Senegalese President Macky Sall July 3 announced that he would not seek an extended tenure in office. Rumours that he would try to extend his more than a decade-long rule have ignited nationwide unrest, shaking Senegal’s reputation as a bastion of stability in West Africa. In a speech carried live on his official Facebook page, the president maintained that Senegal’s constitution would have allowed his candidacy despite having already been elected to a second term in 2019. “Even if I have the right, I felt that my duty is not to contribute to destroying what I have built for this country,” he said.
Sall asked his government to do everything possible to organize a transparent election in February 2024. He offered no indication of who might step into his shoes and carry the party’s standard in the upcoming campaign. “I know that this decision will come as a surprise to all those who have a friendship with me,” he added. “Senegal is more than just me, it’s full of people capable of taking Senegal to the next level.”
Prior to the president’s announcement, top opposition leader Ousmane Sonko had called for fresh demonstrations if Sall were to announce a re-election bid. The 61-year-old leader previously had been undecided about his ambitions, stoking tensions over whether he would use a constitutional review to bypass the country’s two-term limit. With his surprise decision that window now is closed, hopefully.
The full implication of the decision may not yet have dawned on the president. He must have surprised even himself but more the opposition that thought he would try to the ride out the political storm he had caused. But in saying he would not be a candidate in 2024, he has broken Africa’s trend of sit-tight leaders manipulating the constitution to stop regime change. For that, Sall has received praise from neighbours, the African Union and former colonial master France, whose foreign ministry hailed the president’s speech as “proof of Senegalese democracy”.
The president’s move comes 11 years after he defeated his predecessor and former mentor Abdoulaye Wade, whose own decision to seek a controversial third term in office had sparked violent street protests. First elected in April 2012, Sall rose to power promising a radical “break with the past”, focused on social justice, structural reforms and development projects. Key reforms included the introduction of the bourse familiale, a family allowance paid to some 300,000 low-income people that was recently increased amid an inflation crisis triggered by the war in Ukraine.
Sall initiated a series of major infrastructure projects, including a new airport and town built on the outskirts of Dakar, as well as highways, express trains, a national stadium and a road link to neighbouring Mali. The country’s economy has grown steadily during his time in office, with annual GDP surging from $17 billion to $27 billion over the past ten years, though unemployment has remained stubbornly high at over 22%, affecting young people in particular.
Despite this impressive performance score, the fact remains that Senegalese voters are tired of seeing his face and want change even if it is change for change’s sake. As the president acknowledged himself, “Senegal is more than just me, it’s full of people capable of taking Senegal to the next level.” His initial reluctance to go had already resulted in tens of deaths. The number must not rise before he saw the writing on the wall!
It is often asked, why change a winning horse? Simple answer is: because it is always winning. Monotony is something human beings don’t like. They want variety, again, simply because it is the “spice of life”. It may seem unreasonable but still it is the choice of the people. The voice of the people is the voice of God, it is said. In Senegal, the people say they don’t want Sall anymore. So let him leave the stage.