Brief Notes on Senegal’s Upcoming Legislative Elections

On July 30, Senegal will hold legislative elections to fill 165 seats in the unicameral National Assembly, including 15 seats to represent the Senegalese diaspora. Legislators serve five-year terms. The elections come between the 2012 presidential election and the 2019 presidential election, and as such they are the field of considerable maneuvering in advance of the 2019 contest. These elections are also the first to follow the 2016 referendum that brought various changes to Senegal’s political system. Most relevant to these legislative elections are “amendments [that] encourage even more party splintering, since the new constitution reduces barriers to independent candidacy.”

As Jeune Afrique (French) explains, before the official campaign began on May 30/31, there were initially two major coalitions of parties: Benno Bokk Yakaar (United in Hope), associated with incumbent President Macky Sall and the current parliamentary majority, and the opposition coalition Manko Taxawu Sénégal.

Within the opposition, however, disagreements (French) about who should head the coalition’s list caused a split, resulting in the formation of a major splinter group called Coalition gagnante Wattu Sénégal, with a list headed by former President Abdoulaye Wade. The remnants of Manko Taxawu Sénégal put forth a list headed by Khalifa Sall, mayor of the capital Dakar – who remains in jail, in a case I discussed here. Khalifa Sall’s key ally in the coalition is former Prime Minister Idrissa Seck.

Meanwhile, Benno Bokk Yakaar’s list (French) is headed by current Prime Minister Mohammed Dionne. BBY also includes veteran politicians such as Ousmane Tanor Dieng of the Socialist Party* and Moustapha Niasse, current president of the National Assembly and head of the Alliance of the Forces of Progress. The international Francophone press largely expects BBY to win, given the opposition’s internal divisions and BBY’s big tent. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see what Wade is like in parliament, and also to see whether Khalifa Sall’s partisans are successful not just in getting him elected, but in getting him freed.

*Khalifa Sall is the leader of a dissident wing of the Socialist Party.

 

 

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Africa News Roundup: ECOWAS and Mali, French Commanders in Mauritania, Muslim Protests in Ethiopia, Karim Wade, and More

Details on the Economic Community of West African States’ battle plan for Mali:

“International forces will not do the ground fighting, that role will belong to the Malian army,” a military officer familiar with the plan, who asked not to be named, said on Friday.

“Air strikes will be the responsibility of the international force,” he said, adding foreign partners would also provide logistical and intelligence support and soldiers and police to secure areas captured by the Malian army.

Military planners from Africa, the United Nations and Europe in Mali’s capital Bamako last week drew up a battle plan that would involve a foreign force of more than 4,000 personnel, mostly from West African countries. It remains unclear how much of the force would come from Western nations.

The plan covers a six-month period, with a preparatory phase for training and the establishment of bases in Mali’s south, followed by combat operations in the north.

Top French military commanders visited Mauritania this week to discuss Mali and terrorism.

The ongoing Muslim protests in Ethiopia merit a full post, but two items of note are the announcement of new members of the Islamic Affairs Council and a statement by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom expressing concern “about the increasing deterioration of religious freedoms for Muslims in Ethiopia.”

In other Ethiopia-related news, “Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan have agreed to resume jointly working on organizing sustainable management, utilization and development of the Nile waters under the Eastern Nile Basin. The agreement was reached after water Ministers and representatives of the three countries held a meeting in Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on Thursday.”

VOA:

The United Nations warns survivors of Nigeria’s worst flooding in five decades are at risk for waterborne and water-related diseases.  Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency reports the heavy rains have killed 363 people, affected 7.7 million and made more than two million people homeless.

Reuters: “Somalia’s al Shabaab, Squeezed in South, Move to Puntland.”

Senegalese police will again question Karim Wade, a former minister and son of former President Abdoulaye Wade.

What else is happening?

Rioting and Rivalry as the “Affair of Sheikh Bethio” Continues in Senegal

In April, Senegalese authorities arrested Sheikh Bethio Thioune, a popular Muslim leader in the country, following the deaths of two men at one the Sheikh’s homes. Commenter Brendon Butler pointed out over the weekend that the “Bethio affair” is back in the news: last week, the Sheikh was transferred from Thies, the region where he was arrested, to the capital Dakar. Starting last Friday, after authorities forbade the Sheikh’s supporters from visiting him (French) at the Rebeuss prison, some of his followers (called “Thiantacounes”) rioted, burning two buses and causing what the linked article calls “indescribable disorder.” In a reminder of the increasingly transnational scope of the Mouridiyya Sufi order to which Sheikh Bethio belongs, his supporters also rallied outside Senegalese diplomatic missions in Paris and Marseilles (French) on Friday.

Rioting continued in Dakar on Monday:

Police fired teargas to break up the protesters who moved through the capital smashing the windows of parked cars as well as those driving past using rocks, sticks and other objects found on the road.
[…]
Street traders hastily swept up their wares and ran off as the angry protesters swarmed Independence Square in the heart of the capital, causing chaos as cars reversed and swerved to avoid projectiles.

As I said in the spring, one point to emphasize is that international English-language sources often oversimplify Sheikh Bethio’s role within the Mouridiyya brotherhood. To say that he has a large following and that he is an important figure in the country’s religious arena is accurate. To call him a “senior Mouride leader” blurs the distinction between Sheikh Bethio – who is not a descendant of the Mouridiyya’s founder Sheikh Amadou Bamba (d. 1927) – and the brotherhood’s hereditary leadership, which is based in the order’s holy city of Touba. The order’s highest living authority is Sheikh Amadou Bamba’s grandson Sheikh Maty Lèye Mbacké (biography in French here), who became the seventh Khalifa of the Mouridiyya in 2010. While the existence of religious leaders like Sheikh Bethio indicates that the brotherhood has powerful figures outside the Mbacké family, it is important not to exaggerate Sheikh Bethio’s position within the formal hierarchy of the brotherhood.

In the “Bethio affair,” both the state and the Thiantacounes have sought the support of the Mbacké family, with President Macky Sall telephoning the Khalifa (French) in April, Sheikh Bethio’s son visiting the Khalifa (French) in August, and Prime Minister Abdoul Mbaye journeying to speak with Sheikh Saliou ibn Saliou Mbacké (French), the son of the late fifth Khalifa of the Mouridiyya, in the Mbour region this weekend. The position of the Mbacké family and the “Bethio affair” is complex, and I may be misunderstanding it, but my current interpretation is that the family wants the affair to end, but is not calling for any exceptional treatment for Sheikh Bethio in the judicial process.

If the complexities in the religious realm were not enough, there are the ways in which party rivalries enter into the affair. Sheikh Bethio was a strong supporter of former President Abdoulaye Wade, whom current President Macky Sall defeated in March. Relations between Wade’s Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS) and the Sall administration have been tense since the election as the administration investigates allegations of corruption and the PDS moves from ruling party status to opposition status. Some voices in the Senegalese press (French) have read statements by the Sall administration as implying that the PDS is behind the riots. The PDS, meanwhile, accuses the administration (French) of creating “tension” through its handling of the affair and implies that the state’s treatment of the Sheikh flouts judicial norms. The Bethio affair, then, has become a forum for party rivalry and struggle.

On a final note, those who read French may be interested to read the reactions of Senegalese bloggers who decry the violence, assess the actions of the Thiantacounes in light of Mouride teachings, and castigate the Senegalese state as weak. These bloggers, of course, do not represent the full range of perspectives among the Senegalese. Nonetheless it is noteworthy how the affair has shaken the confidence of some Senegalese writers in the state’s capacity to maintain law and order.

Senegal: President Sall Seeks Peace in the Casamance

In February, as former Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade fought (unsuccessfully) for a third time, the conflict in Senegal’s southern Casamance region seemed to be stagnant, or even to be getting worse. Reuters reported an uptick in violence in the run-up to the presidential elections, despite Wade’s renewed efforts at peacemaking. Both Wade and his predecessor President Abdou Diouf had grappled with the conflict, which began in 1982 – and whose political roots extend back to the time of Senegal’s first President Leopold Senghor. Rebels in the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC) want the Casamance to secede from Senegal. Peace initiatives have repeatedly failed. The latest round of fighting began in 2009.

IRIN reported in February that the rebels seemed to be losing support among Casamance residents, but added that “separatists operating in the north, with a base across the border in Gambia [which lies between northern Senegal and the Casamance], are increasingly ‘radicalizing’ under their leader Salif Sadio.” IRIN said that at least five MFDC factions were present in the Casamance. Divisions inside the movement have grown since the death of its leader Augustin Diamacoune Senghor in 2007.

After coming to power this spring, new Senegalese President Macky Sall stated his intention, as Wade did when he came to power in 2000, of making peace with rebels in the Casamance. In late June, Sall stated, “We are ready to open talks with the fighters and actors involved in the peace process, religious leaders and men and women of good will…I extend a hand to Salif Sadio, Cesar Atoute Badiatte and the men of Ousmane Niantang Diatta,” the major factional leaders.

All three of these commanders have responded more or less favorably to Sall’s overture. In early July, Sadio expressed willingness to negotiate with the government under certain conditions:

Sadio said he wants Senegal’s government to agree to “sincere dialogue, to sit down with the MFDC on neutral ground, so outside of Africa” under “the mediation of the Catholic community of Sant’Egidio.”

The Sant’Egidio Community was founded in Rome in 1968 and got involved in sponsoring peace negotiations in the 1980s when it found that its humanitarian action in Mozambique would be largely useless without peace.

This week, Badiate also evinced interest in negotiations. Badiate outlined similar conditions to Sadio’s, including a desire for mediation by Sant’Egidio, but Badiate also mentioned that he wants the MFDC to resolve its own internal divisions before entering into negotiations with the Senegalese government. To Badiate, it seemed to make a difference that a new president is in power; he referred to Wade’s having “trampled” on the situation in the Casamance.

Diatta’s faction, RFI recently reported (French), also favors negotiations, although the movement demands that the government drop an arrest warrant against its secretary general.

I cannot predict the changes of success for this peace initiative, but it certainly bodes well for Sall that these rebel commanders have been willing to listen. To succeed, however, talks will probably have to address the key drivers of the conflict, including what Reuters calls a “low level ‘war economy’ which benefits combatants on both sides and centers on illegal logging, the cashew nut industry and illegal cannabis growing and smuggling.” Reuters also reports allegations of Gambian President Yaya Jammeh’s support for the MFDC, a factor that could further complicate matters. The solution, then, may require political subtlety and economic transformation.

Africa News Roundup: Elections in Libya, ECOWAS Meets on Mali, Missed Deadlines in Somalia, and More

Libya votes in parliamentary elections today. Some relevant news and commentary from Thursday and Friday:

Today, leaders from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) meet in Ouagadougou to discuss Mali, focusing on “broadening the interim government in southern Mali to give it greater legitimacy” and “retaking the north from Islamist militants.”

Another serious protest took place yesterday in Sudan, with more repression by security forces. The situation in Sudan is dynamic, but readers may be interested in two things I wrote about the protests earlier in the week, one at World Politics Review and one at The American Interest.

Alertnet rounds up uniformly grim assessments of conditions in South Sudan from the International Rescue Committee, Oxfam, the Red Cross, Human Rights Watch, and UNICEF.

The International Contact Group on Somalia has “expressed concern over the missing of deadlines which form part of the process of ending the country’s current transitional governing arrangements on 20 August this year.”

The Federal High Court in Abuja, Nigeria has charged two men of having links to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The men are from Lagos, and BBC Hausa adds that so far no link has been established between them and Boko Haram. To my relatively ignorant eye, the men appear to have Yoruba names.

VOA reports that residents of Kano feel caught between Boko Haram and the security forces.

On Tuesday and Thursday, police in Senegal questioned Karim Wade, son of former President Abdoulaye Wade.

What else is happening?

President Macky Sall’s Coalition Triumphs in Senegal’s Legislative Elections [Update]

Senegal held its two-round presidential election in January and March of this year, leading to the inauguration of a new president, Macky Sall. Yesterday, legislative elections appeared to give a massive triumph to Sall’s coalition. Turnout and enthusiasm were reportedly low. Yet the extent of Sall’s apparent victory will likely solidify his mandate and give him even greater leverage to pursue major items on his agenda, including a corruption probe into the previous administration, that of President Abdoulaye Wade.

Senegal’s National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, has 150 seats. As Wikipedia explains, “Ninety deputies are elected in 35 single and multi-member districts (departments) by simple majority (plurality) party block vote (PBV, winning party list takes all seats in the district). The remaining 60 seats are filled proportionally based on the national distribution of votes.” As of last night, various outlets were projecting a major Sall victory. The most specific tally I saw came from Dakar-based Twitter user Abdul Tejan-Cole, who wrote that Sall’s Benoo Bok Yaakaar* coalition had won 111-115 seats to a mere 16 for Wade’s Parti Democratique Senegalais.

Muslim leaders, who competed on that basis for the first time in a Senegalese election, also took a few seats. Those who read French can find more on these leaders and their parties here – several of these sheikhs have participated in one form or another in Senegalese politics for well over a decade.

Reuters says, “Complete provisional results are expected by Tuesday.” Seneweb (French) is keeping a liveblog of the elections here. The Agence de Presse Senegalaise (French) is also tallying and reporting on results. I will try to update this post when confirmed results appear.

What do you think? Do reports of low turnout and low enthusiasm mean this isn’t that big of a win for Sall? Or is it a major triumph? Is Wade’s PDS a spent force? Or is it only natural that they would lose legislative elections only three months after losing the presidential?

*This source translates the name as “Rally of the Forces of Change.”

[UPDATE:] AFP on unofficial results compiled by local media and government sources:

Figures compiled by local media, including the Senegalese Press Agency (APS) showed President Macky Sall’s coalition ‘Benno Bokk Yaakkar” (United for One Hope in the Wolof language)** had won 100 of the 150 seats up for grabs.

[…]

A source close to the interior minister and election commission said initial figures showed participation was around 37 percent. However this is still higher than in 2007 polls when only 34.7 percent of Senegalese voters cast a ballot.

In 2007, there was an opposition boycott during the legislative elections, so there would have been major cause for concern if 2012 turnout failed to beat 2007 turnout.

Is there an absolute number below which turnout becomes “low”? I am tempted to put it at 50% – which means, of course, that at least one presidential election in the post-World War II US (1996) was edging into “low turnout” territory, and turnout for many mid-term elections was well below the 50% mark as well.

**Note that AFP gives a different translation than the other source.

[UPDATE 2]: A new provisional count gives 119 to Sall’s coalition, 12 seats to PDS, 19 seats to others, and puts turnout at 36.7%.

Senegal: A Response to the New York Times Regarding Abdoulaye Wade

This is a guest post from Adam Steinfield, a Dakar-based journalist. Adam takes on important issues regarding the use of evidence in journalism. He argues that the New York Times has mischaracterized the role of ex-President Abdoulaye Wade on the Senegalese political scene, and proposes an alternative understanding of Wade’s role and status. – Alex

There have been numerous academic studies done on how the Western media cover Africa.* While reporting varies from nation to nation, there are some overlapping trends. Western journalists tend to cover Africa in a sensationalized manner. Atypical stories are chosen to represent Africa as a whole with the majority of coverage focusing on negative, crises-driven news. A recent example of this is the New York Times piece, “In Spirit and in Form, Ousted Titan Keeps a Hold Over Senegal,” which suggests that political corruption runs rampant in Sénégal and that their recent democratic transition of power was hollow.

The piece deals with the on-going presence of ex-President Abdoulaye Wade in Sénégalese politics. Wade was voted out of office in late March while trying to run for a controversial third term in a fairly heated election. Now Wade continues to make headlines as an outspoken figure on the political scene and the Times article posits that praising Sénégal for a peaceful transition of power may be a bit premature. Some sinister suggestions are made that Wade is actually still running things from behind the scenes.

From a journalistic standpoint, there is not much offered in the way of proof. Vague references to Wade’s autobiography and the fact that his press secretary continues to sign his releases “President” are the only sources offered in the first four paragraphs. By this point, the article has already made several assertions on Wade’s position in the power structure, as well as on Wade and his successor Macky Sall’s state of mind.

The article’s argument is centered around two main points. First, Wade remains front and center in the minds of the people. The article supports this by quoting newspaper headlines, claiming people still refer to him as “Master Wade” without providing any proof, and offering anecdotal evidence that he still enjoys the support of the influential and wealthy marabouts (Sénégalese religious figures).

The second point deals with money. Wade’s government acquired over 400 new cars while in office and allegedly distributed many of them in return for political fealty or favors. All of this occurred while Wade was President, but the implication is that Wade still possesses a great deal of resources that allow him to influence proceedings. The article also outlines President Sall’s response to this, which was to revive an anti-corruption agency to track down the vehicles and other misappropriated resources.

Most of the article’s concerns toward Wade are easily answered. Instead of unsupported suspicions of Wade secretly pulling the strings, one could simply look at his very legitimate role in the current political system. Wade is currently the Secretary-General of the Parti Démocratique Sénégalais, which happens to be the largest opposition party in the government at the moment. In most democratic countries the leader of the opposition receives a significant amount of press coverage and support from the citizenry. Wade’s resources and ties with the marabouts make him slightly more dangerous than the average opposition figure I suppose, but if all that alleged power couldn’t save him from a landslide loss in the election, I have trouble seeing what it will do for him now. Especially since the anti-corruption group appears to be making some headway.

None of this is to say that Wade has no more designs on power. The problem is that the article fails to provide any specific instance or evidence of Wade actually retaining or gaining newfound power since the election. The piece falls right into the same old coverage of Africa by playing up the negative while ignoring more positive stories. There is certainly a time and a place for stories on political corruption in Africa, and even in Sénégal specifically. However, due to the ubiquity of the frame of political corruption on the continent, journalists should make doubly sure the frame fits before applying it.

I do think the Times has made an effort to offer well-rounded reporting on Sénégal. For the most part their election coverage was even-handed and their recent piece on wrestling in Sénégal (laamb) offered an interesting look at an important part of Sénégalese culture. There are plenty of other stories to write about as well; from Dakar’s recent fashion week, to the battle between Sall’s government and foreign fishing industries over fishing licenses, or the regional initiative to build a “Great Green Wall” across the Sahel. This time though, the Times sensationalized Wade’s headline grabbing by suggesting the transition of power was null. In doing so, they fell into the same rote characterization of politics in Africa that journalists have been using for a long time.

* See, for example, Narinder Aggarwala, “Third World News Agency.” Paper presented at the conference on “The Third World and Press Freedom,” The Edward R. Murrow Center for Public Diplomacy, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, New York, May 12-13, 1977.