The Minister of Earth and Sky

Does the arrest of Karim Wade, the former president's son, mean “the time when one could pillage public goods is over” in Senegal?

Karim Wade (Credit: Wiki Commons).

Karim Wade, the son of octogenarian ex-president Abdoulaye Wade, has been sitting in a central Dakar prison for nearly a month as he awaits trial for corruption charges. The younger Wade was arrested and formally charged with illicit enrichment after an investigation revealed that he amassed $1.4 billion in personal wealth.

During his father’s presidency from 2000-2012, Karim Wade held a number of posts including Minister of Infrastructure, International Cooperation, Energy and Air Transportation. As “the Minister of Earth and Sky” as he was popularly known, he was reportedly responsible for a total budget of one-third of state expenditure via Senegal’s largest infrastructure projects. Prosecutors have accused Karim of having stakes in large sectors of the economy including firms managing Dakar’s port and airports. The investigation also links Wade to a complex web of off-shore accounts located in Panama, the British Virgin Islands and Luxemburg. Wade’s lawyers have denied the charges against him and claim they can prove his wealth was legally obtained.

Interviews with people on the ground indicate that the majority of the population believes this is a good move for new president Macky Sall who pledged to crackdown on corruption and increase transparency. For a small number of people, however, the arrest represents a political “witch hunt” against former ruling Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS) on the part of the current government. Does Wade’s arrest mean that “the age of impunity is over” and “the time when one could pillage public goods is over“? Where should public officials accused of fraud and corruption be brought to trial, at the International Criminal Court (ICC), regional bodies such as Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) or neighboring countries? These are questions Senegalese have to figure out.

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