• Thursday, December 07, 2023
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Going round in circles in Senegal

Macky Sall, the President of Senegal since April 2012 (1)

Senegal has remained a beacon of Democracy not only in West Africa but in Africa as a whole. Its people have consistently fought against sit-tight dictators and have always succeeded in removing them from power through the ballot box, though at great costs of lives, property, and infrastructure.

But it is becoming a tortuous process, occurring virtually every decade or so. The sad part is that the same pro-democracy activists and opposition politicians they die to install every time turn around to become the sit-tight incumbents that do not want to leave or want to keep changing the goal post in the middle of the game.

Senegalese expended sweat and blood in deadly battles to get Senghor’s successor and sit-tight dictator, Abdou Diouf, out and install veteran opposition politician, Abdoulaye Wade as president in 2000. But what did they get in return?

Wade turned round to become another sit-tight dictator, constantly tinkering with the constitution to change presidential tenures, term-limits and percentage of votes needed to win presidential elections. Still, Senegalese waged bloody battles to counter Wade and eventually sacked him at the poll in 2012 and installed Macky Sall, another veteran opposition politician, for a seven-year tenure.

In 2016, the constitution was amended to set the presidential term at five years and limited to two terms only. Sall vowed not to tamper with the term limits contained in the constitution. When seeking re-election in 2019, he declared that he was seeking his “second and final term” in office.

For decades, we have known that trade generates growth and is the fastest and most effective means of lifting people out of poverty

But a year to the next presidential election, he isn’t so sure anymore. Although he is constitutionally ineligible to run again in 2024, his party, party Alliance pour la République (APR) has proposed him as their candidate for the February 2024 elections.

He has kept a studied silence on this proposal, but his actions are speaking for him. The announcement has led to popular resistance, as usual, which has already claimed 17 lives and led to 600 political detainees. In classic Senegalese-dictatorship style, Sall has gone after the most promising opposition politician, Ousmane Sonko, leader of the Patriots party.

Sonko was charged with rape earlier in the year, and although the court dismissed the charge, he was convicted for a ridiculous offence – that of “corrupting youth,” which is enough to bar him from next year’s contest.

As usual, his supporters and Senegalese are having none of it. If history and precedent are anything to go by, Senegalese will do what they always do – sack Sall for an opposition candidate, and then wait ten years to begin the tortuous circle all over again.

I sympathise with the Senegalese people. No wonder Thomas Jefferson warned that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. It’s just that for Senegalese, it goes beyond just vigilance; it is an eternal battle!

African leaders have been talking tough over the last months on global and regional issues. At different fora, whether organised by the African Union, the World Bank, or by Emmanuel Macron at Paris where African presidents were corralled to air their displeasures at him (because other leaders of the global North that were meant to listen to the global South boycotted the summit), African leaders have been talking tough.

William Ruto of Kenya has emerged as the tough talker in chief, either calling for dedollarisation or railing against the degrading treatment meted to Africans and their leaders at global events or by western countries. So popular had Ruto gotten in Kenya and in Africa that many African presidents are now scrambling to follow his lead by talking tough. At last week’s Paris summit, we saw them all trying to outdo one another in the ‘talk tough’ game.

Yet, it all ends after the talk. Nothing concrete is being done to change the situation they are railing against or even improve the material conditions of Africans. For decades, we have known that trade generates growth and is the fastest and most effective means of lifting people out of poverty.

We also know that intra-African trade has the capacity to foster large-scale capital investment, enhance economic efficiency, improve competitiveness of African enterprises, generate economic growth, and reduce Africa’s over-dependence on Western aid and consequently, the West’s unwieldy influence on the continent.

Despite these realisations, and despite the take-off of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), inter-African trade remains abysmal (at just 12 percent – the lowest globally), and movement of goods and people across Africa is the most difficult, most expensive and most problematic compared to other regions of the world.

Till date, inter-African travel is the most expensive in the world. It is cheaper, for instance, for someone wanting to travel from Nairobi to Abidjan to travel through France than to go direct. This has nothing to do with the West. This is within the purview of African leaders.

Read also: West Africa’s vibrant petrol black market collapses as Nigeria ends fuel subsidy

What about the tough talker-in-chief? While Ruto keeps railing against the West and calling for de-dollarisation, Kenya and Uganda’s economies, as David Hundeyin noted recently in an article for the pan African review, “remain virtually siloed off from each other, with … non-mutually-convertible currencies.” Yet, the problem is the West. Apparently, we enjoy talking a lot in Africa….

Europe: Race to the right

Despite recent immigration scandals in Greece (casting off Africans into the sea & and the inhuman/deliberate decision not to help victims of a shipwreck leading to hundreds of deaths), Greeks, on Sunday, voted overwhelmingly for the centre-right government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis and the Democracy party. Notable is the parliamentary gains of far-right parties.

The message and trend are clear: Greeks and Europeans in general do not want immigrants. That is largely responsible for the lurch to the right in Europe and the United States. But what are African leaders doing to improve their economies to limit the emigration surge? For now, they talk and do nothing else!