Senegalese Democracy Is On The Right Course

-Prof Souleymane Diagne on the demise of Wade

By Ajong Mbapndah L

The palpable tension in the build up the election contrasted sharply with the final outcome in the recent elections in Senegal. President Abdoulaye Wade was defeated in the second round by his former protégé Macky Sall. In a salutary show of political maturity that speaks volumes  on the state of democracy in Senegal, defeated President Wade was the first to concede with warm words of congratulations for Macky Sall. Considering that this is the second time in recent times that a seating President was not only defeated by the opposition but left power without the kind of drama and rancor that is the norm in many other African countries, Prof Souleymane Diagne says democracy is on the right path in Senegal.A philosopher of great international repute cited by the authoritative French paper Le Nouvel observateur as one of the 50 thinkers of our time, Prof Diagne says the promises made by Wade to bring change to Senegal were ultimately his undoing as there were too lofty to be fulfilled. Though Wade gets credit for respecting the will of Senegalese, Prof Souleymane says it could not be otherwise since the margin of defeat was comparatively high.

Senegalese people are a very impatient people he says in a veiled indication that Macky Sall may not have much of a honeymoon. Diagne who is a member of the scientific committees of Diogenes (published by UNESCO’s International Counsel of Philosophy and Social Sciences), CODESRIA (Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa), and of the African and Malagasy Committee for Higher Education (CAMES), as well as UNESCO’s Council on the Future. Currently a Professor of French and Philosophy at Columbia University, Souleymane Diagne believes that  in a continent where democracy is struggling to take root amid incredible odds, the resilience of the Senegalese people may  serve as inspiration for other African countries.

PAV: After another successful election with a candidate from the opposition defeating a sitting President, is it safe to say democracy is firmly established in Senegal?

Prof Souleymane Diagne: -I think that we can say yes. The first political change that happened in 2000 was a major change for the Senegalese democratic institutions of course but to have a repeat is a major achievement especially at a time when stakes were so high with the huge disputes over the third term agenda of President Wade and the dispute on whether he was eligible to even run at all. It was a happy ending with voting deciding. If it was not voting, it would have been the streets .It was a peaceful political change where the incumbent lost and congratulated the winner in what was a major test for democracy in Senegal.

PAV: Outgoing President sometimes came across as a stubborn leader, were you surprise with the grace which he embraced defeat?

Prof Souleymane Diagne: -Yes somehow. Prior to the elections his declarations just not envisioning the possibility that he could lose were worrisome. Many people were worried that he did not consider the prospects of losing and things like that but at one point he must have reminded himself of the example set by his predecessor Abdou Diouf. The idea that there was already a deep history with Diouf conceding gracefully must have been a positive precedent. There are many people who think he had no choice though considering that the margin of defeat was even more than that of Diouf when he lost to him. He could not have done otherwise.

PAV: He came in with a lot of promise and was virtually forced out by Senegalese, what went wrong with the Wade Presidency and the “Sopi” or change it was expected to bring?

Prof Souleymane Diagne: -Well in retrospect historians will say it was predictable. Basically Sopi was running a very populist campaign against a President in charge of the structural adjustment programmes .His predecessor who succeeded Senghor in the early 80s was the President under whose watch the unpopular structural adjustment programmes were enforced with the degree of poverty and social discontent that came with it. It was an opening for the opposition which proposed a programme promising jobs, better economic conditions etc. Wade did this with the Sopi which was a promise that things will be better. It was a populist message but those kinds of promises are very hard to deliver and he certainly did not deliver for the twelve years he was in power. In the end his own promises were turned against him.

PAV: May we know some of the achievements recorded by Wade, in other words what would you consider a legacy of the Wade Presidency?

Prof Souleymane Diagne:-What his main legacy might be is the renovation of Dakar which is very different today in terms of fluidity of traffic and sidewalks. Many people from the opposition have said and rightly so that Senegal is not just Dakar. Another aspect of infrastructure is the new airport he wanted to construct in Dakar. He said during the campaigns that he wanted to launch it before he leaves.

Macky Sall's arrival heralds a generational shift in Senegalese and African Politics
Macky Sall's arrival heralds a generational shift in Senegalese and African Politics

So those infrastructural aspects could be considered a legacy. Obviously he would like people to consider the African renaissance monument a legacy but it has been very controversial especially in terms of appropriation. You can build anything but sometimes when people do not see themselves in it, it will not be a good legacy.

PAV: Macky Sall served as Minister and later Prime Minister under President Wade, what are some of the major challenges that he faces and how might he be different from Wade?

Prof Souleymane Diagne: -It’s going to be different. During Wade’s Presidency, a forum of the opposition and the civil society realized there should be a change in institutions because Senegal inherited from France a system where the President had too much power. There is need for more balance in the system with parliament more empowered. The opposition and the civil society agreed on this amongst others in a conclave boycotted by Wade. Its conclusions were accepted by Macky Sall .Under him Senegalese institutions may change with more power to the parliament, a huge step forward for democracy.

Second, the Presidential terms will revert back to five after been raised to seven by Wade. So the Presidential term of office will be five years renewable once. While Sall might have served as Minister, Prime Minister and President of the Assembly under Wade, it must be recognized that the reason he fell out with Wade was the desire to exercise oversight and accountability in government actions. Wade’s son was summoned before a parliamentary commission to explain usage of money for the agency he was in charge of which was building infrastructure in Senegal. He was ready to fight corruption and wanted power to be accountable. His campaign gave reason to believe that he will fight corruption.

PAV: Is there a way that he could channel the positive energy generated in the youth, civil society, personalities like Youssour Ndour and Jacques Diouf as they sort to defeat Wade into the realization of some big achievements for Senegal?

Prof Souleymane Diagne:The manner in which his government was choice of members has been favourably received. It has people from the civil society .People like Youssour Ndour should be able to serve the Senegalese Culture well.

Untenable promises were part of Wade’s undoing
Untenable promises were part of Wade’s undoing

At the same time you must understand whoever is in power in Senegal will be dealing with a very restive and impatient people. Senegalese are a very impatient people and do want to see results.

PAV: What lessons do you think the rest of Africa should learn from the elections especially in those countries where the democratic experience has not been as exciting and successful as in Senegal?

Prof Souleymane Diagne: In a continent struggling to have democracy, where poverty is high, and there is so much demagoguery, it is so easy for populist discourse to blind side people from the main issues. Any successful election is an encouragement. At one point the Senegalese example was considered flawed but there is a kind of resilience of democracy by African people who want democracy. It is the path to unity, only truly democratic countries can come together to form the kind of confederation or union the continent wants for its salvation. So any good news from any country is good news for the continent.



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