntarily reinforce public announcement efforts to inform about coronavirus preventive measures. They have posted an educational video. They have also just released a single about how to overcome coronavirus with hygiene, social distancing, elbow sneezing, the use of face masks, and limiting movement to what is strictly necessary.
  • Senegal’s graffiti artists have joined the fight against COVID-19 by painting murals around the capital, Dakar, showing people washing their hands with soap and water and sneezing into their elbows.
Senegalese graffiti artists in Dakar
  • The Ministry of Health and Social Action published near-daily communiqués on the evolving informing the press and the public of not just the number of people infected and the number of deaths, but ALSO the general state of health of people hospitalized and the number of people infected that have recovered. This is important to allay the spread of generalized fear and reduce anxiety. Although the country is now experiencing an upward curve of infections, as are most countries around the world, the number of patients that are recovering is also rising, at a rate of 28.2%. Of a total 195 patients, 55 recovered.

A strategic democratic style of leadership


Senegal is demonstrating what strategic democratic leadership looks like in action. The most unique feature of this style of leadership is that communication is active upward, downward and horizontally and entails the following: concerted fairness, competence, creativity, courage, intelligence and honesty.

  • Strategically, it fills the gap between the need for new possibility and the need for practicality by providing a prescriptive set of habits. At its core it’s about working with the hearts and minds of all those involved and recognizing that teamwork requires trusting cooperative relationships.
  • Democratically, it is centered on the contributions of subordinates and involves them in making decisions. A democratic leader holds final responsibility, but he/she delegates authority to other people, who determine work projects.
  • From a team perspective, it involves the creation of a vivid picture of a team’s future, in this case the nation’s, about where it is heading and what it will stand for. The vision inspires and provides a strong sense of purpose and direction.

It takes a strategic democratic style of national leadership with vision, the courage to make tough and some unpopular decisions, a touch of coaching, and a big dose of empathy to keep a country steady and steer it through to the other side of the tunnel in the face of a storm as dark as the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Astrid Ruiz Thierry, Principal, Upboost LLC

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