Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Dr. Lachin Hatemi: Senegal Can be a Model of Democracy for All of Africa

Authored by Lachin Hatemi M.D.

Among all the chaos and civil wars crippling the African continent, Senegal stands alone as a democratic and stable country since 1960. The relative success of Senegal’s democracy can be found in its political history. Senegal has a long history of democracy that began in the late 1700-s and continued during and after the colonization period. The Senegalese even were allowed to vote for their French colonial rulers. After gaining their independence from France in 1960, Senegal already had an established political system and a stable government structure to lean upon.

In 2000, elderly Abdoulaye Wade became the Senegal’s president after four unsuccessful attempts. A lawyer and economist Wade was the main opposition leader for more than three decades prior to his election as the president.

Under the rule of previous president Abdoulaye Wade (2000-2012), Senegal has undergone a great transformation with huge infrastructure projects financed by foreign loans. Under Wade, many hospitals and modern schools were built. However over the last decade citizens of Senegal grew more nervous about the possible implications of paying back the massive loans used to finance Wade’s dream projects.

In 2008, Wade somehow won the election to run the country for a third term despite that the constitution did not allow a third term.  This also angered the people.

By the end of 2012, Wade’s decade-long rule was rapidly losing support of the general population. Elderly Wade and his family were blamed for corruption, and their control of the country’s resources was questioned. In 2012, Senegalese voters finally delivered a defeat to Wade by not allowing him to run for a fourth term, and former Prime Minister Macky Sall won the majority of the votes and took over the presidency.

Senegal’s current president, Macky Sall, is very popular among voters. As the new president Sall explained the main reasons behind Senegal’s democratic model’s success in an interview with the Foreign Affairs’ senior editor Stuart Reid:

1.      Semi-Presidential Regime.

Government is equally responsible to the president and the parliament. Such distribution of power prevented coups which is a very common problem in many neighboring African countries.

2.      Stable Institutions
During Macky Sall’s election, the Senegalese Army and police force complied with the results of the election. Democratic institutions and the judicial system immediately adapted to the new president. Without functioning institutions such transfer of power would be a difficult and chaotic process.

3.      A Secular State
Ninety-five percent of Senegal’s population is Muslim. However, Senegal’s government provides equal protection and recognition of the Christian and animist minorities. Protection of religious institutions and minorities is guaranteed by the constitution.

4.      Prevention of Corruption
Sall revived the anti-corruption court which will be able to prosecute corrupt government officials. Wade also passed a law that will force government officials to declare their financial assets before taking office. With an independent government office to combat corruption, suspected government officials will be referred directly to the justice system without interference from the executive branch of the government.

The reasons for the success story behind Senegal’s political stability reminds me my homeland Turkey which is also a secular but a predominantly Muslim country and a rising star in the unstable Middle East. I would like to see both the Turkish and Senegalese political models to be adopted by the rest of the Middle East and Africa, respectively.  Macky Sall’s interview with Foreign Affairs Magazine is a vital read for anybody who wants to understand the secrets of Senegal’s Success.

There is a lot of hope behind the forces that brought Sall to the presidency. However, the international community still needs to continue to monitor if Macky Sall lives up to his promises. Senegal’s young population has very high expectations from their new president. I hope Senegal continues to remain as the only country in the region that never experienced a military coup.

Lachin Hatemi is a physician living in Buffalo, New York. His interests include human rights, racial equality and interfaith dialogue. You can reach Lachin at lachinhatemi@gmail.com.

Lachin Hatemi
Lachin Hatemi

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