Vive Senegal—for being rare & brilliant example for Africa in democratic election By Keffyalew Gebremedhin
Last January, I was terribly disappointed by Senegal’s 85-year old President Abdoulaye Wade, who for a while messed up a peaceful country and people, because he so much wanted what the people did not want him to have: a chance of dying in office in his third term as president.
Technically, the high court in Dakar may be right when it decided that the president could run for a third term, although the new constitution limits to two terms. The disaster was not the court but the president ‘s political decision, for he proved selfish and irresponsible as far as the country was concerned, in the face of a huge tide against him.
At the time, I expressed my frustration with the following words:
The 27 January ruling by Senegal’s constitutional court allowing the country’s 85-year old President Abdoulaye Wade to run for a third term in next month’s election has plunged one of Africa’s most stable countries into an uncertain future. Not only that the man is of advanced age, but also has already been in power for the past eleven years and no matter what the technicalities on the basis of which the court ruled, Abdoulaye Wade now finds himself on the wrong side of history.
Fortunately, the people of Senegal have not allowed Mr. Wade to take the country down with him. Opposition candidate
President Elect Mackey Sall
former Prime Minister Mackey Sall has won the presidential run-off election with 65.5, percent against former president’s 34.2 percent.
After he lost the first round, Mr. Wade offered two explanations why it happened. The first is, because the West was campaigning against him. The second: “There is only one hypothesis. I win. The possibility of my defeat is absurd,” he told an interviewer on Africa7, a local television station, according to The New Age of 24 February.
I am heartened by the change of fortune in Senegal’s politics. As an African, it has made me happy and proud. More importantly, I hope, the example Senegal has set and the world has happily witnessed would become Africa’s electoral Sub-Saharan fire—the equivalent of the Arab Spring, which would blow the winds of change in the corridors of power in Africa.
Bravo Senegal, the world has also breathed a sigh of relief, at least, the people of Senegal having made this election, in a region of turbulence and election-related sufferings, one of the rare events, whereby the demonstration of popular verdict has gone in Africa unpunished.
Mr. Wade knew already Sunday that his third-term dream would not come true. Thus, as the polls closed, the former president called his opponent and congratulated him, even before the final results were announced. The former president told reporters, “The results coming in indicated that Mr. Mackey Sall had won. As I had always promised, I called him Sunday night to congratulate him.”
A former prime minister for Wade and a protégé, the president-elect graciously said, “The big winner tonight is the Senegalese people… We have shown to the world our democracy is mature. I will be the president of all the Senegalese.”
He is 50-year engineer / geologist by training, who has chosen politics rather as his calling. Since 2000, he has closely worked with Mr. Wade. Those who know him closely say he is very effective as a manager and with people skills. I wish him and hope that he would use those to reciprocate the trust bestowed on him by the people of Senegal doing the people’s job.
Genuine congratulatory messages pour in
The congratulations are pouring from all over the world to President Mackay Sall and the people of Senegal. Amongst others, are Nigeria’s President Jonathan Goodluck said, “The outcome of the election in Senegal is good for West Africa and the African continent.” Similarly, President Nicholas Sarkozy, on behalf of France the former colonial power, saw Sall’s victory as “good news for Africa in general and for Senegal in particular. Senegal is a major African country and a model of democracy.”
President Obama said,“Senegal has, through this election, reaffirmed its tradition as a leading example of good governance and democracy at work in Africa and remains an example for its neighbors.The government and people of Senegal have once again demonstrated their commitment to political expression through peaceful, democratic elections, making it harder for non-democratic forces near and far to prevail. Today’s results deepen hopes across the continent and around the world that the quest for human dignity cannot be denied and that Africa’s democratic wave must continue.”
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spoke by telephone with both Messrs. Wade and Sall congratulating them and the people of Senegal for the exemplary manner in which both rounds of the presidential elections were conducted. Recall that both Mr. Ban Ki-moon and High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay had voiced early on concerns about rising anger of Senegalese about Mr. Wade’s decision to seek a third term had taken to the streets of the capital, Dakar, and other cities in the run-up to the elections.
Even the AU has jumped on the bandwagon to congratulate Senegal
I almost forgot to mention that the African Union (AU) Commission Chairman Jean Ping and the current AU chairman Benin’s President Boni Yay have also sent congratulations. I am sure you could sense from my tone I am not happy about this dispatch of routine messages, which the AU does not have inside it.
Frankly speaking, the AU should not have sent any messages at all to Senegal and its new leader to congratulate them for their success. The reason for this protest is that the AU had been trying to scuttle this brilliant display of wisdom and maturity by the Senegalese people seeking to use its tired “negotiated settlement” as means of settling dispute, which it sticks into every situation — without even getting a real feel of the problem and the nation itself.
In February, days before the election was held, the AU sent former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo to persuade the candidates to share the presidential term with Wade allowed to win and serve only the first two years and retire. I am sorry to say, it smacks sort of mafia deal!
To Mr. Obsanjo’s surprise, all opposition parties in Senegal had discussed the mediation effort and they did not need to waste time on it. When Mr.Obasanjo approached them the opposition candidate and the parties behind him turned the table on his proposals. Instead, according to press release by M23, a campaign of opposition to stop Wade, offered their solution: to run fresh elections without President Abdoulaye Wade. With that, therefore, they unanimously rejected Mr. Obsanjo’s mediation efforts and saw him off.
If the AU had succeeded in its mediation efforts, it would have meant rewarding those who defy the popular will, depriving Africa and the world of the lessons that would go down as a brilliant example of what is possible in Africa, when the leaders have the right attitude toward power and the high office, as if it were crowning of a pope.
After all, with its record in election observations that has consistently supported those who stole election results in different African countries, the AU has no credibility to involve itself any more in election related matters.
As an African, I humbly suggest, the AU first clean its acts and begin to review its mandate and learn to speak on behalf the people’s interests, not the dictators. That is when the AU would get the respect of Africans at home and in the diaspora –I might add also of the international community!
If I am allowed to read into it, the new development within the international system is that Africa is fast losing voice. Since the 18th AU Summit, Africa lost the post of Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, which is now given to Sweden. In Libya and Ivory Coast, the role Africa played through the AU has been embarrassing, to put it mildly. And still Africa is full complaints that the AU is not being consulted on issues that matter to it, etc. Africans and the AU must face the reality through serious thinking and reflection.
Finally, I join the sentiment expressed by the editorial on Le Quotidien newspaper, entitled “Goodbye Wade” in expressing a reprieve for the incumbent, which the paper referred to as “‘honorable’ exit”, which he won just three and a half hours after polls closed and he congratulated his opponent. He has returned to the tradition democratic Senegal has cultivated so well.
This brings to mind to another magnificent story. Former President Abdou Diouf suffered humiliating defeat in the hands of Wade in 2000. When Diouf saw the trend, CBS reports, he collected his belongings and said to his staff before he left, “I think this how democracy works!”
CBS News reports that actually Mr. Diouf lost with a huge margin, more than Wade. Still, he made sure he reached the winner to congratulate him. The first time he called, he was told Mr. Wade was sleeping. Mr. Diouf called the next day and fulfilled his pledge.
There are better examples, few though, but still a sign that better day would come for Africa, thanks for the giant step Senegal has now taken.
Mr. Mackay Sall would be inaugurated as president on April 3.