Despite the handwriting on the wall –thousands of youth booing Wade to “go home, old man”- Wade somehow won the first round of the presidential election
Prior to the 2012 African Cup of Nations tournament, Senegal’s national soccer team, the Teranga Lions, was touted as tournament favourites. However, the team lost all three of its group stage matches and was booted out of the competition. In Senegal, as in other parts of Africa, this was regarded as a massive disappointment, especially given the Teranga Lions stellar form during the AFCON qualifiers and in the run-up to the tournament proper. In some circles, it was said that the Teranga Lions may have roared for the last time. However, with recent events in that West African nation, its citizens’ pride has been restored and their lions can roar again—and have indeed.
This past weekend and in the early hours of 26 March, 2012, thousands of Senegalese took to the streets of Dakar in the sort of triumphant, celebratory scenes that are more common in the wake of a country’s soccer team winning the FIFA World Cup. However, the victory which was being celebrated was not one that was won on the football field, it was one which was won in the field of politics and it was secured by the Senegalese people themselves. It was a victory that has restored faith and pride in their country’s rich democratic history, and one that other African countries would do well to emulate.
Senegal has a long and rich democratic history and is the only country in West Africa to have never undergone a coup d’état. Its first elections were held in 1848 when through the policy of assimilation, Senegal was allowed by its colonial master France to elect a deputy into the French parliament. Through the years, the country has watered its democratic roots and has served as a model for good governance. To the dismay of many, the notorious penchant for African leaders to cling onto power at all costs recently reared its ugly head in Senegal and threatened to tarnish the country’s image.
The 85-year-old Abdoulaye Wade, who had been Senegal’s president since 2000, in a brazen and reprehensible manipulation of the country’s constitution, bid for a 3rd term in office. He had brought in a two-term limit for presidential office but then sought to be exempted from this limit based on the fallacious argument that the limit should not apply to his first term which came in before the constitution was amended.
Surprisingly, his argument was upheld in January by Senegal’s constitutional court and in the widespread protests that ensued, six people were killed. Thus was the stage set for Wade to participate in the presidential elections that were held in February.
Despite the handwriting on the wall –thousands of youth booing Wade to “go home, old man”- Wade somehow won the first round of the presidential election that held on 26 February. His main opponent, Macky Sall—a former prime minister and Wade protégé until they had a massive falling out—scored 26.6 percent of the votes cast in the first round but Wade with 34.8 percent was unable to score the majority needed to win the election. As they prepared for the run-off election between Sall and Wade, the Senegalese people sensed that this would be their last opportunity to kick Wade out of office.
How fitting then that the alliance formed by opposition candidates to support Sall in the final offensive against Wade was named “United With The Same Hope” (Benno Bokk Yakkar, in the indigenous Wolof language)! Wade may have had his laugh in the first round of the presidential election but the people of Senegal, slighted by his subversion of their will by manipulating the country’s constitution to suit his whims, were determined to have the last laugh.
They rallied round Sall who had vowed—as part of his campaign promises—to effect an amendment of the constitution to shorten presidential terms to five years from the current seven, and enforce the two-term limit if he was elected as president. When the run-off was conducted, they indeed had the last laugh as Sall scored 65.8 percent of the vote to roundly trounce Abdoulaye Wade!
As commendable as it is that outgoing President Abdoulaye Wade quickly conceded defeat and congratulated the president-elect, we must remember that evil will prevail only when good men do nothing. The people of Senegal could have resigned themselves to “fate” and allowed Wade to ride roughshod over their will but they have instead, displayed the bravery that their soccer team, the Teranga Lions failed to show in AFCON 2012. The resounding lions’ roar of the Senegalese people reverberates across the African continent and even beyond. Senegal’s motto of “One People, One Goal, One Faith”—in French, “Une people, Un But, Une Foi”- rings true and should serve as a reminder of what is achievable when a people come together regardless of their individual political leanings and tribal prejudices to fight injustice.
As we hear their roar of victory resound across a continent riddled with bad leaders, it is the hope amongst many that fear will be struck into the hearts of those who seek to unjustly trample the wishes of the people underfoot. Truth be told, Africa needs more lions!
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He is well-respected for his intellect, charisma and passion for life. He is among other things, a poet, writer, an astute businessman, public speaker, and a social entrepreneur committed to ushering in positive change to his home country of Nigeria.