Senegal's PM Sonko Questions Future of French Military Presence in Dakar

Ousmane Sonko.

Senegalese Prime Minister Ousmane Sonko has raised the possibility of closing French military bases in the West African country in a wide-ranging speech that also touched on the euro-backed CFA franc currency, oil and gas deals and LGBTQ+ rights.

The newly elected Sonko, who gained power when his hand-picked presidential candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye won a decisive victory in March, is known for criticising perceived overreach by France in its former colony.

France has about 350 troops stationed in Senegal.

"More than 60 years after our independence ... we must question the reasons why the French army still benefits from several military bases in our country and the impact of this presence on our national sovereignty and strategic autonomy," Sonko said.

He was speaking at an event at Dakar University on Thursday night alongside French hard-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, who is visiting the country.

Sonko said Senegal's desire for autonomy over its security was incompatible with the lasting presence of foreign military bases.

While many countries had promised defence deals, this does not justify the fact that a third of the Dakar region was occupied by foreign garrisons, he added.

📌🚨Le Président de Pastef les patriotes Ousmane SONKO réaffirme son soutien à ses frères du Sahel.👊🇸🇳 Kilifeuu Guii (@AldianaSafara) May 16, 2024

Sahel 'brothers'

Neighbours Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger have pushed out French troops and turned to Russia for help in fighting jihadist insurgencies on their territory.

They have also turned away from the West African bloc Ecowas, which condemned their coups, and formed their own alliance of Sahel states.

But Sonko had friendly words for them on Thursday.

"We will not let go of our brothers in the Sahel and we will do everything necessary to strengthen the ties," he said.

Senegal, which shares the euro-pegged CFA franc currency with seven countries, would like a flexible currency pegged to at least two currencies to help absorb shocks and support export competitiveness, he added.

Sonko reiterated promises to renegotiate oil and gas contracts in Senegal, where production is due to begin this year.

'Restraint' on LGBTQ+ rights

He called on Western countries to show "restraint, respect, reciprocity and tolerance" on social matters including LGBTQ+ rights and gender equality.

Homosexuality had always existed in Senegal, he said, but the country had "managed" it and would continue to do so according to its socio-cultural realities.

"Senegal and many other African countries cannot accept any truth in legalising this phenomenon."

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