Senegal: Does Wade Fear the Opposition?

Senegal’s presidential elections are about three and a half months away, and it seems President Abdoulaye Wade is feeling nervous about his re-election prospects.

Reuters:

Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade late on Wednesday offered two key rivals cabinet jobs in exchange for working with him in the run up to elections in February, but both men’s parties immediately rejected the offer.

The octogenarian president is seeking re-election despite rivals saying he should be barred from taking part, and tensions are escalating steadily in a country that has already seen violent protests over the vote.

Speaking on state television, Wade offered Ousmane Tanor Dieng and Moustapha Niasse, leading figures in the opposition Benno Siggil Senegal coalition, jobs as ministers of state “with all the benefits” that come with the job.

“But I clarify that this is not at all a government of national unity,” he said.

“When you hit an impasse you have to stop and think. It would be useful for the opposition today to join me for the rest of my mandate so we can … work together,” he said, before adding that he was sure of winning re-election.

It is significant that Wade chose these two figures, both of whom are relatively older politicians from the Parti Socialiste and its offshoots, and did not offer posts to Idrissa Seck and Macky Sall, both of whom are younger , are former Wade proteges, and are serious contenders for the presidency. By only selecting some of his rivals, and by excepting two of the strongest candidates, Wade appears to be trying to divide the opposition rather than co-opt all of it.

Tanor Dieng and Niasse’s refusal is no surprise – nor indeed was the offer itself. But the incident conveys Wade’s nervousness about the elections (a nervousness he has increasingly shown since June, when he withdrew a controversial package of electoral changes in the face of street protests).

Zooming out to look at the overall pre-election scene, I am watching four main indicators in the run-up to the elections:

  1. Wade’s popularity (which seems low at present, especially in Dakar)
  2. Economic performance (growth is expected to remain above 4%, but the economy remains vulnerable to the possibility of a global recession, and unemployment remains a major source of popular anger).
  3. The cohesion of the opposition (which remains weak).
  4. The decisions made by youth protest organizers regarding which candidates they will support, if any.

Wade’s unpopularity and complaints about unemployment are threats to his re-election, but he may still be able to count on the opposition’s internal divisions. Still, by declining Wade’s offer of cabinet posts, the opposition is solidifying its anti-regime stance and increasing the chances it may be able to unify, especially if the elections go to a second round.

7 thoughts on “Senegal: Does Wade Fear the Opposition?

  1. Not speaking on Senegalese politics specifically but politics in general, unless he was certain that they would accept it sounds like a mistake to make the offer in the first place and it probably would have been better to discreetly test the waters first. Being rejected by the opposition doesn’t suggest strength in Wade and if he wanted to sow discord among the opposition parties he could have simply leaked (or completely made up) details of negotiations to the others. What was he hoping to gain from this public appeal?

    • Many developing nations suffer from brownouts, rolling blackouts and blackouts. I understand that some of my old professors in India keep at least two backup generators and a good source of fuel at the workplace. Is Senegal noted for it and have services (including other things besides electricity) been unusually poor there? One presumes that he makes every effort to at least keep Dakar lit up.

  2. Wade long ago splintered the opposition – with the help of the vainglorious messieurs that linger at the head of their flaccid political parties, for reasons that only they know about or care about. The Senegalese people – some 11 million of whom attempt to exist outside of Dakar – are largely disregarded except when the elections approach. Then all kinds of wondrous things begin to happen – Dakar’s electricity actually functions despite high fuel prices, incredible promises begin to magically reappear – like reviving the peace process in the Casamance – something Wade vowed would only take him 100 days to resolve (he never stated WHICH 100 days he would work on doing so). Some money has actually begun to flow into the long-neglected agricultural areas. Of course, the schools are still abysmal – President Senghor, an ardent advocate of education, surely is spinning in his grave. The roads are as poor as ever, except for a few links that the President takes which are impeccably kept up. Many entirely useless buildings have been built, but no operating budgets were provided so they are in various stages of decay. There is little to see of Wade’s 12 years in power, but he has seen a lot – how many cities and fine hotels have he and his enormous entourages visited? More than 100 – certainly – perhaps more than 200 or even 300. Yet, with ultimate hubris and great contempt, he dares offer himself up for another five years. Shocking, for those with morals. No biggie for Abdoulaye Wade though. HE IS THE PRESIDENT…and intends to die that way. Sadly, Senegal may die first.

  3. “Speaking on state television, Wade offered Ousmane Tanor Dieng and Moustapha Niasse, leading figures in the opposition Benno Siggil Senegal coalition, jobs as ministers of state “with all the benefits” that come with the job”.

    Was Wade thinking right in saying this? So, he is in himself for power and money only? All the same, the rules these days. I remember him saying wonderfl things in international fora on environment and infrastructure. He has been instrumental in shaping up NEPAD, particularly with President Obasanjo.

    But power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. See Kadafi, Ben Ali, Al Assad and the military in Egypt …

  4. What, if any, is the relationship between Benno Siggil Senegal and the movement that grew out of the June 23 protests? Is there overlap between the two?
    Also–the Western media has protrayed “M23” as similar to the “Arab Spring” movements; is that accurate?
    According to recent reports that I saw, at least 4 main opposition candidates–Sall, Niasse, Dieng and Cheikh Bamba Dieye–declared that they are running. So much for a united opposition.

    • Hi Jennifer, great questions. As far as I can tell, there is no official relationship between the June 23rd movement and Bennoo Siggil Senegal. Definitely many of the youth protesting have voted and will vote for the opposition, but from what I read the formal opposition parties have been followers, not leaders, in the protests. The June 23rd movement seems to have its own momentum, in other words. As for the Arab Spring, I think there may be some echo of it in Senegal but I think the roots of the protests have more to do with longstanding dissatisfaction with Wade, especially due to issues of economic disappointment, electricity cuts, etc. That anger would have been there with or without the Arab spring, and in fact there were protests over electricity in summer 2010.

      It definitely seems like the opposition is not ready to unite. Much the worse for their chances, in my view.

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