At 9:30 p.m. March 26, Senegal’s President Abdulaye Wade, 85, running for his third term after 12 years in office, called his former Prime Minister Macky Sall, 50, to congratulate him on his electoral victory and wish him well. Sall’s statement emphasized that he would be president of all the people.
In many African countries, a sitting president has never been defeated by a vote. This election in Senegal was nonviolent, fair and transparent. It was a far cry from the naysayers who spoke of possible fraud, violence, coups and worse.
French and U.S. diplomatic staff urged Wade not to run. This was a mistake.
In democracies, people should not only be able to achieve power but also be able to lose it by a vote of the people, not by resignations through arm-twisting. The professionalism of the Senegal military and the devotion shown to democracy by Wade over his long career would prevail.
The election marks a shift from the generation that brought independence to those who have grown up since then. Senegal has never had a coup. After 20 years, the first president, Léopold Senghor, stepped down and Prime Minister Abdou Diouf succeeded him. Diouf was defeated in an election after 20 years in office by Wade.
That is an enviable democratic record but it was not achieved without struggle.
From the first prime minister, under Senghor, Mamadou Moustapha Dia, who when seen a threat to presidential power in 1962 , was removed and sentenced to life in prison, to Sall, who was dismissed as prime minister but is now president, Senegal’s democracy has come a long way.
Critical to that achievement is Wade, who, when Senegal was a one-party state, urged democracy and, when an opening was made to allow other parties to exist besides the ruling Socialists, Wade formed the Democratic Party of Senegal in 1974.
Wade ran for the presidency and lost several times. He was jailed twice after elections as a threat to the state. He also served as a minister briefly in two governments as part of a coalition. During that long period when his party struggled to survive, never was there any attempt at a coup or to push for resignations due to unfair elections. Finally, in 2000, he came in second in the first round and forced a runoff which he won. He was re-elected in 2005.
During Wade’s tenure, there were local elections, which are run nationally and his party lost numerous contests, including his son’s bid for office. By not resigning, by having the government run a fair election and by making that phone call to Sall, he demonstrated his commitment to, and Senegal’s capacity for, democratic governance that a withdrawal under pressure would never have done.
President Barack Obama congratulated Sall on his election and also praised Wade’s leadership.
There is no question that the development of Senegal expanded under Wade but he was running in a world economy which is having severe impact on food and oil prices. Even achievements such as increasing educational opportunities were confounded by the reality of more university graduates now having difficulty in finding jobs.
Wade said he would lead his party into the upcoming parliamentary elections to solidify a loyal opposition, again another step towards strengthening democracy. Sall, a geologist, brings scientific insights into development and the political skills he honed as a minister and prime minister under Wade should serve him well.
We wish him success in solidifying Senegal as a mid-income country and producing development with a safety net for those most in need.
Brad Brown is a retired National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientist. He continues to work as a consultant on African coastal and marine projects and scientific capacity development. He is also first vice president of the Miami-Dade NAACP. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo: Brad Brown