Working Paper
Personalistic Policy-Making in a Vibrant Democracy

Senegal’s Fragmented Response to the 2007/08 Food price Crisis

Since independence, Senegal has been highly reliant on international markets to meet its food needs, and this tendency has only increased with rapid levels of urbanization in recent decades. Poor domestic cereal harvests prior to 2007 exacerbated this import-dependence during a time of high global food prices, resulting in the cost of rice increasing by more than 100 per cent between January 2007 and September 2008. At various points of time during this period, the government responded by suspending customs duties and value added taxes, providing consumer subsidies and other modes of social protection, and launching a high-profile agricultural initiative. The timing, nature, and implementation of these interventions hindered their ability to more effectively tackle the crisis. This paper argues that the policies which emerged reflected the confluence of a strong, diverse civil society placing disparate pressures on a government increasingly centralized around the personality and populist impulses of the former president, Abdoulaye Wade. Consequently, many of the policies were short-term and reactionary, insufficiently targeted, and generated a high level of distrust between consumers and traders. Given that Senegal still remains vulnerable to future food price crises, learning from these policy mistakes should be a key priority for the new government of president Macky Sall.