Monday, 1 October 2012

Lessons for Africa from Senegal

The results of Senegal’s just concluded presidential run-off has once again projected the West African country as a stable democracy. In a region that has faced political uncertainty tainted even more with the recent coup in Mali, Senegal is a light to behold.

Macky Sall’s victory is not only a victory to the people of Senegal but also a victory to the people of West Africa and to a larger extent the African continent.

As the curtain falls on the 85 year-old Abdulahi Wade’s 12year reign, a youthful face takes over the echelons of power, signaling a new dawn and anew epoch. The man tasked with the responsibility is 35years younger than his predecessor, an accomplished civil servant who rose through the ranks to become the country’s Prime Minister. At the time of his fallout with the president, he was the country’s president of parliament. It can therefore be safely said that he is ready for the task ahead.

The octogenarian gracefully bowed out, ending fears that he might cling to power despite widespread dissatisfaction with his rule. This dissatisfaction led to pockets of violence in which some citizens lost their lives. And in his very words he conceded defeat. “My dear compatriots, at the end of the second round of vote.. the current results indicate that Macky Sall has won victory”

Senegal’s peaceful transition has myriads of lessons for Africa’s emerging democracies. Countries like Ghana which will go to polls this year must pick a lot from Senegal. Kenya too, needs to borrow a leaf on how to conduct peaceful elections. The Kenyan general elections are to be held early next year if the dates set by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission remains unchallenged.

With a backdrop of post poll violence in Kenya’s last general election in which many lost lives and hundreds of thousand were displaced, Kenya and Africa must learn that elections can be peaceful. It is clear that the power of the vote is the most fundamental in regime change. Violence and acts of impunity must be put aside as citizens demonstrate their democratic rights.

The second lesson from Senegal is that incumbency can be challenged. For a long period in Africa incumbents have held on to power even when they were outright unpopular. They have used the vast public resources at their disposal and state machinery to marshal support. Examples include the contested presidencies of Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Kenya’s Mwai Kibaki (2007) who have forced coalitions with hostile opponents in power sharing deals.

Another lesson from Senegal is that the masses in Africa are constantly getting enlightened. Gone are the days when state machinery and propaganda and other techniques were used to maintain power. Even when Wade had compared the thought of his losing  the run-off to the ‘sky falling on our heads’ and predicted looming financial crisis were he to lose, he still lost. The masses unequivocally expressed their voice: they want a new order. This is a show of maturity signaling readiness to face the future; however uncertain.

The huge task ahead for the young president is to provide alternative leadership. Mr. Sall has already indicated that he intends to provide basic services including better healthcare, employment and price cuts on basic commodities. He has also hinted at cutting down the cabinet by half to reduce government expenditure. He will be expected to show that he is a better a leader. His allegiance must be to the people as he works with people for the people.

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