He didn’t go to private schools abroad – he’s one of us; Senegalese Fishermen Hopeful in President Faye`s Leadership

Dakar, Senegal – Amidst the luxurious villas dotting the coastline of Dakar, the capital of Senegal, the traditional fishermen of Ouakam Beach are confronted daily with the stark inequalities of their society. Adama Gueye, a seasoned 58-year-old canoe captain, gestures towards the lavish homes of the upper-class not far from his fishing grounds, illustrating the visible divide. “We can see the inequalities with our own eyes,” Gueye tells Al Jazeera, highlighting the contrast between his life and those of the affluent.

This sense of injustice is deepened by the dwindling fish stocks in Senegal, a West African nation proud of its centuries-old artisanal fishing traditions. These traditions are now under threat from foreign industrial fishing fleets that take the fish far away from local waters.

However, hope is on the horizon with the election of Bassirou Diomaye Faye as Senegal’s new president. Faye, Africa’s youngest leader at 44, has captured the imagination of many, including the disenfranchised Senegalese fishermen who see him as a beacon of change. “He knows how much a kilogram of rice costs,” says Gueye, praising Faye’s humble beginnings and his relatability to the common man.

Under the previous administration, Senegal’s fish stocks suffered significantly due to legal fishing by industrial foreign trawlers from China and Europe, which had been authorized through government contracts. This led to a scarcity of fish, driving up local fish prices—a critical issue given that Senegalese derive approximately 40% of their animal protein from seafood.

Revamping the collapsing economy is on the top agenda for President Faye.

In 2018, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reported that the value of Senegal’s legal fish exports exceeded $490 million, representing 10% of the country’s exports. Yet, the country also loses about $272 million annually due to unauthorized and illegal industrial fishing by foreign vessels, which often employ illicit means to evade detection and use illegal nets.

With nearly 1.8% of Senegal’s GDP attributed to the fishing industry and over 600,000 jobs dependent on it, the stakes are high. The scarcity of fish not only affects livelihoods but has also driven many fishermen to migrate to other countries or undertake perilous journeys to Spain’s Canary Islands.

Faye’s presidency brings with it promises of change, including the extension of the fishing zone exclusive to artisanal fishermen and the development of a National Plan for the Immersion and Management of Artificial Reefs. These measures aim to protect marine habitats and ensure sustainable fishing practices.

Furthermore, Faye’s commitment to revising fishing agreements, particularly the controversial one with the European Union, has been met with enthusiasm by the fishing community. Fishermen like Gueye are hopeful that the new president will enforce regulations more rigorously to protect their livelihoods and the marine environment.

As Senegal stands at a crossroads, the fishing community watches eagerly, hopeful that President Faye’s policies will restore the balance and vitality of their waters. However, they remain wary, aware that political promises must be met with concrete actions to bring about real change. “If [Faye] doesn’t do the job well, he won’t last more than one term,” Gueye warns, reflecting a newfound societal awareness born from past political upheavals. The future of Senegal’s fishermen, and indeed the nation’s broader relationship with its natural resources, now hangs in the balance, awaiting the actions of its youngest leader.

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