Senegal’s octogenarian ruler, Abdoulaye Wade, has hit the brick wall in his attempt to extend his 12-year rule. He has been soundly trounced in Sunday’s Presidential run off. Even before the official results could be released to confirm his loss, he conceded defeat to his rival, Macky Sall, 50 years old.
At long last, the hopes of Wade, one of the dinosaurs of African politics, have dashed—very much to the relief of his compatriots and those of us praying hard against anything terrible happening again in an African country. The violence that preceded the elections indicated that anything contrary to defeat for Wade would plunge that country into turmoil. Fortunately, nothing of the sort has happened to endanger life and limb, thanks to the decisive electoral choice made by the voters.
In the first round elections in February, Wade fell short of a majority, polling only 34.8% and Sall in second place with 26.6% of the total votes cast.
Both Sall and Wade are no strangers to each other in the workings of Senegalese politics. Indeed, Sall owes his political career to Wade, and had held several ministry portfolios before becoming prime minister, according to the BBC’s Thomas Fessy in Dakar.
But both fell out over the handling of public spending by Karim Wade, the president’s unpopular son, whom many believe has been trying to succeed his father, as the BBC correspondent put it.
Wade had adroitly sought to extend his rule. He had introduced a two-term limit for presidential office but turned round to seek a third term, claiming that the limit was introduced at a time that he couldn’t be considered as ineligible. He had argued that the limit should not apply retrospectively and that he could therefore seek two more terms. His claim was endorsed by the constitutional court, which raised serious questions and provoked riots in which six people died.
Now that he has been dealt this devastating electoral punch, I hope he will leave the scene and extricate himself from the power structures in the country. He should resign himself to fate and not attempt doing anything to cause trouble. I know it for a fact that African leaders don’t like it when so routed in elections and even though they may concede defeat, they don’t hesitate to do weird things behind the scene.
It is good for Wade to concede defeat, considering the volatile situation in the country at the moment. This open admission of defeat should be enough to curtail any electoral dispute or violence. If his supporters also see things the way he has done, then, the situation in the country should be calm.
By conceding defeat, Wade has set a good example for other leaders to emulate. We have all been witnesses to the problems that power-hungry African leaders have caused in one way or the other, especially in manipulating the electoral process to advantage only to plunge their countries into turmoil.
Most African leaders such as Paul Biya of the Cameroon, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda are still in power because of how they have managed to control the electoral process to favour them.
Consequently, these countries continue to experience political unrests, especially when their leaders aren’t solving their problems. What it means is that the more these leaders remain in office, the worse the situation becomes. Were they using their long reign to solve the people’s problems, no one would bat an eyelid or oppose their bid for longer terms. They are not; hence, the agitation to get rid of them from office.
These leaders know the benefits of political power and dig in all the more, damn the consequences. African leaders must learn to respect the will of the people. Like the late Muammar Gaddafi, those among them who think that their rule is infallible or permanent will live to regret when the tide eventually turns against them.
It shouldn’t have taken Wade so long to concede defeat or to realize how unacceptable he had become to the Senegalese. The writing had been long on the wall for him to recognize his end as the country’s leader but he chose to look elsewhere until this epiphanic moment.
Apart from being so old and senile, he has many other lapses as a leader that should have alerted him to the dead-end that he had reached. Had he been honest, he would have admitted his shortcomings and saved the country all the huge expenses made on this election, especially the run-off.
Abdoulaye Wade is 85 years old, probably older than that if we dig into his background. Indeed, being an octogenarian in itself suggests that he can’t be in full control of his faculty in the current political environment and should have left the scene after almost 15 years in power.
Good academic qualifications he may have but he can’t claim to have solved the problems for which he entered office after many unsuccessful attempts. He represents the last vestiges of the older generation that began protesting against French colonialism and the African leaders who took over from the French administrators.
Many Senegalese opposed to Wade had good reasons not to want him in office beyond the constitutionally mandated two terms; but as is characteristic of power-hungry African leaders, he sought to manipulate the constitution to remain in office.
Considering the volatile situation in the country before and after the first round of elections, Wade should have saved the Senegalese tax-payer the headache of this Presidential run-off. Now that he has been hit by the truth that he has run away from all this while, I hope he will leave the scene in a decent manner without attempting to create any more tension. He has enough to live for in the twilight of his life and must resign himself to his fate.
The incoming President also needs to learn useful lessons from the protests that Wade’s insistence on ruling the country has generated. To that end, they should bear in mind the enormity of the challenges facing them. If they fail to serve national interests and are to leave the scene, they should do so without attempting to manipulate the system to advantage. That way, they will be working to sustain democracy in Senegal and serve as useful points of reference for others on the continent.
This brings to mind the fate of other senile rulers in other African countries. Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe comes to mind. His intransigence has caused much harm to Zimbabwe. As he still insists on contesting the forthcoming elections, he should take a cue or two from Wade’s fate to realize that although he may have grandiose plans for nation-building, his many years ruling the country haven’t helped the people li8ve in decent circumstances nor has it helped him solve the country’s economic problems.
Instead, he has used his long rein to ruin the Zimbabwean economy and to widen the gulf between pro-ZANU-PF sympathizers and their opponents in the Movement for Democratic Change and other splinter political groupings not affiliated to the ZANU-PF. The Zimbabwean crisis is a difficult one that may lend itself to solution if Mugabe leaves the scene with his heavy-handed approach to national politics.
He has created too much for his compatriots and the entire world to worry over and should begin to realize that no matter how determined he may be to continue ruling the country, his days wishes will not be anybody’s horse to ride. He is almost a wreck in his dotage and should begin making moves to bow out gracefully beforehand.
Events in Mali also pose a serious challenge. We turn to the coup d’état in Mali despite preparations made for general elections in a month’s time. The action by the soldiers is virtually premised on the deposed President’s inability to equip the military to facilitate its battle with the Tuareg rebels. But is that enough for the government to be kicked out of office? What has happened in Mali is unacceptable. No wonder it has been roundly condemned by many countries and organizations.
That the deposed President refused to postpone the general elections may have its own rationale but there is ample evidence to suggest that the Tuareg rebels won’t participat4e in that election and might make it difficult for voters in areas they control to do so. In that sense, then, the government should have postponed the elections and provided enough logistics to solve the crisis.
Now that the soldiers have stepped in, it will be difficult for democracy to be restored soon. The claim being made by Captain Sanogo that he is not in office because he loves power or that he will not cling on to it is puerile. It is the very reason that military leaders give on the first few days in office only to turn round to perpetrate their rule against all odds.
Abdoulaye Wade’s quick concession of defeat should serve useful purposes in countries gearing up for elections this year or the next. In Ghana, where general elections are slated for December this year, it is expected that the incumbent and his challengers will behave properly so as not to create any tension or plunge the country into chaos just because one may want to either remain in office or be in office at all costs.
The people expect that the democracy that they are practising will be geared toward solving their existential problems and ensuring peace and tranquility in the country instead of being manipulated to serve parochial personal, ethnic, or select group interests. Such a democracy should be shorn of all negative tendencies and nurtured to bring the people together for a common purpose—nation building. The people will be willing to do so if their leaders don’t exploit the loopholes to cause mayhem.
Let’s join hands to say good-bye to Abdoulaye Wade and pray that the new administration will be careful how it governs the country, making judicious use of Wade’s good policies and turning the bad into good ones for implementation. That approach should catalyze national development efforts as well as help them manage national affairs in a mature manner.
Sall has many problems to solve if he is to remain the Senegalese people’s darling. Having promised that if elected he would shorten the presidential term to five years from the current seven and enforce a two-term limit, he has set conditions that the people will expect him to fulfill when his turn comes to seek the voters’ mandate.
He has also promised to bring in measures to reduce the price of basic foodstuffs and will be held accountable, especially at a time that unemployment has dominated the people’s list of worries. That is why the immediate objective of the government is not witch-hunting but implementation of policies to justify the trust that the voters have reposed in Sall and his party.
Such will be the expectations of the people as the celebration of Wade’s defeat heightens and the reality dawns on the Senegalese voters supporting Macky Sall that mere celebrations won’t end their age-old problems of underdevelopment. Good governance does. Good-bye, Abdoulaye Wade!
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