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Field Notes

Vol. 11 No. 2: April issue

​​Invoking Senghor​: Universal Healthcare Coverage and the Place of Culture in Senegal

February 17, 2023


Senegal introduced Couverture Maladie Universelle (CMU), its version of universal health coverage (UHC), in 2013, basing it on the establishment of mutual health insurance. Mutual health organisations (mutuelles de santé) manage the pooling of funds, including member enrolment fees and government subsidies; in an effort to extend the reach of UHC, the Senegalese cultural sector created a mutuelle of its own. As part of ethnographic fieldwork focused on CMU, I attended a ceremony at the Grand Théâtre National de Dakar on the occasion of this mutuelle receiving a large cheque from the government. In this Field Note I examine the centring of Senegalese culture during this event to reflect on the national project of development itself. The event’s celebration of the arts sector coupled with its emphasis on mutualism and solidarity invoked Senegal’s post-colonial developmentalist visions and aspirations that were motivated by négritude and African socialism under its first president, Léopold Sédar Senghor. Engaging with renewed calls for African values and morality to be put at the centre of development, I argue that ambitious endeavours like CMU present such an attempt and help buoy it, but that, in the context of continued healthcare underfunding, one-off gifts like that presented during the ceremony are unsustainable.