West Africa: Senegal and the Survival of Democracy in Ecowas

16 February 2024

The disturbing political developments in Senegal is one that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) needs to watch closely with a view to intervening before it gets out of hand and provokes another military takeover. There are lessons to learn and precautions to take from recent events in the subregion.

For instance, the series of military takeover of power in Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger Republic pose a significant question about the future of democracy in West Africa. Poor governance, corruption among top politicians and government officials, manipulation of elections by incumbents and widening poverty among the populace mean that military takeovers have received popular support, as seen most recently in Republic of Niger.

The regional bloc, (ECOWAS) went on to impose sanctions on Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger Republic which culminated in the three countries pulling out of the body, claiming that ECOWAS was now pandering to the whims of foreign powers.

ECOWAS' leaders handling of the situation with the military juntas has been described as tactless by some authorities in international diplomacy, especially as the exit of the three countries potentially exposes the region to security threat from terrorists from the Maghreb.

Not a few think that ECOWAS was wrong to turn a blind eye to the excesses of political leaders in the region and then turn around to impose sanctions on countries when the military move against the government in office.

Senegal, one of Africa's most stable democracies, is slowly sliding into anarchy due to attempts by President Macky Sall to manipulate the country's election to achieve a predetermined outcome. On February 3, he announced that he had rescinded the decree convening the presidential election for February 25. Not since 1963 has a presidential election been postponed in Senegal. Sall got the parliament to rubber-stamp his proposal to postpone the election to December 15. The legislation allows him to extend his term limit until the new electoral process is completed. And to get that done, the security forces forced opposition lawmakers out of the parliamentary chamber before the controversial vote was taken. Opposition parties described Mall's action as a constitutional coup.

PASTEF Party's vice-presidential candidate, Yassine Fall, told a media outlet: "Macky Sall understands that if we go to elections, we will win by a landslide victory. But he wants to stay in power or have someone from his party to be elected. This is why he plays these kinds of games to come and manipulate the institutions illegally."

Having completed his two-term limit, Sall had declared he was leaving office and was just supposed to conduct elections. However, his preference, Prime Minister Amadou Ba, as the ruling party's presidential candidate was not well received within his party. Although Prime Minister Ba joined the ruling party, Alliance pour la République (APR), in 2017, he has never managed to build a consensus around himself and his campaign has failed to gather the needed steam, causing many in the party to want someone else, fearing that his candidacy condemned the government to defeat.

The latest riots in the capital, Dakar, and other cities, which have claimed at least three lives, are not the first time the 2024 presidential poll will cause violence in the country. There were violent protests on June 2, 2023 following the conviction of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko - on the charge of corrupting young people, which could exclude him from the presidential poll. The riots that broke out led to the death of no fewer than 23 persons, with about 500 arrested.

Under President Sall, there has been increasing abridgement of the freedoms and rights of opposition figures, with the government-backed judiciary excluding many of them from participating in the political process and clamping others in jail. The civil society and the media are not left out, with some journalists incarcerated and independent media outlets proscribed by government.

President Sall is toeing a not-too-dissimilar path to that of President Alassane Quattara of Ivory Coast who in March 2020 declared he would not seek a third term, but changed his mind five months later in August following the unexpected death of Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly who was the ruling coalition's presidential candidate. The disputed elections that followed, which Quattara won, cost the lives of at least 85 Ivoirians. The election similarly witnessed the exclusion and incarceration of opposition figures from the polls, using the instrumentality of the law.

Beyond expressing concern, ECOWAS should try to take concrete steps to address the issue of

Senegal before it gets out of hand. If the bloc is desirous of promoting democracy in member states, then it had better start calling leaders in the subregion to order when they begin to indulge in anti-democratic practices that threaten the stability of their countries; otherwise, military intervention will increasing become more fashionable in the region and on the continent.

AllAfrica publishes around 400 reports a day from more than 100 news organizations and over 500 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify allAfrica.com as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.