By Charles Senghor
Senegalese president Macky Sall has announced a grant of five billion CFA francs (7.6 million euros) to assist Catholic Church projects. However, the timing of the offer in the midst of an election campaign has turned it into a source of division.
President Sall announced the gift last week at a meeting with an association of Senegalese leaders, entrepreneurs and Catholic executives of Senegal (ADECCS).
He specified that the money is to be used to work on the “renovation and rehabilitation” of Senegal’s religious homes and sites.
“I have decided to grant up to 3.4 billion CFA francs for the restoration of Christian buildings,” President Sall said. “Similarly, each of the seven dioceses will receive a grant of 250 million francs (380,000 euros).”
The combined grants total five billion CFA francs or 7.6 million euros, a sum that should please the Church, which has several expensive projects under way.
A new Marian sanctuary at Popenguine is expected to cost two billion CFA francs (300,000 euros) while the budget for the massive new church of St Paul de Grand Yoff is expected to total several billion CFA francs or several million euros.
However, the timing of the announcement just weeks before parliamentary elections scheduled for July 30, 2017, has drawn a variety of responses among the faithful.
“I applaud this gesture which has come at the right time,” comments Patrice Sané from Kolda in southern Senegal.
“Every Catholic understands those religious buildings are constructed with contributions from the faithful, as well as support from the clergy and other benefactors.”
“If the president decides to pay for diocesan projects, it is an excellent move,” says Sané, who considers that the most important issue will be the fulfillment of the promises in the shortest possible time.
Dr Ange Diatta agrees that the grant is a “very good thing”, but that more is necessary given the Church’s numerous needs.
“Macky Sall has decided to help all religions,” Dr Diatta notes. “So it is only natural that the Church is also assisted.”
“I even think he should give more because aside from religious sites, the Church also takes care of schools and provides healthcare, which are sectors that need support,” says Dr Diatta, who is a medical practitioner in the region of Sédhiou, Casamance.
On the other hand, although he welcomes the president’s gesture, Gustave Sarr of the Ziguinchor diocese is more critical.
“Waiting until the eve of elections to announce this grant, even though he has been here for five years, makes things difficult,” Sarr says.
Jean Elie Bassène, who is from the same region, is also unhappy.
“We need to be critical of the role of certain young officials, who are close to the president, and who appear to be involved in this decision in the election campaign period.”