Outlook for Senegal’s Presidential Polls

 The 6.5 million Senegalese voter population will go to the ballot box tomorrow. Voters will decide, whether to render incumbent Macky Sall a one-term president[1], and thereby make history, or if the status quo should prevail. Sall, 57, is being challenged by a lean cohort of four aspirants, three of whom are his peers[2]: former PM Idrissa Seck (59); tech expert and MP El Hadji Issa Sall (63, no relation of the president) and lawyer Madick Niang (65). Meanwhile, Ousmane Sonko, a former tax inspector is, at 44 years, playing to his youthful advantage, given that 60% of the population is under 25[3].

Sall’s pedigree as the only candidate having led the country as president, could be a blessing or curse. Indeed, he is the most experienced of all the candidates in public service, having been in office for the past seven years. He has garnered support for his emphasis on universal healthcare coverage and has been able to implement free caesarean sections for expectant mothers, free healthcare for children under 5 and the provision of family grants for those on the margins. His ‘bling’ infrastructural developments such as the completion of a state-of-the-art airport within six months, and an electric train linking Dakar to the airport, will also win him some kudos. He is promising more of the same, essentially more infrastructural development and the creation of a million new jobs if re-elected.

Yet, the fact that he has led in an array of public service roles, formerly as Prime Minister, head of the national assembly, mayor of his hometown of Fatick, and head of the national petroleum company, means that his critics are less than forgiving of his governance track record over the past seven years. Notably, his over-centralised authority undermining the judiciary and the legislature, the side-lining of political opponents namely Khalifa Sall and Karim Wade[4] and nepotism: his brother, brother in law and other relatives occupy senior positions in public office and state-run companies, do not bode well[5].

In view of this, support for Sall is split and the vote will likely go to a second round, in which Sall will be up against one of the two leading oppositionists: Idrissa Seck, the former PM under socialist ex president Abdoulaye Wade, or Ousmane Sonko, leader of les Patriotes du Senegal pour le travial, l’ethique et la fraternite (Pastef):

·      Seck has been at the vanguard of politics in the past as PM under Wade but the former premier fell from grace following his removal from office and subsequent incarceration (without trial) over allegations of embezzlement. Rising from the ashes, Seck then sought to challenge his mentor-turned-nemesis Abdoulaye Wade at the polls in 2007 but came away with only 15% of the vote and performed even worse in the 2012 polls against Sall, bowing out in the first round with just 7%. Yet his chequered past and history of defeat at the ballot won’t eclipse his chances of success entirely: he has the support of Thies, and recently received the endorsement of the religious Mouride confederacy in the spiritual city of Touba[6].

·      Sonko is a former tax inspector who represents the Patriotes du Senegal pour le travail, l’ethique et la fraternite (Pastef) party.He gained recognition and support at the hands of what was seen to be another one of Sall’s moves to silence dissention when he was sacked as a civil servant following his allegations of fraudulent activity by Sall’s administration. A staunch nationalist, a Sonko presidency would disrupt the status quo: he has voiced ambitions to renegotiate oil and gas contracts and bring an end to the usage of the CFA franc.

[1]All presidents in Senegal’s history since multiparty politics was introduced in 1960, have served more than one term.

[2]In terms of age.





Nana AmpofoSonghai Advisory