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Senegal: Between power and protest

You could sense the un-rush of discontent and possible violence from the body language of President Wade. First, his expansion of Presidential power, far in…

You could sense the un-rush of discontent and possible violence from the body language of President Wade. First, his expansion of Presidential power, far in advance of his predecessors, like the poet-politician and the proponent of Negritude, Leopold Sedar Senghor, ever tried. Abdoulaye Wade gave the right to choose two-thirds of the nation’s Senators to the President. He pushed/elongated Presidential term to seven years and generally arrogated to himself the monopoly of national wisdom. Here was a President who had boldly and publicly asserted that he never did any wrong or made any mistakes in all his years in office as President! He is given to an erratic disposition and prodigality. For a donor-dependent nation (the country recently acquired a five-year grant of $540m from an American foreign aid agency with a non-material collateral of guaranteeing commitment to a just and democratic governance), it was considered extremely wasteful,  some of the pet and white elephant projects that he embarked upon. One of such projects is the monstrous and mammoth, Soviet-aping Monument of the African Renaissance at the whooping sum of $27million!!  Two years ago, he had tried to enhance his son, Karim’s political stature by trying to create the position of a Vice-President to be occupied by his son whom he was grooming to succeed him. The project was hastily dropped as protests mounted. It was obvious from all of these megalomaniacal inanities of the President that the bubbles of political instability would soon burst in Senegal, a country regarded, quite defendably, as the model of African democracy in Africa. There has never been a military coup in the nation, partly because Senghor fashioned and ran an inclusive government which gave the military and the police political and public roles.

Secondly, in a related manner to the above-scenario of social equilibrium, there is a feeling of a stable political culture in Senegal. There was no fear of military intervention and the political parties seem to work. Even when, at the time, there was strong rumour that President Wade who was about to complete his second term in power was planning to foist his son on the ruling party and walk him to succession, there was a quick turn-around as soon as there were loud rumblings against it across the country. Somehow, the people believed in their political process; that the polls will decide, since electioneering was usually peaceful and credible, there was no anxiety as to whether President Wade would successfully inflict his son on an unwilling populace. The polls were believed as the determiner of the political destiny of the populace. The opposition was active and substantially virile. The unions were active but not boisterous. However, as the suggestions above about the power tendencies of the President suggest, there had been a build up that will pierce the veneer of social contentment and peace that lie on the surface of the nation’s troubling under-belly. These may have prepared one for the violent temper of today’s electioneering. These may have armed discerning minds with the premonition to expect the violent demonstration of today.

Even then, not many would have believed or imagined then that President Abdoulaye Wade would seek tenure elongation via re-election. Now, this, in hindsight, may be a naive reading of the political chemistry of the most stable and peaceful democracy in Africa. The national resistance building up today must have its history in the political evolution of the country and the character of President Wade. An opposition leader himself in the past, President Wade had come to power since 2000 and had thus reigned for over eleven years. The sit-tight syndrome may have caught up with him after he failed to install his son, Karim, first as a Vice-President and later as his successor. The key argument that he advanced was that the constitutional provision that allows only two terms of office for a President came into force after his Presidency had begun and that the law could not be retroactively applied to him. In apparent affirmation of this position, the constitutional court also ruled that the law excludes Wade’s first term and thus declared his third-term aspiration legal, since he began to rule before that constitutional clause came into existence or operation. To worsen the situation, the court also barred two prominent opposition candidates from contesting the February Presidential election. One of these opponents is the popular singer, Youssou N’Dour. These rulings, no doubt, is the match that may have lit the powder magazine of the violent protest that followed—a development which could jeopardize the enviable political stability that has endured in the country till now. This has also attracted wide international criticism.

Some of those who have forewarned about the explosive nature of the third-term bid is Richard Downie, Deputy Director of the Washington-based center for Strategic and International Studies who asserted the inevitability of wild protest if Wade went ahead to contest in the election. He had warned that whether Abdoulaye Wade contested fairly or unfairly, ‘there is going to be large protests’ and that the ‘elections will be decided in the streets’.  Even our own former President, Chief Olusegun who was wildly alleged as having tried to elongate his own regime, and who is believed to be a god-father of President Wade, had attributed the desire of President Wade to run for the third term as a product of the ‘fear of the unknown’- a fear that he himself had found out was needless, since, as he mooted, ‘there is life after the government house…as I have found out.’ But would his godson listen to this caution? Has he not gone far beyond reason?

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