Senegal: President Wade’s Problems Continue

Defections from his party. Protests against his re-election bid. A movement of musicians mobilizing youth to vote him out. And, due to all those factors, international attention directed at his problems. From multiple angles, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade faces difficulties. And while he can count on the advantage of incumbency in the upcoming elections, scheduled for February, he is likely a little unnerved by last week’s victory in Zambia by opposition candidate Michael Sata – one of the few opposition victories in Africa, indeed, since Wade’s own triumph in 2000.

The most recent protests, held on Friday, were not huge – several hundred attended, according to AFP – but the political effects of the country’s periodic protests loom large. Protests in June prompted Wade to withdraw a bill that would have lowered the threshold necessary for his re-election, dealing the president not only a defeat at that moment but also weakening his overall political stature. And last week’s protests caused Wade to cut short a trip to the US and return home. Through these reactions, and his repeated attempts to prevent protests, Wade shows fear of defeat in February.

I think it is still too early to have a good idea of what will happen in February, but several trends are running against Wade. A youth protest movement, despite its ability to make international news, might not have deep support among the citizenry, but the recurring hits the protest movement has inflicted on Wade’s public image do matter. Those hits could embolden the opposition, lead to more defections, and cause ordinary voters to pay more attention to the campaign.