Considered one of Africa’s model democracies, Senegal is currently in the midst of a contentious presidential election. Some Senegalese protesters have died during demonstrations against current President Abdoulaye Wade, who is running for re-election.
Current Election Turmoil
Wade was first elected in 2000, ending a 40-year reign of the Socialist party in the country. Although Senegal’s constitution has a two-term limit, Senegalese courts decided that this rule does not include Wade’s first term because it began before the constitutional term was adopted. Wade, who is officially age 85 (although some say he is older), had originally promised to step down but instead is seeking his third term, unleashing a wave of violence across the capital of Dakar.
In January, famous Senagalese singer-songwriter Youssou N’Dour announced he was running for president. N’Dour has emerged in recent years as a critic of Wade, sparking accusations of corruption, nepotism and personal enrichment. However, it is Macky Sall that Wade will face in a runoff election that is to take place this month.
An Abridged History of Senegal
Situated in the westernmost part of Africa, Senegal includes a desert in the north and a tropical climate in the south. During the 17th and 18th centuries, Senegal’s economy was based primarily upon the exports of ivory, gold and slaves. Today, the economy is based primarily on agriculture and investments from Senegalese nationals living abroad.
Europeans began exploring West Africa in the 15th century, establishing a popular trading post in Senegal. During the 1880s and 1890s, France established Senegal as a French colony, as a part of the larger French West African territory. Senegal remained under French rule until the empire was dissolved in 1960.
The first president of Senegal was Leopold Senghor, a former socialist deputy under the French government. Senghor established the first constitution of Senegal, modeled after the French constitution. Senghor remained in office until 1980, when he stepped down and appointed his successor Abdou Diouf.
Serving as president of Senegal from 1981 until 2000, Diouf strengthened Senegal’s commitment to democracy and human rights, encouraging broader political participation and increasing Senegal’s diplomatic engagements. However, domestic violence originating in the southern region of Casamance occasionally led to a violent separatist movement and border tensions.
Diouf was ultimately defeated in the presidential election of 2000 by opposition leader Wade. The presidential transition was peaceful, and parliamentary elections in 2001 consolidated Wade’s power base. Wade helped to launch the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, or Nepad, to foster economic recovery in Africa through good governance.
Despite an uptick in Senegal’s economy, Wade has been criticized for failing to raise Senegal’s place on the United Nations Human Development Index. The poverty rate in Senegal hovers around 50 percent. Wade has also been criticized for failing on his promises to revitalize Senegal’s faltering agricultural sector, which employs 12.5 million people. He has been repeatedly accused of corruption and of squandering scarce resources in a country that depends on foreign aid.
With the first round of voting underway, Senegalese citizens eagerly await the announcement of results. If none of the candidates wins more than 50 percent of the votes, a second round of voting will commence this month.
Facts About Senegal
- Full name: Republic of Senegal
- Population: 12.8 million (UN, 2011)
- Major religion: Islam
- Major languages: French, Wolof
- Main exports: Fish, peanuts, petroleum products, phosphates, cotton