Since decolonization, Senegal has been the lone bright spot in a West Africa, a region otherwise beset by civil war and military coups. Senegal’s peaceful record of democracy has recently become vulnerable after President Abdoulaye Wade insisted on running for a constitutionally questionable third term. While in Senegal, I asked people what they thought would happen if Wade tried to take power for a third term. The answer, universally, was violence.
Wade, a longtime opposition candidate in the 1980s and 1990s, was elected to the presidency in 2000 on a platform of change from the graft and corruption that was commonplace in Senegalese politics before him. A year after he was elected, a new constitution was ratified, setting the limit of Presidential terms at two. In 2007, Wade was reelected to a second term, despite his growing unpopularity stemming from, amongst other things, his approval of a $27 million Soviet-esque statue of the new “African Renaissance;” built by the North Koreans.
In the lead-up to the February 26 vote, opposition groups like Y’en a marre and M23 held protests in downtown Dakar, as well as in other large cities such as Thies and Kaolack. Over the course of the protests, at least 10 people were killed, including one policeman who was stoned to death.
In running for a third term, Wade argued that because the new constitution came into effect after he was first elected, it doesn’t apply to him. The Senegalese Constitutional Court ruled in his favor, and in spite of his lack of popularity amongst the Senegalese people, he ran for a third term. Wade received nearly 35 percent of the first round vote.
Due to the fact that Wade did not receive at least 50 percent of the vote in the first election, he will face his former protégé, Macky Sall, in a runoff on March 18. Many people in the Senegalese opposition to Wade believe that democracy in the country will only be strengthened if the currently 14 opposition candidates unite behind Sall, and ensure his election. Even with an opposition victory many Senegalese fear that he would hesitate to relinquish power easily if he were to lose. President Wade’s tenure has been inching towards autocracy for some time, and the prospect of him willingly demur to the public seems to many Senegalese to be unlikely. They fear that a situation similar to that of Cote d’Ivoire in 2010 would arise, erasing Senegal from the very short list of consistently peaceful African states.