DAKAR (Reuters) - Senegal’s leader proposed the creation of a new African state to resettle Haitians left homeless by an earthquake, comparing the idea to the 1948 birth of the state of Israel.
Seizing on an outpouring of African pity for the plight of tens of thousands of Haitians still awaiting aid, President Abdoulaye Wade said their history as the descendants of slaves gave them the right to a new life on the continent.
“All we are saying is that the Haitians didn’t take themselves over there. They are there because of slavery, five centuries of slavery,” Wade told Reuters TV on Monday.
“We have to offer them the chance to come to Africa, that is my idea. They have as much right to Africa as I have,” he said of his proposal, which became public over the weekend and is now due to be submitted to the 53-nation African Union.
Wade has long profiled himself as a defender of the poor on the world stage. Critics say he has a populist streak and his schemes do not always materialise, but the 83-year-old leader brushed off the doubters.
“Israel was created like that,” he said of the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine following World War Two and the mass extermination of Europe’s Jews in Nazi death camps.
“You can’t tell me it’s not possible. It’s all possible if the Haitians seek it,” said Wade, who was speaking on the margins of a conference in the Senegalese capital Dakar.
Senegal is due to submit a resolution to the African Union urging the creation for Haitians of “their own state on African territory, the land of their ancestors”, according to the text of the resolution published in local newspapers.
Wade said Senegal and other African states should naturalise any Haitians who sought new nationality, and he urged a mass adoption programme across the continent for orphans of Tuesday’s quake, feared to have killed as many as 200,000.
The idea for a new state is reminiscent of the 19th century creation of Liberia by freed U.S. slaves. The West African country is currently recovering from a 1999 civil war and is hoping to benefit from recent oil discoveries off its coast.
Senegal has a 13 million population and straddles the arid Sahel area and the lusher region around its southern border.
While one of the more stable countries in West Africa, it suffers high unemployment and acute deficiencies in basic infrastructure including roads and electricity supply.
Yet television images of black, French-speaking Haitians in distress have touched a nerve across Francophone West and central Africa and Wade’s proposal created a stir.
“It’s a very crazy idea,” said Saliou Laye Beye, a 45-year-old construction sector worker in the working class Dakar suburb of Yoff. “Our country is already going through enormous difficulties socially and economically.”
But Serigne Abdou, a street seller of bread in the same district, welcomed the plan as feasible.
“We are all black people ... I’m convinced they could get used to our way of life here,” said Abdou.
Separately, Democratic Republic of Congo, which has just been told by the International Monetary Fund its debt levels are fiscally unsustainable, pledged $2.5 million aid at the weekend.