One of the major problems bedevilling the African governance mosaic is the lack of consistency, even in those countries where one could have thought a solid culture of governance had been established.
Take Senegal, for instance.
Senegal can easily be categorised as an oddity in African politics, a rather stable country where democracy seems to have taken root since the single-party and/or military dictatorships in many other African countries through the first three decades after Independence.
After it gained a measure of independence from France in 1960 — just “a measure” because of the franc-zone albatross imposed by the French as they were leaving, which meant the continuation of economic servitude, which is only now being challenged by those soldier-boys in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, who are trying to delink from Paris.
It is to be remembered that Senegal was one of the French colonial possessions that voted “Oui” in 1960 at the same time as Guinea’s Ahmed Sekou Toure voted “Non” to French neo-colonial hoodwinks of the “Franc Zone”.
Independent Senegal was left in the hands of Leopold Sedar Senghor, a suave, soft-spoken poet, who espoused the philosophy of “Negritude,” roughly translated into Blackness, borrowed from the Caribbean diaspora.
In a country heavily oversubscribed by a particularly conservative form of Sufist Islam, it was no mean feat that Senghor — with a French wife to boot —was allowed to lead the country for so many years.
Part of the explanation for this is that Senghor was apt at conciliating himself with the all-powerful marabouts who dominate, to this day, Senegalese mosques and madrassat. By keeping them sweet with state largesse, he kept the Senegalese Ulema in his corner for all the time he was in power.
These institutions retain those mythical powers to this day, and this has manifested itself in various nefarious ways, including gender-based violence against young women and girls and the despicable practice of forced beggary, which is encouraged and practised by pseudo-religious groups that claim it is easier to beg as a way life than to get a modern education.
To this day, these institutions hold sway in Senegalese society and very few voices are raised to counter or challenge them for fear of the grips exercised by maraboutism.
Although the country was firmly under the tutelage of France, and Senghor himself was an avowed Francophile — after his retirement he went to live and died in France in 2000 — his political thought accepted basic tenets of political pluralism and allowed some leeway to official opposition parties, among whom, most notably, Abdoulaye Wade.
This latter, though officially tolerated by Senghor and protected by the country’s constitution, Wade was frequently in and out of prison, often alternating prison cells with Cabinet ministerial seats on numerous occasions, before he finally won the presidential election in 2000.
This highly trained intellectual mind, who had spent half his life fighting for pluralism and a limit to excessive executive powers and the number of years a president can serve before handing over power to someone else, was himself caught in the same trap when he was president. When time came for him to vacate the presidency, he in effect wanted to run for an unconstitutional third term. He failed.
The attempt by Wade to stand against the constitution, and his later attempt to install his son, Karim, caused the death of scores of people but, finally, he was defeated and Macky Sall won the presidency in 2012.
Macky Sall, in turn, has now indicated that he has been bitten by the same bug that bit his predecessor: He did not want to leave power and, after his attempt to stay was defeated, he chose to stay on via a proxy. After this also failed, Sall has opted to postpone the country’s elections sine die.
It looks like the jinx that has haunted African governance refuses to die; rather, it only experiences occasional epileptic fits — allowing for rays of democratic hope to pierce the dark clouds of dictatorship — and then rearing its ugly head afresh.
It now looks like Sall has painted himself and his country into a corner. He has doggedly tried to discredit his strongest challenger, a young, firebrand Ousmane Sonko, who has massive support among young Senegalese.
Sall even orchestrated fake charges of corruption against him but they have failed to wash, and Sonko’s popularity is refusing to dwindle.
Now, Sall is facing the daunting prospect of finally having to give in to the reality of having to face up to an implacable opponent who comes to power despite the best efforts of his predecessor.
Such an eventuality naturally creates bad blood and political animus between any two such protagonists in any country, and is often exacerbated by the numbers of their supporters, whose lives and livelihoods are intrinsically intertwined with the political fortunes of their principals.
Many of our unending civil wars have their origins in such circumstances, which make an election is a zero-sum game, where all is won or all is lost.
Senegal’s reputation will continue to suffer, for now.
Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: [email protected]