Endris Mekonnen Faris
Senegal's Contemporary Politics and the Qualities it Carries
The political Transformation achieved is credited to the political stability shining in Dakar
The world knows Africa in terms of endless intra- and interstate conflicts, inept governance, and violent power transfer defining its post-independence political era. This excludes a few nations of the continent and Dakar stands out. A few decades of stable political age it continues going through puts Senegal among the small number of Africa’s stars. Senegal’s current political dynamic informs that it grew into a condition that empirical studies could prove easily and quantifiable. Africa’s future looks like Senegal’s present where plights that arise from politics will never be unheard-of.
Post-Independence Political Path: the backbones of the establishment
One can find no special in post-independent Senegal what unique elements the country’s backbones of establishment could be made of. All political, economic, and social frameworks that many African countries inherited from the respective colonizers were similar and relatively complex. It is rather in the concerted efforts that are put in order to change the course of politics and committed endeavors to move forward beyond the challenges that the countries differ. What mattered most were the level of commitment local actors showed and the practical engagements that ensued to bring sound and sustainable changes in politics. In this regard, a few success stories about Senegal’s political path over the last several years comprise the backbones of its establishment. Three are quite worth emphasizing.
No coup experience in the State of Senegal comes first. Senegal dwells in a region marred by recurring and contagious coups. Since 2019 alone over nine coups and coup attempts have been observed in the Western part of Africa. The success story is that Dakar has so far been spared a violent change in government. What contributed to the absence of any coup attempt in Senegal’s domestic politics should be a question of empirical analysis. But, public knowledge of this phenomenon attributes this to the successful establishment of a solid democratic foundation that helped insulate the country’s armed force, a key entity responsible for several coups in Africa, from politics. Over the years that saw the steady consolidation of democratic institutions that ensures the healthy exercise of powers at all levels the trend indicates the promising perpetuation of coup-absent politics in Senegal.
Second, comes the three consecutive peaceful power transfers. Despite rare to occur in the United States, the 2020 Trump-Biden power transfer saga highlights that conducting a peaceful election is one thing and conceding defeat and handling power peacefully is another. This anti-democratic behavior presents a critical challenge to the will of citizens and encourages an illegitimate grab of political power. Senegal occupies the other side of this page, and this even included the peaceful transfer of power from the French colonization in 1960. Over the course of the last half a century Senegal continues practicing the uninterrupted exercise of free and fair elections, peaceful transition of powers, and smooth functioning of state apparatuses. As many views Senegal as a significantly stable country in the continent, such experience constitutes an important pillar of post-independence establishment that the new generation proudly inherits.
The last but not least factor deals with the political culture that transcends the sphere of political elites, another reason that earned Senegal West Africa’s model democracy. At the heart of viable democratic practices lies an important structure of engagements in which a politically conscious mass interacts with a responsible ruling elite. In a sense that the mass knows what it elects among a nuance of ample alternatives of organized contenders and the democratically elected political elites know where the legitimacy comes from and who they rule. In effect, this comprises a sound political culture laying a firm ground for a sustainable establishment. This has manifested in several election experiences where Senegalese trusted the system they forged and elected leaders that reflect their high regard for their national identity comprised of ethnic, religious, and regional identities. This culture that Senegalese are known to take pride of begun when they elected their first president with an ethnoreligious minority background. Over the last several decades Senegal depicts a significant political maturity with well over 60% of Senegalese believing the country is going in the right direction, according to Afrobarometer.
The aforementioned changes in the political sphere that follow the path of the workable establishment are real in Senegal. If this meant anything in discourse terms should be a “political transformation” and it should characterize the change. Senegal achieves a sound political transformation with operating qualities that protect and ensure the sustainability of its politics for generations to come which only a handful of African nations so far have managed to rank.
Operational Qualities of Senegal Politics
Important factors that build up the currently functioning qualities of politics in Senegal are rooted in the political transformation it managed to achieve over the decades of the post-independence era. Some of these include but are not exhaustive, rule of law, the election system, and the democratic system.
The rule of law in Senegal depicts a fairly healthy functioning of the state system with no major hurdles despite corrigible faultlines over the last several decades after independence. This is especially true, for example, in the government that avoids the practices of authoritarian tendencies and in the judiciary system as Judges have widely been regarded as professional and with a sound reputation. This flourished a comfortable ground for a better exercise and protection of civil rights which are generally respected in Senegal than in several other African nations.
Following a significant reform undertaken in 1993 intended to build up on the previous achievements, the current election system in Senegal reflects the functioning qualities of the country’s politics. The process further democratized the electoral process producing an important set of political reforms, including the establishment of an independent election commission National Observatory of Elections (ONEL) later The Autonomous National Electoral Committee CENA, with the active involvement of virtually all organized political parties. The electoral body broadly maintains its independence and impartiality in carrying out its mandates to deliver effective elections and trustworthy results. Senegal’s electoral system is transparent and publicizes genuine results that are usually accepted by the political parties. The system is not perfect but enjoys wide acceptance by the political elites, the wider public, and external observers.
Democracy functions properly in Senegal setting an exemplary democratic system in a region filled with regimes with military coup after military coup. This is answered in terms of the level of stability that democratic institutions have been enjoying and the sustainability of their practices in delivering to the Senegal polity. Empirical shreds of evidence indicate the overall stability and healthy functioning of democratic entities displayed widely in the presence of a dynamic civil society, a relatively free and conscious media, and a moderate and promising National Assembly where power concentrates next to the president and hosts occasional lively debates among elected politicians. Currently, Senegal enjoys a democratic system erected on the country’s democratic mechanisms with enormous respect by all political and apolitical actors.
Approaches and challenges in ECOWAS' security sector reform and governance in West Africa: https://journals.co.za/doi/abs/10.10520/EJC167574
How Senegal keeps a unique balance between religion and a secular state: https://theconversation.com/how-senegal-keeps-unique-balance-between-religion-and-a-secular-state-119851
Religion and politics in contemporary Senegal Get access Arrow: https://academic.oup.com/afraf/article-abstract/115/461/688/2236099
Senegal Country Report 2022: https://bti-project.org/en/reports/country-report/SEN
The recent wave of military coups in West Africa: https://www.dailysabah.com/opinion/op-ed/the-recent-wave-of-military-coups-in-west-africa
The World Bank in Senegal: https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/senegal/overview