ISSN 2330-717X

Senegalese Presidential Elections: A Missed Opportunity – OpEd


By Bernard Fall


The stakes of the elections of 26 February 2012 and March 18, 2012 concern the whole of West Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. Actually this is one episode in a political struggle engaged long before the riots in North Africa against dictatorships. Three questions arise. Will the winner be bold enough to give the country a power that frees it from the imperialist economic domination and local alliances that contribute to the deepening crisis of development by blocking the formation of dynamic and democratic rural societies? Will he strengthen the secular state or will he let it wither away with the harmful consequences that could ensue? Does it help the country get rid of the temptation of a dynastic type of devolution?

Samir Amin classified the Senegalese political regime of the first phase of the domination of the Socialist Party (1960-1980) under the category of ‘small democracy’ or procedural democracy or democracy of low intensity. He defined it as a secular regime that practices multipartyism, organizes elections at regular intervals and grants the judiciary a degree of autonomy in the implementation of human rights protection. Certainly a fringe of the Socialist Party, ideologically influential, really thought that the future of humanity was in the globalization of a human capitalism, i.e. without an imperialist dimension.

This explains why the Party claimed that planning, financially and technically supported by the centres would convert an economy based on exploitation of the peasantry and natural resources in agricultural production (mainly water and soil) into a techno-scientific economy in which industrialisation would be in synergy with dynamic farming favoured by a tenure where the privatization of agricultural land would be the exception rather than the rule.

This ideology therefore excluded the option of accumulation by dispossession of the peasantry as in the Anglo-Saxon model of primitive accumulation. Pure Utopia. Indeed, neither the social base of the regime nor its economic relations and external relations policy were consistent with this vision. Domestically, while trying a certain democratization of rural societies by reducing the power of religious notables on farmers through new elective institutions, it did not put in place an educational system whose teachings were favourable to the social classes and to individuals aspiring to become real historical subjects.
In foreign relations, while he promised a policy of development of productive forces (or out of underdevelopment policy) the party locked the country in international economic and monetary agreements that condemned the power to focus on monetarist policies of fiscal balance and not structural changes. But instead of increasing the national savings, they remained so low that the bulk of public investment was financed by loans. This led to an automatic process that transformed payment arrears into new loans. The debt crisis was thus part of the socialist party´s development project.

Senghor’s departure in 1981 took place in a context unfavourable to his successor. (I) The populist regimes that were the pillars of the Bandung project were systematically destroyed by the imperialist forces that monopolized the means of mass destruction of the emancipatory projects in the Third World. (II) China abandoned the principle of disconnection to actively reintegrate the globalized capitalist system. (III) The global crisis of the Soviet deepened. (IV) The United States decided to get the West out of the crisis of accumulation by imposing on all capitalist countries monetarism. This had been Chile´s experience since 1973, after the bloody coup against the legitimate and democratic authority. The new world economic order was an invention of the imperialist United States


In Africa this monetarism called Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) had a fundamental strategic objective of integrating the continent’s natural resources in the policies of economic security of the West, at the expense of destroying companies even by mass killings. In Senegal, SAPs imposed polities, whose consequences were totally incompatible with the maintenance and even more so the deepening of Senghor´s small democracy. Indeed the opening of the local market to competition brings urban pauperization due to the closure of industrial establishments, the accentuation of rural unemployment and impoverishment due to the contraction of the local market of food crops. The forced withdrawal of the state from agriculture and industry and reduced public spending on health, education and housing created conditions unfavourable to the formation of a stable middle class, but favourable to the emergence of local plutocracies with very narrow bases and it induced social apartheid. To solve the problem of poverty and the balance of payments, President Abdou Diouf adopted a policy that systematically encouraged emigration.

The importance of the left wing component in the Senegalese political culture was manifested by the growing role of the three radical parties during the search for an alternative to Senghor´s model, which was in crisis. It was the Independence and Labour Party (PIT, the Democratic League (LD / MPT) and the Revolutionary Movement for New Democracy (And- Jëf); with the Left Socialist Party they represented more than half of the electorate. That is why the Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS) who claimed liberal ideology, had to make concessions with them to form the coalition that brought Wade to power in 2000.

As expected, the coalition broke up shortly after the electoral victory. In fact the application of a joint program of the left seemed incompatible with the political and economic designs of the new president. Moreover, he believes to make lasting alliances with the conservative wing of religion, it must be integrated into power by putting an end to the principle of the secular state and, within this framework, Muridism has to be hoisted to the rank of dominant group. This project has always been contrary to the popular will.

Wade has indeed shown he had the ambition to build a model that reflects the political ideology of his party. In fact it is aligned with the model commonly called clientelist, and has not expanded the sphere of freedom but has reduced the concept of gender equality to the percentage of women on electoral lists. No doubt his ambition to wield absolute power, first in his party and in the functioning of the state, is related to his conception of underdevelopment / development. He considered that to grow economically is to build spectacular physical infrastructure, including transportation, with a strong external financial and technical participation, and that to achieve this program he needed to centralize power to negotiate with partners, to award contracts, to appoint the directors of construction sites and to choose their locations.

His approach of privatization of agricultural land rights trumps the democratization of rural societies. Besides the agricultural development program called Great Agricultural Offensive for Food and Abundance (GOANA), the phenomenon known as the new wave of land grabbing is not a problem and the term rural disappears.

The electoral campaign involves the interpretation of the Constitution, the age of the incumbent in relation to his son´s future in the political spectrum; but the underlying problems, which concern the ways out of underdevelopment, given the high population growth, youth population, the weakening of states in the sub-region and the necessary fight against engineering of Islamic terrorism and mafia organizations related to control of natural resources, are not addressed. Senegal will only emerge from the institutional crisis when the gains of small democracy are completed by a real inclusive economic development.
To achieve this, it is necessary to review the international agreements that prevent the state from financing development through credit. This requires in addition a West African regionalization policy that aims firstly to achieve development without exploitation of human beings (peasant and urban informal sector workers) and therefore operates outside the control of oligopolies that now organize the looting of oil, mining, fishing and forest, water and soil overexploitation and block the formation of a technologically independent food sub-region, second to build a large area of protection against the globalization of state terrorism which the imperialist powers use under the excuse of humanitarian intervention. And third to establish political systems based on the requirement of the democratization of societies in conjunction with the establishment of rules that block the conversion of groups privileged by education, income, or capital accumulated from becoming castes.

This article was translated from French for Pambazuka News by Funmi Kogbe, a Nigerian-born, graduate of ethnology and international relations.

Pambazuka News

‘Pambazuka’ in Kiswahili means the dawn or to arise as a verb. Pambazuka News is produced by a pan-African community of some 2,600 citizens and organisations - academics, policy makers, social activists, women's organisations, civil society organisations, writers, artists, poets, bloggers, and commentators who together produce insightful, sharp and thoughtful analyses and make it one of the largest and most innovative and influential web forums for social justice in Africa.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.