The good news is that democracy won in the country


2024 is the biggest global election year in history and the future of democracy is on every ballot.
But amid an international backsliding in democratic norms, including in countries with a longer history of democracy like India, Senegal’s election last week was a major win for democracy.
The future of Senegal’s democracy seemed uncertain at best.
“This election showed the resilience of the democracy in Senegal that resisted the shock of an unexpected postponement,” Adele Ravidà, Senegal country director at the lnternational Foundation for Electoral Systems, told Vox via email.
Senegal’s election is deeply important given challenges to democracy in Africa In Senegal, Sall had been trying to erode democratic norms for months prior to his decision to postpone elections back in February, leading some observers to worry that Senegal’s democracy was in serious danger.
Since it gained independence from France in 1960, Senegal has never had a coup — military or civilian.
In Senegal, people aged 10 to 24 make up 32 percent of the population, according to the UN.
Senegalese people, especially the younger generation, have high expectations for what democracy can and should deliver for them.


The future of democracy is at stake in every election in 2024, the biggest election year in history worldwide. However, Senegal’s election last week was a significant victory for democracy in the face of a global retreat from democratic norms, even in nations with a longer democratic history than India. It also signals the emergence of a new African political class, personified by Senegal’s 44-year-old president Bassirou Diomaye Faye.

Despite several challenges, such as former President Macky Sall’s attempts to postpone the polls and jail or disqualify opposition candidates, the West African country was able to hold a free and fair election on March 24. Add to those difficulties the fact that, since 2020, military takeovers have repeatedly threatened the stability of numerous West African neighbors, most notably Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger, but also other countries in the region.

Sall had held the position for two terms beginning in 2012. After years of rumors that he would run for president a third time, despite the two-term limit set by the constitution, he decided not to. However, he made an effort to prolong his tenure by declaring in February that, in violation of the election schedule, the elections—which were supposed to take place that month—would now take place at the end of the year.

Sall’s allies in the National Assembly approved the measure, but only after opposition politicians who loudly objected to the delay were removed by security forces. The attempted self-coup by Sall was met with strong opposition from Senegalese society, and in late February the Constitutional Council declared that Sall’s attempt to retain power could not continue.

Democracy had already won with that alone. Even so, some opposition candidates were prohibited from running at all, and Faye was among those who, despite being eligible to run, was imprisoned until a few days before the election. Senegal’s democratic future appeared bleak at best.

Cut to Tuesday, when Sall resigned and Faye, a former tax examiner who won on a platform of fighting corruption and granting the Senegalese more economic opportunity and sovereignty, took over. And young voters were the ones who helped Faye win.

Vice president of the Africa Center at the US Institute of Peace Joseph Sany told Vox that “what it tells us is that young people in the continent are becoming very assertive.”. As they are the first to suffer when democracy fails, they must be very involved in party politics, right? “.

The relative strength of independent democratic institutions like the courts and, perhaps surprisingly, the military, as well as other factors that extend beyond any one politician, determine how strong Senegal’s democracy is. These characteristics distinguish it from other African countries currently governed by the military.

“This election demonstrated Senegal’s democracy’s ability to withstand the shock of an unanticipated postponement,” Senegal country director Adele Ravidà of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems wrote in an email to Vox. “. Following several years of unparalleled violent incidents, the Senegalese people seamlessly transitioned to a peaceful handover of power. “.

Although Faye’s goals will not be easily attained, his victory can teach us about the strength of young Africans as well as the encouraging trend of democratic entrenchment and international cooperation in African countries, as well as how Senegal was able to establish its young democracy.

In light of the obstacles facing African democracy, Senegal’s election is extremely significant.

Some observers expressed concern that Senegal’s democracy was seriously in jeopardy because Sall had been working for months to undermine democratic norms in the country before deciding to postpone elections back in February.

Joseph Siegle, research director at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, said in a February interview with Vox that Sall “had taken the country through this whole odyssey whether he was going to go for a third term or not, which was very stressful.”. A growing feeling that he was undermining and testing democratic institutions resulted in protests and deaths, with about fifty people losing their lives in them. Additionally, there were additional restrictions placed on the freedom of the press. “.

In the Sahel, an African region that roughly stretches from Senegal in the west to Sudan in the east, there have been several coups, beginning with Mali in August 2020. The coup phenomenon may appear to be “contagious” at first glance, or these nations may appear to be falling dominoes. One definition of a coup is an abrupt, violent, and illegal transfer of power. ( ).

However, as the research of political scientists Jonathan Powell and Clayton Thyne shows, coups are still a relatively uncommon occurrence in the globe. 245 of the 492 coup attempts that occurred worldwide between 1950 and October 2023 were successful, according to research by Powell and Thyne, which was recently featured in a Voice of America article.

While they are significant contributors to nondemocratic transfers of power, poverty, polarization, corruption, weak institutions, a lack of safety and security, and high inequality do not always lead to coups.

Precedent is perhaps the most important indicator of whether a coup will occur in any given nation: has there ever been a coup attempt? Even if it failed, a prior coup attempt indicates that other conditions for a coup are met and that a coup is at least feasible.

Powell stated to Vox in September of last year that “if you’ve had a coup attempt in the last three years, controlling for a bunch of different factors, there are various studies that point to your probability of having a coup in the current year to be something between 25 and 40 percent, which is really, really high when you think about how rare these events are otherwise.”.

According to Sany, to believe that coups are in some way contagious would be to ignore the opposing trends of democratic entrenchment in Africa, notably in Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone, as well as to downplay how complicated the reasons behind the phenomenon are.

What distinguishes Senegal?

Senegal has never experienced a military or civilian coup since gaining independence from France in 1960. Senegal has historically had a robust and competitive democracy, and during the last three years of Sall’s administration, the nation’s civil society has worked hard to uphold these norms.

“I believe that the government and civil society organizations—both democratic institutions—have really triumphed,” Sany stated. Workers, NGOs, teachers’ unions, and other groups were among those who mobilized. Senegal’s civil society is among the continent’s most seasoned and proficiently run democratic establishments. In 2012, Senegalese citizens voted out former President Abdoulaye Wade after the latter’s attempt to hold onto office was met with resistance by the country’s civil society.

It is noteworthy to highlight the independence of the Constitutional Council, which declared in February that Sall could not postpone elections, even though governmental bodies such as the National Assembly and the courts are not as powerful as the presidency in Senegal. Among other things, the council decides disputes between the president and members of the National Assembly regarding election law and oversees certain aspects of the electoral process. ).

Sany asserted that in addition to the unambiguous support of international actors like the US, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and France, Sall was under pressure to change his course by these groups, who were all in favor of the decision.

Experts told Vox that Senegal’s military is highly professionalized and has not been politicized in the same way as the militaries of other countries like Mali and Sudan. This is because it is much easier to apply pressure to civilian politicians than military leaders.

According to Sany, “the military was built for regime preservation, not for the preservation of the republic, in the majority of those countries.”. Because Senegalese military personnel are “extremely well-educated — the level of education is very high compared to other militaries in the region and then they have been exposed to national peacekeeping missions,” the military is able to collaborate with and draw knowledge from other professional forces. Since the military does not consider it their duty to hold power, they are less likely to launch a coup in such a scenario.

Due in part to the spread of Sufi Islam and Senegal’s political secular identity, the country is less vulnerable to Islamist insurgencies than other countries, though there is always a chance that regional insurgencies could transcend national borders. Although rising violence in the region persists despite the presence of military governments, military personnel find it easier to persuade civilians that putting the military in charge is the best approach to security in countries where terror attacks are frequent.

Achieving the objectives that Faye ran on, which include greater sovereignty, food security, economic prosperity, openness, and the fortification of democratic institutions, will still be a challenge for him. This will be crucial, particularly for Senegalese youth, who are spearheading yet another significant trend.

In the next decades, young Africans will become more and more important on the continent and worldwide; by 2050, Africa’s youth population—those between the ages of 15 and 24—will account for about 35% of all youth worldwide, and the continent’s population is predicted to increase from 1.5 billion to 2.5 billion. According to the UN, 32 percent of Senegalese citizens are between the ages of 10 and 24.

The rest of the world has found these young people, according to Sany. “They observe what takes place. They have an interest. They possess intelligence. They have greater education. Additionally, they have high hopes for their autonomy and civil rights in addition to their economic future.

A promising trend of democratic entrenchment in Africa is demonstrated by the smooth transfers of power that have occurred in Nigeria, Liberia, and Sierra Leone in the last year. However, the reality of government is never the same as the promises made during campaigning. Despite certain difficulties, those elections serve as a significant check on democratic regression overall.

The younger generation in particular in Senegal has very high expectations for what democracy can and should accomplish for them. Faye and his administration are responsible for seeing it through.

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