After the Senegalese presidential election : Towards a regional domino effect ? Spécial


Many countries in the sub-region watched Senegal's tumultuous electoral process with concern and attention. Historically renowned for its democratic tradition, the country seemed, to some, to have staggered before arriving at a reassuring outcome: the first-round victory of Bassirou Diomaye Faye, quickly recognized by the ruling party. This triumph was widely welcomed as a sign of democratic hope, in a regional context where authoritarian winds had been blowing for some time. It was against this backdrop that the Timbuktu Institute organized an online seminar on April 17, on the theme: "Regional echoes of political change: towards a re-enchantment of democracy?" with a panel comprising : Mouhyddine Ouedraogo, jurist and human rights defender (Burkina Faso); Nodjiwameem Dioumdanem, multimedia journalist and jurist (Chad); Narcisse Nganchop, politician and president of PACTEF; Fousseini Diop, head of governance and climate commitment programs at AJCAD (Mali), and Mougue Bibi Pacôme, jurist (Togo).

Hope - this is clearly the main sentiment to emerge in the consciences of young people from several countries in the region, following the Senegalese electoral process, which saw the victory of President Bassirou Diomaye Faye. "The events leading up to this recent election symbolize the perseverance and resilience of young people. It gives us hope that a new political world is possible", enthuses Nodjiwameem Dioumdanem, a Chadian lawyer and activist. Burkinabe lawyer and human rights activist Mouhyddine Ouédraogo agrees. "The Senegalese presidential election was closely followed by young people in Burkina Faso and the Sahel. It was the hope of African democracy that was at stake in Senegal", he notes. Fousseini Diop, who hails from Mali, a country ruled by a military regime since May 2021, also admires the Senegalese electoral process. "For young people in Mali, it was a ray of hope. Senegal has given us a lesson in democracy, in the sense that even when institutions are on shaky ground, it's always possible to safeguard democracy," says the head of governance and climate commitment programs at the Malian association AJCAD (Association des Jeunes pour la Citoyenneté Active et la Démocratie). 

"Togolese youth were keen to follow the process, which was widely covered by the domestic media. And Senegal was an eloquent example of how African peoples also aspire to democracy", notes Mougue Bibi Pacôme, a Togolese jurist. Long before Diomaye Faye came to power, the ideas of the party (ex-Pastef) had already begun to inspire beyond Senegal's borders. Last March in Cameroon, for example, the Pactef (Patriotes Africains du Cameroun pour le travail, l'éthique et la fraternité - African Patriots of Cameroon for Work, Ethics and Fraternity), inspired by the Senegalese model and proudly assumed by its founder, Narcisse Nganchop, was created. "Electing a president by force of the ballot box is a message of hope. It makes us realize that anything is possible. Bassirou Diomaye Faye's victory is that of the sovereign Senegalese people. His election has awakened a dormant flame in the youth of Senegal," asserts the politician who has been in exile for the past seven years.

"If the Senegalese have done it, why can't we?"

For Bakary Sambe, Regional Director of the Timbuktu Institute and moderator of the discussions, the fear was palpable. "With authoritarianism so much in vogue, we wondered whether Senegal would go over to the wrong side. But in the end, Diomaye Faye's victory was an electroshock to the pressing democratic demands of civil society and youth", he observes. For her part, Chadian jurist Nodjiwameem Dioumdanem praises the dedication of Senegal's social corps. "The vitality of Senegalese civil society was decisive. The way activists, journalists and feminists got involved was admirable. Quite a few young Chadians expressed their feelings, which may even have boosted the opponent Succès Masra. We often hear that democracy is complicated to implement in Africa. If they've done it, why can't we? As a reminder, Chad, which is currently moving towards a presidential election, has been ruled with an authoritarian hand since April 2021, by a military council headed by Mahamat Idriss Déby, son of the late Idriss Déby Itno.

"The Senegalese Constitutional Council not only annulled the postponement announced by Macky Sall, but also reiterated the framework within which the elections should be held. This is truly admirable, and shows that when institutions play their part, democracy holds. What's more, the fact that the ruling party recognized the provisional results of the ballot boxes only a few hours after the announcement of the first trends is a strong signal. They could have forced the issue, as is the case in some African countries, but they didn't," asserts Togolese jurist Mougue Bibi Pacôme. He continues: "In Togo, for example, they are in the process of revising the Constitution without consulting the people or holding a referendum.

The Senegalese case thus seems to bring optimism back to controversies about the compatibility of democracy with African contexts, says Malian Fousseini Diop. "Some people confuse democracy with bad governance. The events on Capitol Hill in January 2021 in the United States show that democracy cannot be perfect either. What's more, the Senegalese army didn't intervene like other countries. So, it's possible," says AJCAD Mali. For his part, Burkina Faso analyst Mouhyddine Ouédraogo acknowledges that "even if we can't dismiss the legitimacy of challenges to the notion of democracy, Senegal is proof that when a people is educated in democratic values, the results are there. It's possible to implement a program of change while remaining within a democratic framework.

After hope, big expectations and huge challenges

It would be an understatement to say that the immense hopes raised by the new government are proportional to the magnitude of the expectations it now faces. The renegotiation of the fisheries and oil and gas agreements, the cost of living, youth unemployment, Senegal's future in the ECOWAS zone, corruption, the strengthening of social cohesion... so many challenges that give an idea of the colossal task ahead. For his part, Fousseini Diop from Mali believes that attention should be paid to state management of power. "We have young people who are more and more outspoken and who don't hesitate to look things in the face, as shown by the debates on the fisheries agreements. What's more, the duo at the head of the Senegalese state is an interesting configuration, compared with our countries where parties are often represented by a single figure. However, the cohabitation of Sonko and Diomaye at the pinnacle of power will be decisive, and the Senegalese will have to be patient", he points out. 

For Burkina Faso's Mouhyddine Ouédraogo, the new Senegalese government has a certain historical responsibility. "It is up to the Senegalese authorities to be sufficiently lucid and modest in the hopes and promises they make, because when so much hope is pinned on them and they fail, this creates frustration and can put democracy on trial, with the risk of some giving in to the siren calls of authoritarianism", warns the human rights activist. For her part, Chadian journalist Nodjiwameem Dioumdanem hopes for a constant strengthening of democracy: "Democracy is not only built during elections. It must be constantly present in active and public life, so that we can continue to dream of this African democracy, promoting democratic values. What's more, leaders have a heavy task to perform with regard to young people. They can count on them.

As for Mougue Bibi Pacôme, he sees it as a good omen that the new authorities have raised the issue of the FCFA. It's a good thing," he says, "and shows that the new authorities are willing to rethink their relations with international partners, and more generally with the West. The founder of Cameroon's Pactef party, Narcisse Nganchop, more or less agrees. "Our brothers in Senegal have no complexes. The people of Africa must follow this path, with leaders who are voted for by the nation. It's up to our nations to demand respect," he maintains.

According to Ousmane Abdoulaye Barro, a member of Ousmane Sonko's cabinet, the new authorities are calm on the subject. "There won't be any problems with donors. The type of partnerships we've had until now are outdated, and international partners are well aware of this. We are aware of the constraints of state administration, but we just want a win-win partnership with the West, while renegotiating our social, political, economic and cultural relations," he reassures us. In his view, the way in which the political class and the people were able to find a way out of the crisis was proof of "the Senegalese baraka". Recalling the idea that "nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come", Bakary Sambe also advocates understanding democracy as "a matter of process and construction."

Fatou Thiam, a lawyer, academic and member of Senegalese civil society, is nonetheless concerned about the negligible number of women in Ousmane Sonko's government: "The government should rethink women's representation in decision-making bodies and their involvement in the redistribution of wealth. If we're talking about a break with the past, this should be observable at every level", she warns. While congratulating Senegal on this "democratic breakthrough", Oumarou Sana, a guest speaker from Burkina Faso, insists that African countries, and Senegal in particular, "need to think about a democracy based on the socio-cultural realities specific to each society".


By Kensio Akpo, Timbuktu Institute