Thousands of Senegalese have begun rioting in protest against what they consider to be subtle and dangerous attempts by their President, Abdoulaye Wade, to manipulate the political system to advantage. Their demonstration is in reaction to Mr. Wade’s proposed changes to the country’s constitution, now being discussed in Parliament.
Under the proposal, Mr. Wade wants to reduce the proportion of votes needed to win a presidential election from more than 50% to 25% to eliminate any run-off. The bill also creates the elected position of a vice-president, according to a BBC report.
Although the first proposal was said to have been dropped, the rioters still pressed on with their physical show of anger at the President’s move, calling it an “abuse of authority.” Their fear is that the run-off amendment was designed to ensure that Mr. Wade, 85 years old, would be re-elected next year against a fractured opposition.
The BBC’s West Africa correspondent, Thomas Fessy, says many people also fear that Mr. Wade intends to give the post of vice-president to his son Karim Wade, who is already a powerful minister in the current administration.
Although the governments says the proposed new post is aimed at reinforcing democracy by sharing power between the president and vice-president, the citizens are not convinced. They are wary that Mr. Wade wants to push his son into his position.
These moves by Mr. Wade bespeak of the hypocrisy that makes African politics stink to the high heavens. Indeed, Mr. Wade seems not to have learnt any lesson from the history of political unrests. How does he think that winning only 25% of a presidential election is enough to make the winner acceptable? If only 25% of the electoral votes is all that a candidate needs to win a presidential election, what happens to the remaining 75% majority?
It’s puzzling. How does Mr. Wade think? Or has senility already taken its huge toll on his faculty?
After failing thrice to win Senegal’s presidential elections, Mr. Wade finally won the nod from the electorate more than a decade ago but is still not able to solve the problems that he touted in his electioneering campaigns. Knowing very well that he can’t cheat Nature in his senility to personally remain in power, he has found clever means to retain his hold on power through the backdoor. But the Senegalese citizens are determined not to give him that leeway. And they are right!!
Mr. Wade has just proved that African leaders have definitely made themselves unwelcome in many senses. Their love for political power and how they use it will continue to pique our interest for as long as their hypocrisy remains our major problem. That hypocrisy is mostly the cause of the turmoil that erupts here and there, every now and then, on the political landscape.
Mr. Wade is one politician who should have known better than every other African politician how not to impose his will on the citizens. He is a perfect example of the African leader as an enigma.
Just last year, he was in cahoots with Libya’s Gaddafi, seen in photographs shaking hands after agreeing to pursue the agenda of the African Union at all levels to confront any external threat to the continent. Of particular interest was the need to strengthen the Union militarily for a rapid-response mechanism toward resolving crises on the continent.
Even before any concrete action could be taken to actualize such intentions, Gaddafi found himself reeling against rebellion by his opponents. Then, what did Abdoulaye Wade do? He quickly turned coat and embraced the Benghazi-based rebels, invited them to Dakar, and announced his country’s diplomatic recognition of the Transitional National Council as the legitimate representatives of the Libyan people.
To concretize his diplomatic coup against Gaddafi, he visited the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, and commiserated with the rebels while taunting Gaddafi that his time was up and he should yield to his opponents as Libya’s legitimate representatives. By this diplomatic move, Abdoulaye Wade had disowned and stabbed Gaddafi deep in the back, damn the consequences.
He seemed to have taken that line of action because he felt Gaddafi had outlived his welcome as the President of Libya, having ruled for over four decades. He has joined The Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh and Liberia’s Sirleaf Johnson as the three African leaders who have so far openly come out to deny Gaddafi.
Mr. Wade’s own political career has been checkered, and one shouldn’t be surprised at the political manouevres that he is making. But he leaves a big question unanswered. Is it only today that he knows the righteousness of insurrections by political opponents or that rebels in any country have to be supported?
I wonder how he feels about the Cassamance problem that rocked his own country and how different the reaction of the Abdou Diof government to it was from what Gaddafi is doing to the Benghazi-based rebels. Did Mr. Wade support the cause of the Cassamance rebels to break away from Senegal? If he didn’t, was it because he thought the Cassamance region had no right to challenge the political order?
Putting aside Gaddafi’s dictatorship, the only reason that catalyzed the insurrection against him was the claim that he had ruled Libya for far too long and instead of leaving the scene to allow for “democracy” to be established and practiced, he was creating a dynasty by gradually pushing his son, Saif al-Gaddafi, as his preferred successor.
The Libyan rebels feared this move might close all windows to them and prevent them from going democratic; hence, their uprising to topple him. Certainly, the rebels’ fears are genuine, even though their collusion with the West to destroy their own country in an attempt to achieve their objective is bad.
Any show of solidarity for the rebels by African leaders of Mr. Wade’s calibre raises eyebrows because none of them is absolvable from the “political crimes” that they may be accusing Gaddafi of committing. A cursory glance at the political landscape reveals that most of them have been in power for umpteenth years and managed to hold on to power because they have succeeded in manipulating the system to advantage and planted their stooges in the state apparatus to do their dirty work for them to prolong their tenure.
Instances abound—from Zimbabwe to Uganda; from The Gambia to Cameroon; from Angola to Burkina Faso; and from Morocco to the Equatorial Guinea (where Mbasogo Nguema, the Chairman of the African Union rules with careless abandon). The leaders of African countries love political power and know how to use it to prolong their stay in office, even in the teeth of opposition.
They suppress dissenting voices and appropriate their countries’ resources for personal comfort and to influence their lackeys who in turn carry out their vicious orders to perpetuate their rule. They may not yet have equaled Gaddafi’s long tenure but they are not far from braving all odds to get there if only the situation will allow them to do so.
For someone like Mr. Wade, who is so senile and weak as not to be able to stand on his feet for long, hanging on to power may not be the best option. Thus, he must look for subtle but mischievous ways to plant his son in power as a successor. Then, he can repair safely to the backwoods of Senegalese politics from where he will still be positioned well enough to call the shots. He can’t let go completely his hold on power. That fear is one of the reasons prompting the stiff opposition from the Senegalese citizens—and they are right too!
Without any doubt, we can tell that Mr. Wade is trying to be smart in this scheme; but the smarter citizens have outwitted him and will not allow that fraud to be sprung on them.
Mr. Wade’s moves epitomize the cancer that is destroying the beauty of politics. He confirms apprehensions that African politicians have a vicious habit of thinking that is difficult to fathom. By playing on the citizens’ intelligence, they push their personal agenda through and create needless tension which, if not curbed, explodes into political disturbances.
It is inconceivable that Mr. Wade will attempt manipulating the political system, knowing very well how dangerous it is for his country and—with hindsight from the Libyan crisis—why it is that his proposal is a recipe for disaster.
Obviously, the Senegalese citizens are not sleeping. They know best how to confront such a move and their rioting is enough to warn Mr. Wade and those supporting him that they will not be allowed to have their own way to impose anything or anybody on them. I commend them for taking this action to prevent a far worse situation in the near future.
Mr. Wade’s trickery and chicanery is just one of the nauseating strategies used by African leaders to circumvent constitutional arrangements. Many like him have at one time or the other manipulated the constitution to advantage only to turn round to blame their political opponents when the situation gets out of control and the country stagnates.
By his underhand manouevres, Mr. Wade comes across as a threat to the people’s interests. He must not be given any space at all to impose his will on the people. Senegal deserves better to inspire other countries in that sub-region, in particular, and the continent, generally. That is why the citizens must rise up to confront leaders of Mr. Wade’s sort who have become more of a liability in their senility than the asset that one might expect them to be. The stench in African politics must not be added to.
By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor