On April 30, 2019, the Senegalese political coalition “Idy 2019,” led by the former Premier Minister Idrissa Seck, released its official report, which alleges various frauds and irregularities during the February 2019 presidential election. Although President Macky Sall’s camp dismissed these findings, the report reveals the shortcomings of the Senegalese democracy, often hailed as a model for Africa. While Senegal has historically maintained relative socio-political stability and peaceful civil society, this year’s presidential election potentially sullies the country’s reputation for holding fair and transparent polls. Though election day itself remained peaceful, violent clashes occurred between the presidential coalition and partisans of the Parti pour l’Unité et le Rassemblement (PUR) in the lead up (resulting in two deaths), and some protesters pelted the presidential motorcade with rocks in Dakar.
On election day, a record number of Senegalese cast their ballots. Although this figure might showcase the Senegalese public’s eagerness for the democratic process, the electoral process was far from transparent. In many parts of the country, particularly the rural north, a stronghold of Macky Sall’s Alliance pour la République (APR), the voting was riddled with irregularities and blatant fraud, which the National Electoral Commission has chosen to overlook. The opposition parties typically do not have enough resources to supervise the voting process in remote rural areas, and the Senegalese media, including Dakar Matin and Actusen, reported cases of fraud involving underage children voting in Doumgalaw, a village in the Fouta. While such accusations have not been fully substantiated, such rumors stain the transparency of the electoral process and legitimize skeptics’ suspicions of the neutrality of election officials, including Minister of the Interior Ali Ngouille Ndiaye who was a key figure in organizing the voting process. Ndiaye, who belongs to the ruling party, showed lack of cooperation and consideration vis-à-vis the opposition during the pre-campaign period including denying at first basic security protection to one of presidential candidates.
After sidelining serious political contenders via prosecutions that many deem arbitrary or politically motivated, the government systematically excluded the opposition from the electoral registry’s revision, which had been, de-jure, a collaborative work between all political parties since the electoral code’s update in 1993. Article 48 of the Senegalese Electoral Code guarantees oversight and access to the electoral registry to every legally-constituted political party. The Minister seemingly precluded the opposition from consulting the electoral rosters. Having neither control nor access to the electoral registry put the opposition at a keen disadvantage, which prompted former President Abdoulaye Wade to call for a boycott or the postponement election until a transparent registry was provided.
Three months prior to the election, more than 124,000 errors and anomalies had been noted in the electoral registry and more than 200,000 voters (approximately 3% of the electorate) were not able to retrieve their voter IDs a week before the election. The government’s resistance to include the opposition in the registry’s revision increased fraud suspicions and “coincidentally,” a score of primo-votants (first-time voters) saw their registration to vote denied for no valid reason.
Despite all these reasons for pessimism, the election confirmed the arrival of Ousmane Sonko, a first-time presidential candidate and self-proclaimed Pan-Africanist, who President Macky Sall’s regime qualified as the “social media candidate.” Not only did Sonko’s anti-establishment message appeal to the Senegalese diaspora (who financed much of his campaign), he also found receptive ears among the youth and the educated elite who long for a new era of politics that does not involve corruption and party-switching. Sonko’s unapologetic denunciation of French influence in the Senegalese economy, as well as his relentless confrontation with the Sall regime, resonated among many voters.
Sonko represents a new generation of Pan-African politicians who advocate for severing neocolonial ties between France and its former colonies. Today, there is a resurgence of young leaders and activists who demand a fairer share for Africa in global economic exchanges. They want monetary independence, a single market for the continent, as well as fairer contracts and prices for Africa’s natural resources. Above all, this generation desire meaningful political change and significant economic growth for all of Africa. Sonko disrupted the status quo vis-à-vis the former metropolis and instilled fear in France-Afrique circles. He continues to galvanize neo-Pan-Africanists throughout Francophone Africa.