Anti-government protests by the M23 opposition coalition in the Senegalese capital “got off to a peaceful start, a day after two civilians were killed by paramilitary police in a similar demonstration,” AP reports:
Several hundred people gathered, holding up signs and chanting slogans in Place de l’Obelisque, a large square in downtown Dakar. The demonstrators are protesting against the ruling by the country’s top legal body which validated President Abdoulaye Wade’s candidacy in next month’s election.
Democracy activists welcomed news of the release of opposition activist Alioune Tine, a prominent leader of the M23 opposition movement and president of the RADDHO (Rencontre Africaine des droits de l’ Homme*).
Tine had suffered official intimidation for several months and his arrest was “another manifestation of the Senegalese President’s lack of respect for civil and political rights, “said Souhayr Belhassen, president of the Paris-based Federation for the Defense of Human Rights (FIDH), which called on the authorities to protect freedom of expression and association.
“Senegal has long been perceived as a beacon of democracy and stability in West Africa, a region still recovering from civil conflict, notably in Côte d’Ivoire,” writes Gregory Houël, an independent expert on African democracy and governance:
Once heralded as a democrat who broke the ruling Socialist Party’s 40-year rule in free and fair elections in 2000—and helped to orchestrate the country’s first transfer of power to an opposition party—President Wade is now clinging to office with possibly grave consequences for the country’s future.
But Wade’s bid for a third term is shifting perceptions, he says.
Or perhaps only confirming suspicions.
A US diplomatic cable cautioned in 2010 that Senegal was “a weakening democracy,” noting that Wade sought to “open a path to a dynastic presidential succession”.
In any case, the country’s malaise goes deep, says Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, Africa analyst for National Public Radio:
From the monstrous Renaissance Monument that Mr Wade had built (left) – which offended traditional, cultural and Islamic sensibilities – the Senegalese have long felt he has stopped listening to their wishes and needs.
The youthful Y’en a Marre – “we are fed up” movement was sparked by Mr Wade’s rather arrogant decision to try to lower to 25% the threshold for a presidential candidate to win an election in the first round.
That backfired and he was forced to withdraw the proposal after unprecedented riots on 23 June last year.
Senegal is tired of a president who swans around the globe as a self-styled international conflict mediator, when their own country has its own problems that need resolving.
Many observers assumed that Senegal had evolved into a mature multi-party democracy, but Wade’s attempt to curb dissent and transfer power to his son suggest otherwise, writes Houël, who worked with the National Endowment for Democracy and National Democratic Institute on electoral assistance and civil society development:
While the risk of political violence is real, Senegal is unlikely to descend into a civil conflict reminiscent of Côte d’Ivoire or Kenya. The country, indeed, has never suffered from entrenched ethno-regional divisions with the exception of the low-level conflict in the Casamance region….The irony is that President Wade is undermining Senegal’s own democratic credentials and bucking a growing trend across the continent where incumbents are voluntarily leaving office in greater number than ever before. In Benin and Ghana, two other West African states, incumbents have either stepped down when their term in office ended or ceded power following electoral defeat. Likewise, Mali’s Amadou Toumani Touré, who has served since 2002, has pledged to leave office when his second term ends in April.
“Wade’s obstinacy could not only damage Senegal’s future but also dampen the recovery of fragile states such as Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, or Sierra Leone, which is preparing for its own elections later this year,” he fears.