Leading article: The other side of Africa

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The Independent Online

Voting began in Senegal's presidential elections yesterday. The former French colony is not without its problems. Unemployment is high, something that prompts tens of thousands of young Senegalese men to risk a perilous boat journey to Europe in search of a better life each year. And a low-level conflict with separatists in the southern province of Casamance has been rumbling on for two decades.

But this dry, dusty, country, blessed with few natural resources, is also remarkably stable. Senegal has never suffered a military coup, and has been hailed as a bastion of democracy in the region. Free speech flourishes, particularly in the lyrics of local rap artists. There has been strong economic growth in recent years too, proving that a country's true wealth does not derive from material resources such as oil or diamonds, but from its people. Senegal has even sent peacekeepers to other more unstable parts of the continent such as Congo and Liberia.

This is also one of the few countries in Africa that has managed to contain the Aids pandemic, keeping its infection rate down to 1 per cent. This is a result of public information campaigns and sex education in schools. It has also been accomplished by the state working with local religious leaders and musicians to spread the message. Senegal's health programme has been described as a "beacon of hope" by the United Nations.

This is a side of Africa one hears too little about: a country beset by many disadvantages, but a country making progress in spite of them all.

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