On Sunday, the Senegalese people were the pride of West Africa. They went to the polls in a run-off election and peacefully elected opposition leader Macky Sall over the incumbent president, Abdoulaye Wade. Wade was running for a controversial third term in office even though youth unemployment, high commodity prices and a broken promise of real change had marred his presidency.
People all over Senegal’s Casamance region hope that the result of this election will bring an end to the 30-year conflict between successive governments and a separatist rebel movement. Fortunately, some of the groundwork has already been laid by a new coalition of women-led organizations, Plateforme des Femmes pour la Paix en Casamance, co-founded by AJWS’s partner Usoforal. Before the run-off, the coalition engaged the presidential candidates to ensure that a democratic election could be possible and that restoring peace to the region was on the horizon. Yesterday, youth in the southern town of Bignona marched to call upon the new president to prioritize resolving the conflict in Casamance and creating jobs for young people.
While the presidential campaign was shaken by protests and riots early this year, Sunday’s election represents a huge a win for democracy in the region. The run-off went by without the usual episodes of violence and fraud that too often plague elections in Africa. When the polls closed, every voting center publicized its results so that everyone knew by the end of the day who had won. The provisional results showed that Sall, a former prime minister and protégé of Wade, won 69 percent of the vote. In a rare show of civility, outgoing president Wade conceded defeat within hours of the election and called his opponent to personally congratulate him.
All over the continent, people are saluting Senegal’s political maturity and the coordinated response of civil society groups. When Wade attempted to amend Senegal’s constitution in order to run for president yet again, overruling the existing term limits, political parties and civil society organizations formed a coalition in protest. Another key element in this victory was the unprecedented mobilization of youth and artists in Senegal, including Youssou N’dDour and the group Y’en a marre. They advocated for Senegalese citizens to exercise their civic duties by actually going to the polls and exercising the right to elect their representatives without bloodshed.
While it is too soon to predict what the future holds for Senegal under Sall’s leadership, it behooves us to note that several African countries, including Senegal, are paving the way to ensure that democracy becomes the norm, not the exception on the African continent.
Rosalie Nezien is an AJWS program officer for Africa.