Residents of Senegal greeted the dawn of a new era today, according to reports, following the post-election departure of long-serving leader Abdoulaye Wade, who drew widespread praise for cementing the country’s reputation as West Africa’s most stable democracy.
The resignation of the 85-year-old incumbent “confirmed the resilience of Senegal’s political system” by conceding victory to his former protégé, opposition leader Macky Sall, when early results indicated a clear victory in the runoff poll.
“It is good that Wade congratulated Macky Sall. It enhances him, and it enhances the Senegalese democracy, but in reality he is leaving through the back door,” said Alioune Tine, a prominent leader of the M23 opposition movement and president of the RADDHO (Rencontre Africaine des droits de l’ Homme*).
“The majority of people have said they no longer trust him. It is the first time that a president (in Senegal) leaves with such a score,” he said.
International pop star Youssou Ndour (above), who was banned from contesting the presidential election and then threw his support behind Mr Sall welcomed “a new Senegal with President Macky” shouted pop star Youssou Ndour.
Sall’s victory puts paid to Wade’s efforts to extend his 12-year rule through a “constitutional coup” and represents a major boost to democratic governance in sub-Saharan Africa, especially after last week’s military coup in Mali took out one of the continent’s most resilient democracies.
“The symbolism for Africa is potent,” notes Africa analyst William Wallis:
Wade’s attempts to secure a controversial third term at the official age of 86 and in defiance of a constitution limiting the presidency to two, prompted one of the most turbulent periods in Senegal’s history…..It fuelled a campaign of protests by civil society groups which met with violent police reprisals that were unusual in a country known for its relatively benign state institutions. Victory for the coalition that sought to unseat him could embolden other activists around the region campaigning for more accountable government.
In an interview with the Financial Times last January he predicted he would be the “the last barracuda among the little fish,” presiding over a generational transition to a younger, more technocratic administration.
But Wade’s departure deprives the troubled region of an experienced hand at a time of strategic turbulence, as the election’s winner recognizes.
“Boko Haram, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, drug trafficking, all that is on our doorstep,” said former premier Sall. “It forces Senegal to play an essential role in those fights.”
The new government must also deliver on a range of pressing domestic issues, not least generating sufficient jobs to meet demands of a growing demographic youth bulge and the needs of an electorate impatient for change.
“I think and believe that that it will be zero tolerance for Sall,” said Ibrahima Thioub, a historian from Dakar’s Cheik Anta Diop University. “The question now is how is he going to tackle things – even if we concede that he needs much more time to rearrange things. I do think Sall is aware of what is waiting for him.”
As Wallis notes, even though Wade ended up a victim of his own hubris, “following the path of other strong African leaders consumed by the belief they were the irreplaceable fathers of their nations….his departure leaves sub-Saharan Africa in a weaker position on the global stage”:
Wade has been one of Africa’s big political figures, outspoken in fronting the continent’s interests. Alongside the likes of former presidents Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and Thabo Mbeki of South Africa he could bring a broad network of global contacts to bear on international negotiations and regional crises…A series of weaker and less experienced heads of state, more focused on national agendas, have been in the ascendancy regionally.