The theft of public funds for personal enrichment by elected and autocratic leaders has been a bane of African development (Amadi & Ekekwe, 2014; Ebegbulem, 2012; Owoye & Bissessar, 2012; Gyimah-Brempong, 2002; Bayart, Ellis, & Hibou, 1999; Lawal, 2007). In 1981, Senegal introduced the offense of illicit enrichment into its penal code and created an ad hoc court to deal with such cases of corruption – the Court of Repression of Illicit Enrichment (CREI in French). The court remained dormant until 2012, but a high-profile case in 2014 against Karim Wade, a former Senegalese minister and son of and heir-apparent to former President Abdoulaye Wade, soon drew international attention – and criticism charging political motivations and lack of due process (FIDH, 2014; Reuters, 2015). The International Federation of Human Rights, the African Assembly on Human Rights, the Senegalese League of Human Rights, and the National Organization for Human Rights have claimed that the court does not guarantee a fair trial or presume a defendant’s innocence until proven guilty (Freedom House, 2015). In March 2015, the court announced its verdict in the Wade case: six years’ imprisonment and a fine of US $240 million (Ba, 2015; Reuters, 2015).
In this dispatch, we explore public perceptions of the work of Senegal’s corruption court. Based on responses in Afrobarometer’s 2014 national survey, only a slim majority of Senegalese are aware of the court’s existence. Among those who know about the CREI, most believe that its work has helped strengthen public trust in government institutions. However, many also say that court prejudice undermines its credibility and has the effect of increasing the popularity of the accused. Citizens are split as to whether the CREI’s work has slowed down international investment in Senegalese companies.