Senegal still keeping it real

Going all-out: A campaign poster of former Senegalese President, Abdoulaye Wade, is pictured in Dakar at the beginning of the campaign for the upcoming legislative election. The election takes place on July 30. — AFP

The West African nation’s commitment to democratic traditions makes it stand out in a sullied crowd. 

I’VE said it repeatedly, one of the key signs of a maturing democratic nation is the peaceful transition of federal power from the governing party to an opposition that has emerged victorious in free and fair elections.

If you look around at African and Asian nations that became independent after World War II, you will see that less than half of these countries have actually experienced such a transition. Military coups, violent revolutions, one party rule, appears to be the norm.

One West African country that has bucked the trend is Senegal. Since independence in 1960, Senegal has been governed first by the Socialist Party of Leopold Senghor and Abdou Diouf, before the Senegalese Democratic Party of Abdoulaye Wade won breakthrough elections in 2000. Power was handed over and Wade’s party ruled until 2012 when Macky Sall of the Alliance for the Republic won.

That may not seem like much but on each occasion, the ruling party has handed over power legally and graciously, thus strengthening the people’s faith in the meaning of their democracy.

I lived in Senegal briefly in the early 1990s and while I wouldn’t call it a paradise, the concept of upholding such institutions seems to have taken hold.

Senegal initially navigated a number of potentially precarious situations including federations with neighbours Mali (in the years directly after independence) and Gambia (in the 1980s).

A Muslim-majority nation, it also dealt with a cessation movement in the southern Casamance region, which was mainly Christian.

Despite all these challenges, and the fact that changes of regime did not necessarily put a stop to corruption, Senegal has forged on successfully. Sall is credited with backing shorter presidential terms and the introduction of term limits, while press freedom and other social markers are better than many in the region.

The Casamance conflict has also appeared to reach a conclusion following a ceasefire in April 2014.

Funnily enough, I didn’t really enjoy my time in Senegal anywhere near as I did in Mali, which was and clearly still is, a less prosperous nation.

At that time, it was my tendency to take long walks in the middle of the night and I found the general style of Malians to be more laid back, while on more than one occasion, I had to turn away from an overly intrusive Senegalese.

Still my time on the Atlantic coast, and a visit to the famous House of Slaves, still echo and rankle in my psyche.

In the current climate, Senegal is steaming towards parliamentary elections later this month which will probably see Sall’s ruling party challenge for supremacy with its two predecessors.

One of the backdrops is that Sall’s government has prosecuted certain high profile politicians for corruption but that it does smack of selective prosecution.

Karim Wade, son of the former president, was sentenced to six years in 2015, only to receive a pardon and be exiled to Qatar.

Elsewhere, Dakar’s Socialist Party mayor Khalifa Sall (unrelated to the president) is in jail on charges that supporters believe are trumped to prevent him from mounting a successful run for the presidency in 2019.

Last week, violence also erupted at Dakar’s Demba Diop stadium after a football game between local teams Ouakam and Stade de Mbour. Eight people were killed after police fired tear gas at clashing supporters. It remains to be seen if this sort of heated clash will be replicated in the political arena.

Another factor involves popular singer Youssou N’Dour. Initially a favoured candidate in the last presidential elections, he consented to becoming Macky Sall’s Minister of Tourism, and then a special adviser. Whether or not the iconic musician makes another run for his country’s top post is another constant source of speculation.

What is certain is that the political stability and relative lack of tribal conflicts have provided the Senegalese nation with a considerable platform from which to develop. The very fact that Senegal’s people have a competitive political culture within a peaceful network is something to be lauded.

Star Online news editor Martin Vengadesan remembers how the kids playing football on Dakar’s streets seemed bigger than our national team members.

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World , Dakar , Senegalese Democratic Party


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