By Henry D Gombya and agency reports
Just as Africa was mourning its latest military coup, there was cause for celebrations at the weekend after voters in the West African country of Senegal went to polls and changed their leader. Abdoulaye Wade, 85, who has ruled the country for the last 12 years, was trying to go for another term of office but his countrymen said ‘enough is enough’.
Senegal becomes the second African country within a year to peacefully change a government through the polls after Zambia last year peacefully voted out incumbent Rupiah Banda and replaced him with the opposition’s Michael Sata. Senegal remains the only Western African country never to have suffered a military coup. President Wade had weighed the possibilities of introducing his son Karim as his successor, an idea the Senegalese people utterly disagreed with.
But Wade did not do as several other African leaders have done by imposing himself on his people. After learning that exit polls were showing he was losing to the eventual winner, Mack Sall, 50, he picked up the phone, rang Sall and conceded. There was not a single soldier on the streets to intimidate voters as we have seen in such countries as Zimbabwe, Kenya and Uganda, to name but a few.
According to Thomas Fessy, the BBC correspondent in Dakar the Senegalese capital says President-elect Macky Sall saw this weekend’s poll victory as a “new era” for the country. Speaking in front of thousands of cheering supporters in the capital Dakar, Sall promised to be a president for all Senegalese. Street celebrations quickly followed the incumbent president’s early phone call to Sall to admit defeat and congratulate him. These were scenes of relief for the Senegalese. People were simply relieved that democracy had prevailed.
Many had feared that Abdoulaye Wade’s candidacy for a third term meant he would try to cling to power and tarnish the country’s image as a peaceful and stable democracy. Senegal hasn’t suffered from a military takeover since independence but Mr Wade’s intention to run again was seen as a “constitutional coup” violating a two-term limit. Fessy writes:
“After weeks of deadly protests before the first round, the Senegalese gave a lesson in democracy to West Africa – and the whole continent – using their ballots to oust Mr Wade rather than continue facing the security forces in the streets. But is it Macky Sall’s victory or Abdoulaye Wade’s defeat? As the local media were announcing results coming out of polling station one after the other after polls closed, it became clear that this election was a referendum in which people voted “no” to more of Mr Wade.
President Nicolas Sarkozy of Senegal’s former colonial ruler, France, hailed the result as being “good news for Africa in general and for Senegal in particular”. “Senegal is a major African country and a model of democracy,” he said. The election comes just days after a military coup in neighbouring Mali. Senegal remains the only country in West Africa to have never undergone a coup. Thijs Berman, the head of the European Union observer mission to Senegal, said the results were very clear – about 65 per cent for Mr Sall and 35 per cent for Mr Wade so “there is no hesitation as to who is the winner”. Mr Sall stressed that the people were the main winners in the poll. Mr Wade had “phoned his rival Macky Sall at 21:30 GMT [on Sunday] to congratulate him after the first results showed him to be the winner of a presidential run-off,” the Senegalese Press Agency said. Mr Wade, 85, has governed Senegal for 12 years.