Senegal: a proud example of democracy in Africa
On Monday the 2nd of April 2012 Senegal woke up to the swearing in of the fourth post independence President in the person of 50 year old Macky Sall. A week earlier he had beaten the octogenarian and incumbent Abdoulaye Wade in a run-off in which the entire opposition threw their weight behind him in a rallying call for “anybody but Wade”. In the circumstances few expected Wade to win, but even fewer expected him to concede.
However, no sooner had the exit polls started to waft a smell of defeat for Wade than he graciously picked up the phone, dialled Sall and congratulated him in what will go down in history as a rare exercise of statesmanship in the continent and of patriots who put their country above narrow ambitions. Even as the Electoral Commission continued counting Wade declared “My dear compatriots, at the end of the second round of the vote...the current results indicate that Macky Sall has won ... It is the whole country that has just won ... this is a big moment for democracy ...”
Very remarkable concession in West Africa where post election acrimonies have run deep and left nations divided in Liberia and Nigeria or seriously bruised as in Côte d'Ivoire. Indeed, Wade stunned his opponents and the sceptical world for although the Senegalese run off was a largely peaceful affair the run up to it was hardly incident free. On the contrary it was characterised by violent protests in which buildings were torched across the capital Dakar and met by equally violent repressions from police routine use of tear gas. Six people are said to have died as a result with scores of others injured.
The unrest began prior to the first round of voting on 26th February 2012 when Wade declared his intention to run for a third term. The opposition challenged it as unconstitutional. The constitution allows for two terms only which ironically was instituted by Wade himself. For him to run for a third term would amount to subverting the very constitution he had sworn an oath to uphold. Many interpreted it as a plot by Wade to perpetuate autocracy and have his son succeed him eventually. It undermined the democratic credentials of Senegal they argued.
Some others blamed Wade for the economic woes of the country as cost of living skyrocketed and basic necessities spiralled out of reach under his watch amidst growing unemployment and frequent power cuts. Whatever the merits or demerits of the accusations they provided more than sufficient ammunition for the opposition and they found a common enemy in the 85 year old Wade against whom they united impregnably.
When he still chose to run against the odds, the indications seemed to suggest another parody of elections in the making in Africa. Democracy was at stake. Wade would not only lose, he would refuse to concede and thus engulf Senegal in a meltdown. In advance the power brokers started configuring the makeup of a power sharing deal a la Kenya and Zimbabwe.
However, Senegal is neither a fragile nor fledgling democracy. Since independence in 1960 the Senegalese have known only one way of changing their leaders and that has been through peaceful use of the ballot box with hardly any post election hiccups.
The country actually enjoys a pedestal record of being the only nation in West Africa never to have experienced a military putsch. It is a beacon of peace and stability in an otherwise unstable region and this election has put to sleep any remaining doubts about the maturity of democracy in the West African country.
In fact if there is anything Senegalese like to pride themselves about it is their love for democracy in all its nuances including an active role for civil society. Wade himself is no stranger to this love affair and benefited highly from civil society support at every turn of his political career, until this moment that is.
Prior to tasting the Presidency in 2000 when he first won before winning again in 2007 he had hitherto tried and failed a couple of times. He even suffered detentions for his activism against the status quo and never at the time subscribed to anything else other than the rightful exercise of democratic procedures for being in power. He might have a stubborn will but his psyche, like those of his compatriots, appears steeped in democracy.
By conceding defeat so swiftly and graciously Wade has more than submitted to the collective will of the Senegalese people. Instead he has pitched camp with them to underwrite democracy as a feasible reality in Africa. In so doing, he has almost taken the shine out of the victory of Macky Sall and for a long time he will be remembered for his honourable exit, the pre-election violence notwithstanding.
While many will now turn attention to Sall with great expectations Sall himself must be reading the writing on the wall already - that anything short of dedication to democracy and respect for the rule of law will see him go the way he came. Until then Senegal remains the proud evidence of triumph for democracy in Africa and the Senegalese people are the heroes for it. Congratulations!
By Samwin Banienuba
Int. Spokesperson for Humanitas Afrika