SENEGAL: A lesson of democracy for Africa on the eve of presidential elections

HRWF (09.01.2024) – When Senegal goes to the polls to elect a President on 25 February 2024, it will be a crucial date with ramifications far beyond that country’s borders. President Macky Sall’s decision not to stand for a third term bucks the trend in a region with leaders seeking to extend their hold on power. The Senegalese president’s announcement that he will not stand, and his instruction to his government to do everything possible to organise a transparent election, send a clear signal to his own people and also set the tone for other elections on the continent this year.

President Sall’s announcement was praised by neighbouring leaders, the African Union, the USA, and former colonial power France, whose foreign ministry said “Senegal is again delivering proof of the solidity of its long democratic tradition.” Certainly, Senegal is providing a welcome contrast to some other nations on the continent. With military rule in Burkina Faso, Guinea and Mali, plus Ivory Coast president staying in power in third term and Togo’s for a fourth, Senegal does seem a much needed beacon. A look at all mainland Francophone Africa’s countries sees Senegal standing out as truly democratic, with free elections, the transfer of power between opposing parties, and as we have seen with President Sall’s commitment not to stand, firm commitment to constitutional limits. The true test of democracy is the willingness to allow smooth transitions via free and fair elections.

Senegal’s February vote is one of several important African elections in 2024, including Mali, which is currently under military rule, South Africa, Ghana and Botswana. The international community will be looking to Dakar for an early indicator of how this year might look across the continent.

President Sall’s decision offers a firm foundation for Senegal’s future commitment to continued democracy protection of human rights. The international community should provide maximum support to Senegal as it goes to the polls, as the positive impact of that country’s smooth transition of power will echo across the continent. There should also be great vigilance regarding any foreign interference, especially from Russia, in Senegal’s February election campaign, as that too will have far-reaching ramifications.