Waging Nonviolence: Why democracy prevails in Senegal but fails in Mali

People took to the streets in Dakar, Senegal, yesterday, celebrating what many had feared would never happen: opposition leader Mack Sall gained around two thirds of the vote in the second round of the presidential elections, and incumbent Abdoulaye Wade accepted defeat, personally calling Sall to congratulate him.

Meanwhile in Bamako, the capital of Senegal’s neighbor Mali, people were slowly starting to venture out to the streets again after a sudden coup d’état brought normal life to a standstill for several days.

Why did democracy prevail in Senegal and not in Mali? Why were people in one country able to express the need for change at the ballot box, while in the other weapons had to speak? […]

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Waging Nonviolence: Senegalese protest to prevent a dynasty

Protest against Abdoulaye Wade in Paris, September, 2011. Photo by Flickr user Gwenael Piaser, CC BY-NC-SA

On February 26, the voters of Senegal will elect their next president. The country has long been the stalwart of democracy and stability in West Africa. But this changed dramatically several years ago when incumbent President Abdoulaye Wade—85 years old and in power since 2000—decided to stand for another term to pave the way for a family dynasty by installing his son, Karim Wade, as his successor.

Many members of the opposition had hoped that Wade would leave office voluntarily. After all, he himself oversaw the introduction of presidential term limits, which were added to the constitution in 2008, and pledged to stay out of this year’s race.

These expectations turned into anger when Wade backtracked on his promise with the words “Ma waxoon waxeet” (“I said it, I can take it back” in Wolof) in 2009. The Senegalese supreme court—whose members are appointed by the president—supported Wade’s interpretation that the amendment could not be enacted retroactively and that he should hence be entitled to stand for two more seven-year terms in office. On January 27 the court officially greenlightedWade’s candidacy, while blocking several other candidates—among them the internationally famous singer Youssou N’Dour—from running. Obviously in anticipation of this ruling, protests were banned in the days around the court hearing. […]

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