Postcards from YL 2: Senegal

12 Aug 2022

Katharine Macy (they/them) joined the Young Liberals Delegation to the The International Federation of Liberal Youth (IFLRY) General Assembly in Dakar, Senegal

Prague one month, Dakar the next. Unlike with Czechia, I don’t think I would have been able to point to Senegal on a map before my trip and I definitely would not have known the capital. I was lucky enough to go to Africa before, Kenya specifically, but Africa is a large and diverse continent and I was excited to go to West Africa.

There aren’t many direct flights so we had a layover in Madrid or Lisbon, and that’s where things went wrong - for me, anyway. The flight from Heathrow was delayed and we landed in Madrid half an hour before the flight to Senegal was due to leave but the process meant we missed the flight. I had planned to meet Chloe in Madrid and land in Senegal together. I was now on my own.

Considering everything, it went okay. I ended up going via Casablanca and the two others who missed the connection were seasoned travellers who looked after me during our new connections and helped me find a hotel when we landed.

I finally got to sleep at 3:30 Senegalese time, having left where I was staying in London just before 9am, it was 4:30am in the UK. The twenty hours of travelling meant I slept very well.

I woke up to a palm tree in my window I hadn’t noticed in the dark and ate breakfast looking over the Atlantic Ocean, then I found a taxi to go to the conference venue. It was hot, muggy and I was desperately spraying anti mosquito stuff all over me, but I had made it. The rest of the delegation slowly trickled in and by the evening we were all together.

There were familiar faces from Prague but also new faces due to both different delegations and the international aspect. I ate dinner with Dutch, Finnish, Ghanaian and South African delegates on the first night. We had been warned in the pre-conference opening speeches that we were now on “African time” and learnt throughout the weekend this both to be the case and the importance of ceremony in Senegal. No matter, the company was always good and the food arrived eventually (except for one time it had already gone!).

After dinner, we had cultural evening. This is where delegates bring something from their country to share - often in the form of alcohol or sweets. Kai had a checked bag so he brought Pimms at Peter’s request and tea at mine, though it wasn’t Yorkshire tea and I must admit I’ll never forgive him. Chloe had brought Welsh cakes too. We had a wonderful evening essentially taking shots and tasting sweets and dancing. I went to bed a bit sooner as the old person I am, walking home with some of the Dutch delegates.

The next morning we had been asked to arrive by 7:30am. Incredibly early to be presentable by any state of imagination, in my humble opinion. The president of Senegal was arriving at 10:30(ish) and we tried to get through some business before the waiting and preparing for the photos and speeches. Luckily, we were provided with translation as most of the speeches were in French. The seats around us built up with predominantly the youth wing and it was clear they were passionate about their president. The speeches were interesting and somehow finished early, giving us an hour or so to relax - or nap, in my case.

The afternoon we were taken on a “study trip” to Gorée island. We tipped into three coaches that were not obviously air conditioned until we stepped out into the sun. The boat trip took maybe half an hour, and we were quickly taken on the tour and shown where slaves were kept before a trip across the Atlantic Ocean. I don’t consider myself naïve or ignorant on what went on, and I’ve often been to historic buildings where they show prisons or punishment holes, but there was something about this which hit incredibly closely. The rooms were tiny and dark, and we half joked that one may deliberately misbehave to be thrown into the hole under the stairs solitary confinement just for a chance to feel something other than other humans against you.

We left the slave house reasonably sobered up and thinking heavily, but were shown around the rest of the beautiful island and jollity soon returned. We were shown sand art, given plenty of opportunities to purchase souvenir nik naks (ask Peter about that one) and then had a pleasant wait on the beach for our boat back to the mainland.

Dinner that night was possibly my favourite evening - although I’m swayed by my company, a lovely South African woman who had come to provide training in the African-only section at the start of the congress, who discussed all sorts of deep topics with me. We also heard from Bobi Wine, who talked to us about Uganda and the struggles he was taking up, but also sang to us as he’s a musician.

Once again when I got back to the hotel I was exhausted, though we had an hour or so of extra socialising before heading to bed for a slightly later wake up at least.

The next day was the business day - we predominantly discussed membership applications which Peter’s report can update you on, and due to the length, I was left in charge of the policy which overlapped unplanned. Kai and I sat through and I was incredibly pleased our motion on Decolonisation passed with a positive recommendation unanimously.

That evening we had a celebration dinner - 75 years of IFRLY. We had promised each other as a delegation to dress up and we definitely all brought our A game. Never let it be said the British don’t know how to do fancy - as was joked about by a few of our colleagues who had turned up in T-shirts. The dinner was followed by a wonderful auction in support of Ukraine, with several thousand euros being raised and an option to donate either to refugees or the army with the pledged amount. It was a wonderful atmosphere and everyone was both happily surprised and pleased at the amount raised.

I went to bed quite late and in my grandmothers words “well fed up and agreeably drunk”. Thankfully I had had the foresight to prepack while getting ready for the dinner, as the morning came far too quickly.

Now, the final bit of business has always somewhat confused me about the few IFLRY congresses I go to, so I’ll explain.

In the international scene, smaller committees meet to discuss motions and policies, and come up with positive, negative or no recommendations. This results in (theoretically) a quicker voting process. LYMEC (the European group) do this a week or so beforehand online. IFLRY conduct them in person at the congress, the day before voting. So we essentially rediscussed everything spoken about previously. We ended up extending the congress (due to reopening debates of predominantly membership) but fit everything in.

Everything was over, but the hugs goodbye, promises to talk, visit, instagram and see each other soon lasted a while. We were all staying at the hotel for a bit, Chloe and I were getting on a plane together in the evening, and we had a paddle in the pool.

As with Young Liberal conference, the discussions are never light. I love it. We discussed LGBT+ rights while hiding the fact we were drinking beer in the pool, I was told about French politics while the man telling me bobbed up and down in the water, narrowly avoiding others at times. The pressure was off to ask how others intended to vote and to suggest a certain viewpoint, and the combination of young people enjoying the sun and the pool while also being heavily involved in politics was glorious.

I hope to see YL conference have an outside pool, purely so this can be recreated!

The journey back was far smoother, I ended up mostly with the Swiss, discussing trans rights over pizza having got the final few bits and bobs at the airport, and the flight, while long with an awfully tedious layover in a closed Madrid airport, was far smoother than before. I met a Brazilian who was flying to Cork for his first time ever leaving his country, helping him to find the connections in Heathrow. I got back to where I was staying in London to a meeting before promptly collapsing.

I loved every minute - I encourage people to apply to go next time. It’ll be in the Netherlands and hopefully the closeness will mean it more affordable. No vaccines will be needed, at least!

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