World mayors concerned about jailing of Dakar Mayor Khalifa Sall

Dakar Mayor Khalifa Sall. (Maxppp /Landov)

PARIS – Dakar Mayor Khalifa Sall, a prominent African leader on the international urban scene, was arrested this week and charged with embezzling US$2.9 million in public funds.

Sall is a potential contender in the 2019 Senegalese presidential elections against incumbent president Macky Sall (no relation). Many mayors across Africa and the world, as well as prominent civil-society voices within Senegal, believe the charges are politically motivated.

On Tuesday, a judge investigating the missing funds charged Sall with fraud, criminal conspiracy and money laundering. The mayor was arrested that night and placed in detention. Under Senegalese law, he will remain in jail until he faces trial.

This incident is not the first time the two Salls have clashed. In 2015, President Sall blocked an effort by Mayor Sall to bring Dakar’s first municipal bond to market. As reported by Citiscope, at the 11th hour, the national government refused to allow the bond issuance to go forward. 

[See: How Dakar (almost) got its first municipal bond to market]

This week’s arrest raised concern among city leaders around the world. Sall is a prominent member of several international city networks. He serves as the Secretary-General of the International Association of Francophone Mayors (AIMF in French) and President of the Africa chapter of United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG). Dakar is also a member of global cities networks such as Metropolis, the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and 100 Resilient Cities.

AIMF President Anne Hidalgo of Paris, UCLG President Parks Tau of Johannesburg and Metropolis President Denis Coderre of Montréal released a joint statement calling the arrest a “worrisome situation.” The organizations “call on the competent Senegalese authorities to support the rule of law as well as the fundamental principles of democracy, so dear to Senegal and to all our members.”

The Senegalese Mayors Association also weighed in, telling RFI Afrique that immediate incarceration was “too much.” The group’s president, Ngoundiane Mayor Mbaye Dione, said, “Khalifa Sall is presumed innocent. Nothing should prevent him, if the conditions are met, from being given provisional freedom. We believe that Senegalese mayors deserve immunity.”

Also speaking to RFI Afrique, Seydi Gassama of Amnesty International Sénégal said: “There is no evidence of illicit enrichment.”

This is not the first time in recent years that a prominent mayor has landed in jail amidst polarized politics between national and local governments. In February 2015, Venezuelan police smashed their way into the Caracas city hall office of Mayor Antonio Ledezma and arrested him on accusations of participating in a coup plot against President Nicolas Maduro.

The interim mayor of Caracas, Helen Fernández, has been outspoken about the situation. “I come from a country where human rights and democracy are being taken away,” she told Citiscope in October on the sidelines of the U. N.’s Habitat III summit on cities in Quito, Ecuador. Since Ledezma’s arrest, the Maduro administration has steadily stripped away the city government’s powers over Caracas, she said, leaving the municipality with responsibility only for urban design and environmental issues.

At Habitat III, Paris Deputy Mayor Patrick Klugman and Lima Deputy Mayor Jaime Salinas confronted Maduro in person on behalf of their jailed colleague. The Venezuelan president was one of three heads of state to make an appearance at the conference. Ledezma remains in prison.

Elsewhere, the Kurdish co-mayors of Diyarbakir, Turkey were arrested in October 2016 for promoting Kurdish independence and, Turkish officials claimed, being members of an armed terrorist group. Ankara considers the pro-Kurdish independence PKK, which the mayors’ political party publicly supported, a terrorist organization.

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Gregory Scruggs is a senior correspondent for Citiscope. Full bio

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