Why Senegal’s political system does not support power drunkenness

Senegalese opposition leader Ousmane Sonko cheers as he arrives to attend the final campaign rally of Bassirou Diomaye Faye, the presidential candidate he is backing in the March 24 election, in Mbour, Senegal March 22, 2024. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

In a continent that has experienced several coup d’etats and instability, democracy is a well-cherished system of government in many countries.

In West Africa particularly, coups have characterised the history of many countries including Ghana, Guinea, and Gabon among others. The Economic Community of Western African States, known as ECOWAS, was established in 1975 as a response to these challenges with 15 member countries.

In recent times, Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso have seen their leaders overthrown and have threatened to withdraw from ECOWAS.

Amid this, Senegal stands tall as one of the few countries whose democratic credentials have withstood the test of time.

The West African country which gained independence in 1960 has a reputation for transparency in government operations and has been described as one of the most successful democratic republics on the continent.

Political system and democratic history

The president is the highest authority in Senegal. He holds Executive power. The legislative power is held by parliamentarians and the courts are in charge of the judiciary. Although all government branches are supposed to be independent, there is relatively some influence of the executive in both the legislature and the judiciary.

Senegal’s first president, Léopold Sédar Senghor, after ruling for 20 years, resigned and handed over power to his then Prime Minister, Abdou Diouf in 1981. His tenure has been the longest in the history of the country. His predecessor, Abdou Diouf held his office as president from 1981 to 2000, making a total of 19 years in power. He then handed over to Abdoulaye Wade who was president for 12 years from 2000 to 2012.

Until recently when he was moved out democratically by the country’s youngest, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, Macky Sall was Senegal’s president for 12 years, from 2012 to 2024, after being reelected in 2019.

The country has had a 7-year term system for presidents but that is now for five years.

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Why power drunkenness won’t hold in Senegal

The country recorded history on March 24 after electing Bassirou Diomaye Faye, 44 years old, as president, making him Africa’s first-ever youngest-elected president. Before this, Senghor became the first president at age 53, followed by Diouf who became president at 45, Abdoulaye Wade at 73, and Macky Sall at 50 years.

The closest to him was Diouf who was 45 years old who handed over to his opponent and called to congratulate him in 2000.

Not only is Senegal one of the pacesetters of democracy, but it also has a history where all presidents in power for long periods were there because of re-election and not because of authoritarianism or power drunkenness.

Explaining the rationale behind this, political analyst, Gabriel Baglo explained that Senegal’s population acts as a watchdog over their presidents, and the respective state institutions do their work to ensure that the president or elected government body carries out its responsibilities like it should.

According to him, despite President Faye’s age, there is no possibility of him holding on to power because the political system does not support that.

“That’s not possible in Senegal. These are people who are jealous of their democracy, and if you followed the trend up to the election, you will understand that it is difficult for a government to sit tight and refuse to leave power.  We have a very professional army and administration so it will be difficult. Some people tried, the last two leaders tried but it couldn’t work,” Baglo told GSW’s Wonder Hagan.

“Looking at what happened over the last months, I’m very confident, especially looking at the enlightenment of the population, the voters, they are the watchdogs. Even if the president makes any attempt to change or keep the power, or to change his mind, it won’t work because he will be reminded every now and then.   So that is the beauty of what is happening in Senegal. You have a very well-informed, alert population, that is watching the situation and a civil society that is very vibrant and a media that is very vibrant too so it will be very difficult that he will change his mind. It’s a very tight situation,” he added.

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