Senegal 'super minister' Karim Wade loved by dad, disliked by people By STEPHANE BARBIER | Tuesday, April 16 2013 at 16:35
Cherished by his father, the former president, Karim Wade remains unpopular among ordinary people in Senegal who see him as an aloof pretender who failed to master the national language and lived too long in Europe.
"Karim is one of the best financiers in Africa," Abdoulaye Wade would often say during his 12-year presidency, contriving to hand his son increasingly more important government jobs before making him a "super minister" responsible for several key portfolios in 2009.
But police took the high flyer into custody on Monday while investigating his fortune, hours after his legal team filed a lengthy dossier in response to an order from the nation's anti-corruption court to explain how Wade had come by assets allegedly worth over $1.4 billion (1.07 billion euros).
Before his father's election defeat to Macky Sall in March last year, Wade held the international cooperation, air transport, infrastructure and energy portfolios, earning the nickname "minister of heaven and earth".
The 44-year-old moved to London in the late 1990s to take up a job as a finance expert for a major Swiss bank after obtaining an MBA and a graduate degree in financial engineering from the Sorbonne in Paris.
During his time in the City he made contacts in major international companies and several African governments, which would serve him well later in his career.
At the time when his father won the election of 2000, Wade was travelling back and forth between London and Dakar, but he returned permanently two years later to become special adviser to the president.
He was handed responsibility for several large economic projects such as the construction of a new international airport in Dakar, the restructuring of the chemical industry and the creation of a special economic zone.
In June 2004, Wade was named president of the National Agency for the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (ANOCI), whose mission was to organise the 11th Islamic Summit of 57 Muslim countries in Dakar in 2008.
Preparations for the conference would change the face of Dakar as new roads and luxury hotels sprang up across the city, but critics complained that the ANOCI, which handed lucrative contracts to Gulf countries, was not transparent enough.
The conference was nevertheless a success and, buoyed by Wade's new international standing, the president made little effort to hide his desire to see his son succeed him as head of state.
The younger Wade stood in the Dakar mayoral elections of 2009, hoping that a high-profile role in local government would be a springboard to higher office.
But his candidature was a spectacular failure and he was unable to win the popular vote even in his local polling station.
Wade's arrest in Dakar by police investigating his vast fortune is unlikely to garner him much support among the people of his homeland.
Undeniably good at business and respected in international finance circles, he remains in the eyes of the ordinary Senegalese a distant and sometimes arrogant figure who has not even made the effort to master his national language, Wolof.
Because of this, his habit of wearing traditional Senegalese outfits instead of western suits doesn't wash with his fellow countrymen.
Despite their physical resemblance, the 1.90-metre (six foot three inch) mixed-race Karim, who has a French mother, does not have the charisma or the ease of his father.
In his own country, Wade, who is accused of living too long abroad, is seen less as a Senegalese and more as a "toubab" — the west African word for white Europeans.
Despite this unpopularity Abdoulaye Wade attempted in 2010 to pass a bill creating the role of vice-president, with the eventual goal that his son would succeed him.
He reversed the decision following criticism in Senegal and international pressure.
A father of three daughters, Karim Wade lost his wife, Karine, to cancer in 2009.
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