|A greater Arab spring: The case of Senegal|
|Written by Arina Muresan (1) Friday, 02 September 2011 08:14|
The new decade has brought upon a series of Middle East and North African protests, all singing the same song. However, what is considered a recent development is the spread or rather the greater jump to other Afro-Arab countries, which are closer to the equator. Senegal is such an example. The peculiar occurrence of such Arab-styled protests sparked an interest in the underlying Senegalese conditions. The recent July protest incited initial worry that Senegal would be the next Afro-Arab country to possibly enter the next civil war; however, its lack of increased demonstrations in recent weeks has sparked interest into the case.(2)
The case may therefore be described through a brief background of the country and history, how such a case is related to the Arab spring, and by describing the conflict at hand. It immediately becomes evident that the fundamentals of the Arab spring are deeply embedded along with the inkling of inspiration to develop more trends in this phenomenon.
An uncommon African peace
Senegal is popularly considered a model democracy to Africa, whereby a multiparty system became institutionally respected and the presence of civilian rule portrayed an exemplified state. Senegal entered into democracy in an increasingly peaceful manner, compared to other African states and their secessionist conflicts. The socialist party, which held power for 40 years, had swiftly relinquished power through popular election, thus signaling a rare occurrence in African history.(3) This was continuously maintained in spite of the high levels of poverty and unemployment.(4) The 2000 democratic elections saw current President Abdoulaye Wade accept the position. He was thereafter re-elected in 2007 to serve his second term, which should conclude in 2012.(5)
Wade has since then come under great criticism and scrutiny due to his failure to increase the standard of living and the failure to deliver basic services; the provision of electricity being his greatest pitfall.(6) Another criticism of the state is the required self-censorship of the media; it is considered illegal to publish information, which “discredits the state, incites social disorder and disseminates false news.” It has been noted that Senegalese security forces have intimidated reporters.(7)
An Arab spring
With the spark of the latest in Arab protests, Senegal too shows the characteristics of the North African and Middle East Arab springs. These springs had begun with a public self-immolation as a form of protest, a suicide attempt by setting oneself alight in a public or political place to protest the plight of society.(8) Such began the case of Tunisia, which resonated with society and created a martyr of the man who died doing so.(9) This was noted to be the start of the Tunisian uprising. Egypt followed, setting a mass chain reaction of such cases occurring in Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Syria, and Yemen.(10) Each case, although individual in nature, does exhibit certain commonalities, as each country experienced protests centred on the wish for good governance and an improved standard of living.(11)
It is further speculated that this is indeed a characteristic to the beginning of mass, violent protests. Senegal leads by this example, as it experienced two such cases in January 2011. The self-immolations took place near the Presidential Palace in Dakar, where both men felt aggrieved and a sense of desperation by both the lack of employment opportunities and the low standard of living due to increased living costs and extensive power cuts.(12)
Reasons for desperation
The delivery of current services is poor in metropolitan areas, as most civilians do not have access to electricity for days.(13) The surmounting frustration is further justified for the lack of employment, an increased level of poverty, and the speculation that the Government regime does not intend to practice good governance for much longer.(14) Senegal relies heavily on aid, and was once considered a darling amongst international aid donors due to its positive democratic record.(15) But since then, it has come under fire, as international financial organisations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank are highly critical of Wade’s spending policies.(16) The Government has declared their plans on rectifying this in 2012. This assumption by the state creates some confusion, as presidential and parliamentary elections have been scheduled for 26 February 2012. The current constitutional provisions entail that the president may only be re-elected for a second term.(17)
Clarity is therefore found in the new proposed legislation; Wade had proposed to run for a third extra-constitutional term, thus lobbying for change in the constitutional provisions. His 2009 state of the nation address outlines that he should be the only winner in the next election. The “octogenarian” leader further proposed that one only needs 25% to win the first round of the run off national elections.(18) However, what may be considered a boiling point for concern is that Wade wishes to create a vice president portfolio. However, the unique characteristic to this portfolio is that, on the event that the president falls ill or dies in office, the vice president may assume responsibility immediately.(19) Moreover, Wade has been speculated of grooming his son, Karim Wade, for the position of vice president, as the younger Wade already holds the ministerial position in the departments of Energy, International Cooperation, National Planning, Air Transport, and Infrastructure,(20) and is receiving greater non-mandated responsibilities.(21) This was the turning point and desire for action among citizens, as the uproar culminated in the planning of protests due to accusations of “deforming the constitution,” geared towards the Government.(22)
These proposals are indications of Wade’s desire to maintain power or control it vastly from another vantage point or pass it down in a monarchical manner.(23) Another criticism is that concerning an unpopular position of the younger Wade, as he has been accused of embezzlement, especially concerning the delivery of electricity.(24)
Although the Government has vehemently denied such allegations, their actions speak differently. Recently, Interior Minister Qusmane Ngom proclaimed a decree that political demonstrations and protests are to be banned from major boulevards, Government buildings, and monuments for security reasons.(25) This decree was passed only days before the first scheduled protest. The protest was nevertheless held at Place de l’Obelisque on 23 June 2011, which was met with Government retaliation.(26) Those protesting against Wade comprise the working class and the youth living in metropolitan areas, as the conditions are worst there,(27) and affect 42% of the Senegalese population.(28) BBC News reported that although none were fatally injured, this was the first violent protest seen in decades; in the cities of Dakar and Mbour, buildings were burnt and ransacked - the buildings targeted were that belonging to the state electrical company, Société National d'Éléctricité du Sénégal (Senelec).(29) Senelec released reports describing that its under-average capacity extends to a “deficit of 164MW [megawatt] and debts of 280bn CFA francs (US$59m).”(30) Wade did heed to the warnings of dissatisfaction and relaxed his petition on the vice presidency reform.(31)
Senegal, a country amidst others which have no qualms to resort to violent protests, is yet to experience a coup d’état and does not aim for one either. The nature of the protests have remained rational as there is little desire to react to such a grand scale of destruction; those opposing the current Government state that if there is to be peace, the Government needs to avoid further action. Currently the Senegalese Government and protestors have reached a stalemate, as neither wishes to yield to the other, yet the demands are clear.(32)
The current Senegalese Government, as mentioned above, desires for the prolonged status of their president. The president wishes to maintain control over the country in a monarchical manner. The fundamental principles to the opposition are that they wish to keep the constitution intact with regard to their civil rights as well as the immediate resignation of the younger Wade and the completion of term of the president. Moreover, the improvement of the standard of living shall follow with the change in Government.(33) The subsequent comparison to the Arab spring movement allows the onlooker to assume the nature of unrest in Senegal shall escalate to a worst-case scenario of civil war proportions as seen in Libya.(34) However, since then, the violence and protests have subsided, inciting that the Government has clamped down on the situation as no other subsequent protests have been reported. It is possible that the conflict has been forgotten, as the latest issue reported on is of a cultural and historical value: the restoration of bridge Saint-Louis.(35) In addition, Le Soleil reports that the Government’s efforts to quell the unrest have been constructive. Senelec, in collaboration with Chinese partners, have planned to increase energy production by as much as 1,288 megawatt and, meet demands within a month by building a new power plant.(36) Such efforts increase suspicion that the Government has since attempted to appease the public into granting Wade a third extra constitutional term. While Wade awaits the Senegalese Constitutional Court’s deliberations on the matter of the two amendments proposed, the candidacy for the presidential office is likely to be contested by former Prime Minister, Idrissa Seck.(37)
Characteristics of an Arab spring
The characteristics of an Arab spring have thus far exhibited the following in the last seven months: (1) great amounts of violence signalled by a martyring act and deaths to follow and (2) the wants of civil society are deeply imbedded in the need for radical change, most preferably immediate change in national leadership. From that, each Arab uprising in North Africa and the Middle East has coincided with one or more of the following levels: stirrings of dissent, major protest and clampdown, an uprising in progress, and the over throwing of a ruler.(38) However, what qualifies Senegal as an Arab uprising, apart from its Muslim status and one-time mass protest followed by rioting, is the speculation that the conflict shall not react such damaging proportions due to the Senegalese peaceful history; in fact, it may already be forgotten.(39)
Algeria and Morocco also experiencing such an internal conflict have reported few deaths and injuries and a heightened presence of unrest. These are Arab states in the region which are characterised by conflict; however, the events have not yet escalated to alarming proportions.(40) Perhaps what may be of greater value to the study are the future trends, which the Arab spring may be inspiring.(41) It is speculated that the Arab spring movements may take momentum and spread in a sub-Saharan direction;(42) however, as movements are ever changing, the Arab spring is likely to evolve with its momentum and an “African spring” may surface with characteristics of the Arab conflict. Ousmane Tanor Dieng of the opposition Socialist Party in Senegal thus coined this future phenomenon when he was reported to have sated “the African spring will begin here in Senegal.”(43)
The discussion of the Senegalese conditions portray great indiscretions of the current Government, inciting that protest against the standard of living and extra constitutional changes are indeed not in the best interests of the public at large. Although initially the sparks of protests were considered to be an extension of the Arab spring, evidence supports that the phenomena is moving in a sub-Saharan direction. There is no denial that this movement remains highly likely; however, the conclusion of this paper postulates other trends or sub movements, such as the rise of a new movement: an African spring.
Although the qualms of the Senegalese citizens seemed to have been clamped down on by the current regime and the conflict hushed, there is reason to believe that Senegal may be highlighted in the near future. The Senegalese have reason to prepare for two contrasting alternatives, one, by giving way to an authoritarian dynasty or, two, riding an African spring wave. Although, if Senegal were to have another idyllic transition and follow the democratic architecture already in place, this may mark the possibility for other African counterparts to do so as well.
(1) Contact Arina Muresan through Consultancy Africa Intelligence’s Conflict and Terrorism Unit (