Up Front

Around the Halls: 2012 Senegal Presidential Election

Mwangi S. Kimenyi, Julius Agbor, Olumide Taiwo, Anne W. Kamau, Zenia Lewis, Jessica Smith, Witney Schneidman, and Abdoulaye Diagne

Later this month, Senegal will hold the most contentious presidential election since the introduction of a multi-party democratic system in the 1980s. Notwithstanding who wins, the election is bound to have far-reaching implications on the future of the nation. Senegal has long been held as an example of good leadership and stability in West Africa and in sub-Saharan Africa: It has escaped military rule and managed to have peaceful and democratic transition of power. Yet, the events leading to the 2012 election suggest that its record of democracy may be tainted if not completely negated. Scholars from AGI and its partner in Senegal, the Consortium for Social and Economic Research (Consortium pour la recherche économique et sociale – CRES), discuss the forthcoming election.

What are the key issues and implications of Senegal’s upcoming presidential election? Join the conversation on Twitter using the #AGISenegal hashtag and register for our February 16 event on Senegal’s election, a turning point for democracy and economic growth.

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President Abdoulaye Wade’s Controversial Re-election Bid
Mwangi S. Kimenyi, Director, Africa Growth Initiative
Zenia A. Lewis, Research Assistant

A major contentious issue in Senegal has been whether it is constitutional for the incumbent President Abdoulaye Wade to run for office again. Wade has been a glowing example of a victorious former opposition figure who managed to peacefully obtain office from the then longstanding incumbent. However, his most recent re-election campaign has caused many of his admirers and supporters to doubt his commitment to democratic ideals. Popular opinion in the country – also widely held by the international community – appears to be that he should not run for another term.

President Wade came to power in 2000 after defeating incumbent, Abdou Diouf who held power from 1981 to 2000. Wade had been an opposition candidate in four presidential elections before he was finally elected in 2000. He was then re-elected in 2007 with 56 percent of the vote in a crowded field of 15 candidates. In 2001, during the beginning of his first term, the constitution was amended, which limited the presidents to two terms and reduced the length of each term from seven to five years. In 2009, he indicated that he would run again in 2012 as the amendments came into effect after he took office, but many consider such a move to be in contravention of the constitution. However, it was not official until January 27, a month before the scheduled election, when the Constitutional Council cleared Wade to run for a third term, a move that dismayed the electorate and triggered riots.

Recent public opinion surveys of likely Senegalese voters show declining support and trust of President Wade and his government:[1] in a 2008 survey, a majority of respondents felt that the president often or always “ignores the laws of the country.[2] Most telling was that 74 percent of respondents agreed or agreed very strongly that, “The Constitution should limit the president to serving a maximum of two terms in office.” Recently there have been concerns over Wade’s actions, which are seen as undermining democracy and weakening his political opponents, including his suggested appointment in the end of last year of two leading opposition figures, who are now running for the presidency, to ministerial positions and the arrest of a the rival socialist party youth leader. In the summer of 2011, Wade declared plans to change the constitution, lowering the required proportion of votes needed for a first round presidential election from 50 percent to 25 percent, a move likely intended to improve his chances of winning the election. These actions warrant concerns as to whether Wade will continue to erode the gains made in advancing democracy in Senegal if he wins another term.

What is at Stake in Regards to Senegal’s External Relationships? 
Mwangi S. Kimenyi, Director, Africa Growth Initiative

Witney Schneidman, President, Schneidman & Associates International, Special Guest, Africa Growth Initiative

Jessica Smith, Research Assistant


Several of Senegal’s key external relationships could be jeopardized if the elections scheduled for February 26 do not go well. In 2009, according to World Bank figures, Senegal’s net Official Development Assistance was nearly 8 percent of GDP. Last year when the government of Malawi reacted violently to public protests over an increase in food prices, the U.S., the UK and other donors suspended assistance due to an alleged deterioration in political freedoms and the death of at least 19 protestors.

Election observers from the EU, Senegal’s largest donor, have already arrived in the country and have expressed concerns about the transparency of the process used to determine the eligibility of candidates. The observers have also remarked on the use of force against opposition protestors.

U.S.-Senegal relations have been “excellent” over the past several years, but Washington has voiced apprehension about backsliding on government transparency. Two weeks ago, in reference to the upcoming elections, State Department Spokesperson, Victoria Nuland said “the [statesmanlike] thing to do would be to cede to the next generation, and we think that would be better.” This was echoed by Deputy Secretary of State Chris Burns at the African Union summit and a letter to Wade from the U.S. Senate subcommittee on Africa.

The U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation compact to Senegal requires countries to uphold political freedom performance indicators. Thus, it may be the first assistance to be suspended if there is a drop in the current level of democracy. Trade relationships, including membership in the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), and broader assistance are at stake if the election results in a reduction of political liberties for the Senegalese public.

The Economic Community of West African States has also sent election observers to Senegal. One of the observers, Ambassador Bassir from Sierra Leone, said, “whatever affects Senegal negatively, will no doubt spill over in the sub region and that a lot rest[s]on ECOWAS to ensure that the government, actors and the citizenry as a whole, take the necessary measures to prevent any such ugly situation.”

The Youth Vote in Senegal
Mwangi S. Kimenyi, Director, Africa Growth Initiative

Abdoulaye Diagne, Consortium of Economic and Social Research

Jessica Smith, Research Assistant

According to the World Bank, Senegal has started to recover from the global economic slowdown that started in 2009; however, the aftermath of the crisis on the current macroeconomic conditions continue to put strain on the youth population. Senegal’s energy sector has performed poorly and tourism and remittances have begun to suffer from the eurozone crisis, keeping the West African nation below the expected 4.6 percent average sub-Saharan growth rate. Senegal, once a leader in the region in terms of economic performance, is falling behind other top performers, such as Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Mozambique. Small gains in growth for Senegal are not translating into improved employment opportunities for young people.

The youth population (ages 15-24) is feeling the brunt of these adverse economic conditions. The Consortium of Economic and Social Research (CRES) in Dakar indicates that youth are blocked from many employment opportunities due to a policy of increasing the retirement age and a hiring freeze in the public sector. Additionally, sectors driving growth have intensive capital requirements, such as information and communications technology (ITC) and infrastructure and youth often have difficulty gaining access to start-up capital and credit to participate in these needed markets. Thus, young people are pushed toward working in the informal sector, migrating out of Senegal, or participating in illegal activities. In response, young Senegalese have created a movement called “Y’en a marre”, or enough is enough, to express their frustrations with the economic situation, lack of amenities, government corruption and the rise in food and fuel prices. Youth effectively protested Wade’s first attempt at constitutional tampering last year, and have already begun to protest the announcement of Wade as an official candidate via the youth dominated group “Movement of the 23rd” or M23.

If Wade is re-elected, frustrated youth might see current economic conditions as cause for large scale revolt. What is particularly disturbing is that neither the outgoing government nor a new government stemming from the opposition seems well equipped to face massive youth unemployment. The recently adopted Social and Economic Document of Policy 2012-2015, which succeeds the Strategic Documents for the Reduction of Poverty (DSRP) of the 2000s, dedicates only minor support to the unemployment issue. Even though the opposition parties denounce youth unemployment, they have not proposed concrete solutions to reduce it significantly.

Senegal’s Electoral Institutions and Prospects for Democracy
Mwangi S. Kimenyi, Director, Africa Growth Initiative

Zenia A. Lewis, Research Assistant

Holding elections does not necessarily strengthen democracy if the electoral processes are weak and subject to manipulation by the executive or any other branch of government, or allows the government to favor one candidate or party. Recent protests following the ruling of the Constitutional Council concerning the eligibility of the incumbent president to seek re-election for a third term reflects poorly designed electoral institutions that are likely to weaken democracy.

Besides the Constitutional Council, other electoral institutions in Senegal include the Ministry of the Interior and the Autonomous National Electoral Commission (or La Commission électorale nationale autonome – CENA). The Constitutional Council is made up of five judges appointed by the president and has the final say on matters relating to the constitution – including determining eligibility for the presidency, confirming the announcement of the CENA, and ruling on challenges related to the elections. The Ministry of the Interior is in charge of the election logistics and CENA is supposed to provide autonomous oversight for the electoral process. Both the Constitutional Council and the Interior Ministry are heavily influenced by the executive. CENA is somewhat influenced by the executive as the president confirms its members, but they are initially nominated by independent sources for their integrity and unbiased opinions. Technically the CENA was established by a law so its existence is less permanent and continues at the “discretion of the legislature,”[3] and as mentioned, it still ultimately reports its results to the Constitutional Council for confirmation.

Following his re-election in 2007, Wade appointed an entirely new Constitutional Council in 2008 raising suspicion that it was to ensure his eligibility for a third term. The recent ruling on Wade’s eligibility to contest another presidential term seems to confirm those suspicions. Evidently, the executive has a firm control or influence over the functioning of the electoral institutions, making them inadequate to further democracy. Truly independent electoral institutions are a requirement for smooth and democratic transitions of government. A post-election priority should therefore be reforming the electoral institutions. 

What Might Influence Electoral Choices in Senegal?
Mwangi S. Kimenyi, Director, Africa Growth Initiative

Zenia Lewis, Research Assistant

To a large extent, voting in sub-Saharan African countries tends to be influenced by the primary loci of identification: ethnicity, religion or region. Simply, identity politics often dominate issue politics, like the state of the economy. In the past, voting in Senegal has not been primarily on the basis of identity. AfroBarometer data confirms the viewpoint that generally voters’ ethnic identity is not the leading determinant of voting and research indicates that, “Senegal is a country in which ethnicity plays little or no role in politics.[4]” Religion is seen as something that unites the electorate, with around 94 percent of the population identifying as Muslim. The Islamic brotherhoods in the country are seen as transcending ethnic divisions [5] and political leaders, similarly, have support from multiple Islamic brotherhoods or sects. However, the upcoming election could reveal some clear voting patterns along specific identities and issues. As shown in a companion piece, there is the possibility of candidates instigating divisions based on ethnicity and religious sect for lack of more relevant differences in the presidential contestant agendas.

In the upcoming election, rural-urban voting patterns may also emerge. Senegal’s population is divided almost evenly between urban and rural areas. Perceptions of the economy also vary based on region. Rural voters surveyed have a slightly less favorable view of the economy with around 10 percent more people indicating that the current state is “bad” or “fairly bad” than those surveyed in urban areas. Additionally, almost half of rural residents state that their living conditions are worse or much worse than the rest of the Senegalese population, versus 21 percent in urban areas. These differences in perceptions of well-being could influence voting patterns–opposition candidates may do better in rural areas if they have a convincing message of change.

Another voting pattern that may emerge is that of the Senegalese Diaspora. As of 2000, there were 15 different countries where Senegalese could vote externally. A 2007 study indicates that external voters account for between 4 and 5 percent of the total vote in Senegalese elections. In 2000, the majority of external voters continued to support the incumbent, Abdou Diouf, and could have had significant influence if the second round had been a close runoff. In a close election, the Diaspora vote could indeed be pivotal.

Finally, younger voters have been more opposed to Wade’s re-election bid. They are more likely to vote for opposition as persistent problems of youth unemployment plague the country and the current government lacks a plan for addressing the situation.

Senegal’s 2012 Election: Towards a Replay of Ivory Coast?
Julius Agbor, Africa Research Fellow, Africa Growth Initiative

Although Senegal’s election differs from the Ivory Coast in that there is no armed rebel opposition involved in the election or a North (Muslim) vs. South (Christian) regional divide, the circumstances surrounding this election points very much towards an Ivorian post-election scenario. A companion piece by Mwangi Kimenyi and Zenia Lewis discusses the structural problems created by the lack of independence of the electoral institutions in Senegal. Perhaps a more subtle problem is the potential for post-election conflict in Senegal similar to the Ivory Coast during 2010-2011, which stemmed from the ambiguities arising from the overlapping jurisdictions of the various electoral bodies.

These conflicting jurisdictions in Senegal could trigger confusion with the potential for post-election violence. In the Ivory Coast, although the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) was in charge of the organization and supervision of the elections, it could only publish tentative results that were subject to the approval of the Constitutional Council – which also handled all disputes resulting from the electoral process. The confusion then resulted from significant disparities between the figures earlier announced by the Electoral Commission and those officially proclaimed by the Constitutional Council. In Senegal, this is also likely to happen in event that the official results proclaimed by the Constitutional Council contrast with those reported by the (supposedly) Autonomous National Electoral Commission (CENA). This could especially incite violence due to the widened rift of trust between Senegalese people and Senegal’s political institutions following the controversial ruling in favor of the candidacy of incumbent President Wade by the Constitutional Council. The cases of Senegal and Ivory Coast point to general weaknesses in electoral systems and institutions in former French colonies. Going forward, there is need for these and many other African countries to invest in building electoral institutions that are clear of jurisdictional overlapping and at the same time independent of any branch of government. Unless such an unambiguous electoral framework is built, elections will not serve to entrench democracy but may instead trigger chaos as seen in Ivory Coast.

Neglect of African Indigenous Institutions and the Fragility of Senegalese Democracy
Olumide Taiwo, Africa Research Fellow
Anne W. Kamau, Africa Research Fellow, Africa Growth Initiative

The decision by President Wade to seek a third term in office remains the most contentious issue in the Senegalese elections and one that is likely to trigger a post-election crisis.

It is now a pattern that African countries appear to be stable democracies for a while and slide into constitutional crisis thereafter and most of the crises are associated with tenure elongation ambitions of incumbent presidents. Senegal is unlike other African countries where elections are contests between ethnic groups for state resources. The unifying force of the Senegalese Islamic brotherhood has served to mitigate ethnic divisions, [6] which is particularly important since over 90 percent of the population is Muslim. The Senegalese constitution also allows for a strong central government, and President Wade has taken numerous steps to even make the presidency stronger. This consolidation of power at the center is antithetical to ethnic diversity and is the undoing of many democracy projects in African countries. Moreover, such centralization of power is beginning to take its toll on Senegal. There are indications that opposition candidates and President Wade are beginning to appeal to ethnic groups and specific segments of Islamic organizations for support. With this, Senegal may follow many African countries that are mired in ethnic or religious competition.

Successful and stable democracies in Africa have reformed constitutions and redesigned governance institutions to reflect indigenous collective choice apparatuses. These involve extensive decentralization and devolution of power and recognition of the role of tribal chiefs in the governance process. For example, Botswana – cited as the most stable democracy in Africa – is organized into a federation of autonomous tribes ruled by tribal chiefs, who are also permanent members of the House of Chiefs, which plays an advisory and oversight role in government. Similarly, the Ghanaian constitution created the House of Chiefs at every level of government and empowers the chiefs to play their traditional roles and pursue the interests of their constituents. These arrangements guarantee substantial degrees of autonomy and self governance to the tribal groups and a relatively weak central government. Countries where the center remains powerful may initially appear stable, but such stabilities will always be short-lived.

The Senegalese constitution, like most African constitutions, is far removed from the history of the indigenous people. Simply inheriting a constitution and amending it will only increase the level of animosity and instability. Instead, Senegal needs to rework its constitutions in ways that decentralize power and incorporate its indigenous people in the governance process.


[1] AfroBarometer Report

[2] 53 percent of respondents thought that the president often or always “ignores the laws of the country.” (36 percent stating often, and 17 percent stating always, while 25 percent said never/rarely and 25 percent said they didn’t know)

[3] Senegal: Election Management Bodies in West Africa, A review by AfriMAP and the Open Society Initiative for West Africa http://www.afrimap.org/english/images/report/AfriMAP_EMB_Ch6_Senegal_EN.pdf

[4] Kris Inman and Josephine T. Andrews, 2009. “Corruption and Political Participation in Africa: Evidence from Survey and Experimental Research.” 

[5] Dennis Galvan, 2001. “Democracy without Ethnic Conflict: Embedded Parties, Transcendent Social Capital & Non-violent Pluralism in Senegal and Indonesia.”

[6] The Casamance region lying to the south of the Gambia river is excluded from this description.

Dans les couloirs : L’élection présidentielle 2012 

Ce mois-ci, le Sénégal va procéder à l’élection présidentielle la plus litigieuse depuis l’introduction d’un système démocratique à plusieurs partis dans les années 80. Quelque soit le gagnant, l’élection aura certainement des conséquences à long terme sur l’avenir du pays. Depuis longtemps, le Sénégal donne l’exemple d’un pays stable et bien gouverné en Afrique de l’Ouest et en Afrique subsaharienne : il a échappé au régime militaire et a réussi la transition pacifique et démocratique du pouvoir. Pourtant, les événements qui ont abouti à l’élection 2012 suggèrent que sa réputation en tant que pays démocratique n’est pas vraiment méritée et peut même se révéler entièrement incorrecte. Les experts universitaires de MGA et de son partenaire au Sénégal, (le Consortium pour la recherche économique et sociale – CRES), parlent des prochaines élections.  

Quels sont les enjeux et les implications de la prochaine élection présidentielle du Sénégal? Rejoignez la conversation sur Twitter en utilisant #AGISenegal hashtag et inscrivez-vous à notre rencontre du 16 février sur l’élection sénégalaise, tournant historique pour la croissance démocratique et économique.  


Réélection controversée du président Abdoulaye Wade
Mwangi S. Kimenyi, Directeur, Africa Growth Initiative

Zenia A. Lewis, Assistante de recherche

L’une des questions les plus importante au Sénégal est de savoir s’il est constitutionnel pour le Président Abdoulaye Wade de se représenter. Wade représente le bon exemple d’un ancien membre de l’opposition qui a gagné l’élection et a réussi une transition pacifique en remplaçant un président sortant qui était là depuis fort longtemps. Cependant, au cours de sa plus récente campagne électorale, plusieurs de ses admirateurs et partisans ont pu douter de son engagement en faveur des idéaux démocratiques. D’après l’opinion publique dans le pays – partagée également en grande mesure par la communauté internationale, il ne devrait pas briguer un autre mandat.

Le Président Wade fut élu en 2000 après avoir battu le président sortant, Abdou Diouf, qui avait gouverné de 1981 à 2000. Wade avait été candidat de l’opposition pendant quatre élections présidentielles avant d’être finalement élu en 2000. Il fut ensuite réélu en 2007 avec 56 % des voix dans une arène encombrée, comprenant 15 candidats. En 2001, au début de son premier mandat, la constitution fut modifiée, limitant les présidents à deux mandats et réduisant la durée de chaque mandat de sept à cinq ans. En 2009, il signala qu’il pourrait se représenter en 2012 du fait que les modifications n’étaient entrées en vigueur qu’après sa prise de fonctions, mais beaucoup considèrent que cette démarche violerait la constitution. Ce ne fut toutefois que le 27 janvier, un mois avant l’élection, que le Conseil constitutionnel autorisa Wade à se représenter pour un troisième mandat, ce qui consterna l’électorat et engendra des émeutes.

Des sondages récents d’électeurs sénégalais montrent une diminution du soutien et de la confiance du président Wade et de son gouvernement :[7] Dans un sondage datant de 2008, la majorité des personnes interrogées ont indiqué qu’à leur avis, le président « ignore souvent ou toujours les lois du pays. [8] En outre, 74 % des personnes interrogées ont convenu et certaines ont même vivement affirmé que « la Constitution doit limiter le président à deux mandats au maximum. » Récemment, on a exprimé des inquiétudes au sujet de certaines actions de Wade, ayant pour résultat de saper la démocratie et d’affaiblir ses opposants, notamment sa suggestion en fin d’année dernière de nommer deux personnes importantes de l’opposition (actuellement candidats à la présidence), à des postes ministériels et l’arrestation d’un jeune leader socialiste du parti opposant. Au cours de l’été 2011, Wade a indiqué son intention de modifier la constitution, diminuant la proportion de voix nécessaires pour un premier tour des élections de 50 à 25 pour cent, geste sans doute calculé pour améliorer ses chances de remporter les élections. Ces actions soulèvent des inquiétudes quant à la question de savoir si Wade continuera à saper les progrès de la démocratie au Sénégal s’il remporte un autre mandat.

Qu’est-ce qui est en jeu à l’égard des relations extérieures du Sénégal ?
Mwangi S. Kimenyi, Directeur, Africa Growth Initiative
Witney Schneidman, Présidente, Schneidman et Associates International, invitée spéciale, Africa Growth Initiative

Jessica Smith, Assistante de recherche

Plusieurs des relations externes clés du Sénégal pourraient être compromises si les électio


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