Real World Politics

Real World Politics

As mayor of the tiny city of Goudomp, Senegal—a post to which he was elected in 2009—61-year-old Abdoulaye Sadio, MS '88, Ph.D. '91, contends with issues that are familiar to many elected officials: education, health, housing, energy, water, sanitation.

But he also deals with problems that few mayors in the developed world have to confront: high rates of maternal mortality, malnutrition, and illiteracy; a high unemployment rate during Senegal's dry season; and a 30-year rebellion that has stifled socioeconomic development in the region.

"We are solving problems at the grass roots," says the amiable Sadio, who notes that his public health training at Michigan has informed his daily work by teaching him how to use data to plan for the future. Knowing, for example, that the population of Goudomp is 20,000, "we can anticipate the number of babies and marriages and school-age kids in the region, and we can anticipate some of the resources we'll need for school and health," he says. "We can also look for outside funding sources."

What does he like least about being mayor? "People lying to you just to get something from you. This is a poor country, and sometimes people just want to have something from you—a position or money or some advantage."

And best? "Putting knowledge into practice. The challenges are sometimes happy—when, for example, we had our water system completely broken down, and Unicef came and helped us replace it. Giving water to 20,000 people is very rewarding."

Because Goudomp is a poor city, with not nearly enough health facilities, schools, teachers, books, or computers, the challenges of his office can be exhausting, and Sadio isn't sure he'll run for re-election when his term expires in 2014. But he's happy to have served the city where he was born and where his family still lives. He is especially proud of his efforts to foster peace in Goudomp by promoting forgiveness and reconciliation among the city's various ethnic groups. "Without peace," he insists quietly, "there is no development."