Abeni Aso-Oke

Rescue from French Neo-colonist Claws: Senegalese New Dawn By Prof MK Othman


President of Senegal
Abeni Aso-Oke

I have yet to visit Senegal, but I had a sound rapport with the good people of Senegal during my educational sojourn in France over two decades ago. The people are unique, can easily be identified from the crowd, and amiable, especially to Africans. They have a giant physique with a husky voice but a Wolof intonation that produces a golden melody, which makes the listeners look at the speaker intensely. Senegal has over 30 languages, but Wolof is the most widely spoken one, with 80% of the population speaking it as a first or second language, and it acts as Senegal’s lingua franca alongside French. Unlike other immigrants, the Senegalese people are restless and hardworking, earning a living from multiple jobs in France but hardly seen in crimes. Politically, I found the Wolof people, the dominants in Senegal, to be harmless and seemed to be contented with the way things have been, enjoying the French Neo-colonist conquest. So, I was momentarily taken aback when I watched a video clip and listened to the speech of the newly elected President of Senegal, talking tough and sending shivers to France, their colonial master. It seems the giant has woken up; Senegal is being rescued from the claws of French Neo-colonialism. Can Senegal be free from the tight grip of France? Are we witnessing the new dawn and the nascence of true democracy in one of the West African countries? Senegal was France’s oldest African colony for over three centuries until independence was granted in 1960. Since then, the two countries have maintained close economic and diplomatic ties similar to those of a “master-slave” relationship.
Senegal is a country that borders the Atlantic Ocean on four sides: the north, east, and south. It shares borders with Mauritania, Guinea, and Guinea-Bissau. The country also almost completely encircles Gambia, which occupies a small area of land near the banks of the Gambia River, which divides Senegal’s southern region of Casamance from the rest of the nation. Cape Verde and Senegal also border each other maritimely. Dakar is Senegal’s political and economic hub. With a population of about 18 million, Senegal has a land area of nearly 197,000 square kilometers (76,000 sq mi). The state, a unitary presidential republic, has been regarded as one of the most stable on the African continent since its founding in 1960. Senegal is ranked fourth in Africa and 52nd overall in the world for electoral democracy, according to the 2023 V-Dem Democracy Indices.
French influence persisted throughout its former colonies despite the cessation of direct authority in the early 1960s. France has endeavored to preserve a hegemonic presence in Francophone Africa through political, security, economic, and cultural ties to further its interests and preserve a last bastion of prestige linked to a history of previous dominance. With the world becoming a global village due to access to information, the citizens of these colonies are restive and strongly oppose France’s domineering presence and consider it an economic exploitation. The coups in Mali, Niger, and other French former colonies in recent times are testimony to the rebellion against France’s neo-colonist policies. What are the accentuated lessons?
Senegal conducted presidential elections on March 24, 2024. Although the incumbent president, Macky Sall, craved to run for a third term and wanted to extend his mandate past the constitutional limit, the country’s Constitution limits the tenure to two terms. The elections were set for February 25 but were postponed indefinitely by a Sall decision on February 3 and then moved to December 15 by the National Assembly. However, The Senegalese Constitutional Council reversed the postponement on February 15 and ordered that elections occur as soon as possible. The government then announced a new election date of March 24 following the ruling that a national conversation held at the end of February was illegal.
During President Macky Sall’s two-term tenure, he proved to be a strong ally and a willing receptionist to France’s overbearing and exploitative policies in Senegal, which made Senegalese citizens desire a leadership change. Therefore, the polls of March 24 were a response to three years of political turbulence that led to violent antigovernment protests, which garnered more significant support for the opposition. Dozens were killed and hundreds arrested since 2021, with Faye himself detained and only released in the middle of the election campaign. This shenanigan was orchestrated to frustrate the people’s desire for a leadership change.
Originally, Faye was not among the contestants but was made to run in place of running in place of Ousmane Sonko, the opposition leader. In the 2019 presidential contest, Sonko ran as the PASTEF candidate and finished third. A key player in the opposition movement in Senegal against former President Macky Sall, his detention and the authorities’ subsequent investigation against him in 2019 over charges of sexual assault led to widespread riots and large-scale protests in Senegal. He received a two-year prison sentence in June 2023, and the Senegalese government dissolved his party, PASTEF, in July of the same year. This treatment attracted massive support from the Senegalese. Sonko released a video on social media formally recognizing Bassirou Diomaye Faye as his replacement in the election. Therefore, Sanko anointed a 44-year-old Faye for the presidential election on March 24; the Senegalese were so determined against all odds to have their way.
Faye was imprisoned from April 2023, when he was arrested for criticizing the conduct of Sonko’s defamation trial on social media, until about ten days before the election.
Meanwhile, the country’s judiciary has been very strict with the law and respect for the Constitution, and the people’s pressure was overwhelming on Sall’s administration. This pressure compelled President Sall to express his willingness to release Ousmane Sonko and his supporters as an act of good faith. He sponsored the Amnesty Bill to allow the lawful release of Sanko, Faye, and their supporters.
Campaigning began on March 9 and ended on March 22, but was complicated by it occurring during Ramadan, during which many activities were shut down for the day. It forced some candidates to resort to online strategies. Seven million voters registered out of the 19 million Senegalese population, and over seventy percent of the voters cast in a free and fair election as indicated by the testimony of the International Observers; “On the whole, the election was well organized. Voters were able to make their choice freely in a peaceful and orderly atmosphere,”
Bassirou Diomaye Faye, running in place of Ousmane Sonko, was elected president with 54% of the vote. At the same time, Amadou Ba, the candidate of the ruling United in Hope (BBY) coalition, peacefully conceded defeat. Senegal’s Supreme Court later confirmed Faye’s victory. He was inaugurated as president on April 2.
The election in Senegal has become a litmus test of how well-determined people can remove a despotic leader, no matter how powerful. People’s resolutions to have a change and working together for the change are critical elements of removing leadership. Faye, representing the opposition, is the President of Senegal with a catalog of promises for a glorious country free from French Neocolonial Claws. Can he make it? Time will tell. While wishing him all the best, may Nigeria and, indeed, other developing countries learn from the Senegalese political scene. Amen.

Abeni Aso-Oke
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