Karim Wade has spoken. The son and former minister of former Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, who for eight years has only expressed himself through statements transmitted to the media or published on social networks, came out of his reserve for the New Year. “My exile is coming to an end,” declared, in a filmed speech, the candidate of the Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS) in the February presidential election.

Sentenced in 2015 to six years in prison and a fine of 138 billion CFA francs (209 million euros) for illicit enrichment before being pardoned, Karim Wade has not set foot on Senegalese soil since his departure, “forced » in his words, for Qatar in June 2016. In his thirteen-minute speech resembling a presidential address, he did not specify the date of his return. But two months before the election, the PDS is regaining hope. A fervor which is reminiscent of the enthusiasm which reigned in its ranks between 2000 and 2012, under the presidency of Abdoulaye Wade.

The party has renewed its efforts, and meetings are continuing to prepare for the presidential election and the inauguration of its candidate. Karim Wade had already run for the 2019 presidential election before being rejected by the Constitutional Council for ineligibility due to his conviction by the Court for the repression of illicit enrichment. But he can look forward to the 2024 election more calmly. An electoral reform, adopted following the national dialogue convened in June by President Macky Sall, allows him to compete.

A rise punctuated by accusations of favoritism

Because, although he has remained withdrawn from political debates since his exile, the former “minister of sky and earth”, as his detractors nicknamed him, in reference to his numerous portfolios (international cooperation, air transport, infrastructure and energy), has not only devoted himself to his financial activities in Doha, where those close to him say he is in great demand. Far from Dakar but in constant contact with his supporters, he has continued to increase his influence over his political party.

However, few party barons would have bet on this young banker described as “self-effacing”, “committed without being militant”, returned from London thanks to his father’s accession to power and “distributor of bags of money” to local political leaders during the various electoral campaigns.

Even Abdoulaye Wade had doubts. “You risk ending up making me believe the opposite, but Karim is not capable of politics,” he confided during a restricted meeting at the presidential palace. A premonitory statement: a few months later, Karim Wade, present on the PDS municipal lists for the city of Dakar in 2009, was beaten even in his polling station. His first and last electoral experience.

“Rigorous” and “very organized” according to his former collaborators, but inexperienced, the politician has become more seasoned over the years. From a simple sympathizer, he rose to first deputy national secretary general of the party responsible for organization, mobilization and the development of political strategies in 2019. A rise punctuated by accusations of favoritism. “We should have recognized the value of people through merit and not through cronyism and proximity to the top,” criticizes a former executive who resigned from the PDS.

Like the latter, several other early leaders have left, pointing the finger at the management of Karim Wade and especially the rise in rank of the members of his former political movement, the “Generation of Concrete”, created in 2006 on the flanks of the PDS. “Many gave him powers that he did not have when it was just a movement that Karim had sponsored to attract all those who were on the periphery of the party,” explains Lamine Ba, one of the pioneers of the “Generation concrete”, today president of the Federation of PDS executives.

Generation conflict

But, in Abdoulaye Wade’s entourage, many were wary. “This is a real threat to the party and its cohesion,” warned Moustapha Diakhaté in 2008, a former PDS member now joined by the presidential majority and among the first leaders to openly call for the dissolution of this support movement. “Karim managed to dewadize the Senegalese Democratic Party with his Karimist supporters,” adds, very critically, Babacar Gaye, former minister and chief of staff of Abdoulaye Wade. “I don’t see anyone from the “Generation of Concrete” who had any privilege in the party,” retorts Lamine Ba.

Despite everything, Karim Wade seems to have taken stock of the accumulated frustrations. He is counting on the union of former comrades still committed to his father’s cause to win the 2024 election. With those close to him, he has drawn up a long list of executives to bring back to the fold. Several leaders from the golden age of the PDS responded positively to this request for reconciliation, like Sada Ndiaye, former deputy and minister. “It was he himself who called but he first sent emissaries, one to represent him and the other for his father,” he explains.

Abdoulaye Wade is still, at 97, the party’s secretary general. “The president remains the inspiration, the orderer and the supreme master [of the PDS], but he is old, we no longer expose him,” summarizes Mamadou Lamine Thiam, director of the party and president of the PDS coalition at the ‘National Assembly. A political heritage that his son no longer hesitates to claim. “It’s one of the best assets of being the son of Abdoulaye Wade,” believes Mamadou Lamine Thiam. If we have the possibility of capturing the sympathy and aura of Wade to help the PDS win, it is really legitimate. »