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Thursday, 29 August, 2002, 10:20 GMT 11:20 UK
Senegal misled donors over famine
President Wade and Senegal's football team
President Wade's popularity was high after World Cup
President Abdoulaye Wade has sacked his communications adviser and apologised to donors over an unnecessary appeal for food aid.

The Senegalese leader says his government was misled into believing that five million risked starvation as a result of drought in important agricultural areas.


The president clearly felt that his spin doctors had been sleeping on the job

Chris Simpson, BBC Dakar

The reports of looming famine had led to the appeal to international donors for $23 million and to the setting up of an government emergency relief unit.

But following his visit to the affected regions, the president issued the apology and a rebuttal of reports that agricultural problems and poor rains had led to the threat of hunger.

Spin out of control

Over the past few weeks, Senegal's agricultural problems and the danger of hunger have topped the national agenda.

Senegalese peanut farmers
Senegalese farmers suffered from poor rains

After visiting northern and central areas of the country, which were said to have been worst affected by the drought, President Wade said that "strictly speaking, there is no famine in Senegal", according to the Reuters news agency.

He said that a misleading campaign had led to the appeal and that he had sacked his communications adviser, Cherif Elvalide Seye, and the head of national television and radio, Mactar Silla.

The president said that the Senegalese media had put out misleading reports about the food situation.

The BBC's Chris Simpson in Dakar says that the sackings were because "the president clearly felt that his spin doctors had been sleeping on the job".

Row over peanuts

Agriculture, particularly groundnut (peanut) farming, is crucial to Senegal's economy, employing more than 60% of the population.

But Mr Wade, normally a confident political operator, has faced accusations of presiding over an agricultural catastrophe following the attempts to reorganise the peanut industry.

Peanut harvest
Peanuts are at the heart of Senegalese farming

His government says it wants to improve conditions for peanut farmers and make Senegalese agriculture more productive.

But the government's critics say Mr Wade has been slow to respond to a growing rural crisis and that his proposed reforms are ill-thought out and poorly communicated.

The row over agriculture has replaced the national excitement and boost for the president's popularity resulting from Senegal's strong performance in June's football World Cup.

Peanut farmers have been among the government's sternest critics, complaining of being unable to profit from last year's bumper harvest because they could not sell their produce.

Senegalese Agriculture Minister Pape Diouf says the government has increased spending on agriculture dramatically over the past two years.

The BBC's Chris Simpson says there have been allegations that changes in marketing and distribution mechanisms have not been explained properly and that rogue traders have been the main beneficiaries of the government's reforms.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Chris Simpson on Network Africa
"The Senegalese press, which thrives on shakeups and falls from grace, will doubtless go to town on both dismissals."
See also:

10 Jul 02 | Country profiles
20 Aug 02 | Business
24 May 02 | Africa
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