Democracy in Senegal: Lessons for Nigeria and other West African Countries

Bassirou Diomaye Faye

At the time when the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was already battling with the management of the fall of democracy in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger Republic, the announcement of the postponement of the presidential election in Senegal by President Macky Sall came as a shocker and signalled fear of a further fall of democracy across the sub-region of Africa.

The announcement by President Macky Sall which threatened to hamper the democratic process in Senegal presented a serious challenge not just to Senegal, but to the rest of the region which had looked on to Senegal as a good example of a functional democracy in the continent of Africa. Further questions on the workability of democracy in West Africa had also been raised.

However, the constitutional manner in which the institutions in Senegal managed the crisis, leading up to the just concluded election and the emergence of the youngest president elect in the history of the country presents immense democratic lessons for Nigeria, ECOWAS and the rest of Africa.

The Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) which has closely followed up the developments in Senegal hereby highlights some of the critical lessons as follows:

  1. The neutrality and independence of state institutions are key to sustaining democracy – While President Macky Sall had announced a postponement of the presidential election well beyond the period of his constitutional stay in office, the Constitutional Council in Senegal on 6 March 2024 issued a judgement against the declaration of the president. The judgement mandated for the election to be conducted before the elapse of the tenure of Macky Sall by the 2nd of April 2024. This scenario left a less than one month period for the conduct of the election. The significance of this judgement is that it was carried out in the best interest of the nation without fear and favour to the person of the president. This is a critical lesson as it remains one of the missing links in the democratization process in West Africa.
  2. Supremacy of the constitution is crucial to democracy- Also of great importance and lesson for democracies in the sub-region is president Sall’s immediate compliance to the judgement, thereby abandoning plans to postpone the contest until June and announcing that the first-round vote would be on 24 March. While this has largely been against the wide practice in most of Africa, where leaders twist the constitution to suit the personal interests, the development in Senegal is worthy of note as it puts the state above every other person.
  3. A vibrant civil society and independence of the press are essential ingredients to the democratisation process – As demonstrated in Senegal since the postponement of the election, the civil society in the country intensified efforts to mobilize and mount pressure on the institutions of state to resist the attempt to truncate democracy while the media continually amplified and echoed the voices of the populace. Hence, rather than stifling the civil society, Senegal has shown that it is a necessary tool for accountability and should be promoted.
  4. The resilience of youth can effect positive democratic changes – The enthusiasm of the youth of Senegal to effect their democratic process was sharply highlighted in the build up to the election. This saw young people across the divides rally around the youthful party and youthful representation spearheaded by the charismatic Ousmane Sonko. It is the massive support as demonstrated by the youth without resorting to politics of identity on the basis of ethnicity, tribalism or religion that paved the way for the emergence of 44-year-old Bassirou Diomaye Faye as president elect from the March 24 election. This represents a wake-up call to youths in Nigeria and ECOWAS to unite above identity politics to positively effect changes in their country’s politics.
  5. Free, fair, credible elections are a possibility in Nigeria and other ECOWAS countries – Some of the obvious reasons for the failure of democracy in West Africa so far include its tendency to never conduct elections devoid of rancour of irregularities and logistic failure. As has been demonstrated in Senegal, even within the shortest time possible for election preparation, the country has successfully conducted a presidential election that is widely adjudged as peaceful, free, fair and transparent, and reflecting the wider wishes of the larger population.

As TMG extends its congratulations to the people of Senegal on the exemplary display of democratic process, its successful conduct of the presidential election, and indeed the emergence of the youngest president in the country’s history, it is also imperative to call on the authorities and people of Nigeria to learn greatly from the numerous lessons, apply same and advance the democratic process in the country. Senegal has shown that democracy in West Africa can be sustained and strengthened on the collective will of the masses.

Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani)

Chairman, Transition Monitoring Group (TMG)



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