Senegal's Wade: loved by dad, disliked by people

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Dakar (AFP) - "Karim is one of the best financiers in Africa," former Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade Wade used to proudly say of his son, former minister Karim Wade, who was jailed Monday for graft.

But while enjoying the favour of his father 46-year-old Wade has struggled to win the hearts of his countrymen, who see the longtime expat as a stranger to Senegalese culture.

Wade, who aims to follow in his father's footsteps all the way to the top office, got his start in politics during Abdoulaye Wade's rule.

During his 2000-2012 presidency, the elder Wade contrived to hand his son increasingly important government jobs, eventually making him a "super minister" responsible for several key portfolios in 2009.

During that time the high-flying minister amassed vast personal riches that came under the spotlight after his father was voted out of power.

In April 2013, he was taken into custody on an order from the nation's anti-corruption court requiring him to explain how he had come by assets alleged at the time to be worth over 1 billion euros.

Denied bail, Wade was kept in custody in Dakar for nearly two years before being convicted Monday on whittled-down charges of illegally acquiring companies and real estate worth 178 million euros ($193 million).

He was sentenced to six years in prison for "illicit enrichment" and fined the equivalent of more than 210 million euros.

- 'Minister of heaven and earth' -

Before his father's election defeat to Macky Sall in 2012, Wade held the international cooperation, air transport, infrastructure and energy portfolios, earning him the nickname "minister of heaven and earth."

The flamboyant former businessmen 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 that would serve him well later in his career.

Wade was still travelling back and forth between London and Dakar when his father was elected president in 2000, but returned permanently two years later to become his father's special advisor.

He was handed responsibility for several large projects, such as the construction of a new international airport in Dakar and restructuring of the chemical industry.

Wade was also appointed head of the National Agency for the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (ANOCI), which organised the 11th Islamic Summit in Dakar in 2008.

- Election drubbing -

Preparations for the summit of 57 countries changed the face of Dakar.

New roads and luxury hotels sprang up across the city, but critics complained that ANOCI, which handed lucrative contracts to Gulf countries, lacked transparency.

The conference was nevertheless a success.

With his heir apparent now enjoying international standing, the president made no secret of his hope to see his son succeed him as head of state.

Karim 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 candidacy was a spectacular failure, with Wade failing to even muster a win in his local polling station.

Despite their physical resemblance, the 1.90-metre (six foot three inch) mixed-race Karim, who has a French mother, lacks the charisma of his father.

Disparaged for his long years in Europe, he is seen by many voters as more "toubab" -- the west African word for white Europeans -- than Senegalese.

His penchant for wearing traditional Senegalese outfits instead of suits never washed with his countrymen, who noted his failure to master the country's main language, Wolof.

Despite his son's unpopularity Abdoulaye Wade attempted in 2010 to pass a bill creating the role of vice-president -- an apparent avenue for his son to 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.