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Raising concerns about contemporary politics in Senegal

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I just finished listening to an interesting WhatsApp audio from Gambian businessman Mr Pa Njie Girrigara where he gave a thirty-minutes or so brotherly advice to President Macky Sall of Senegal to desist from seeking a third term in office next year. Mr Girrigara has always been a staunch supporter of President Sall which he emphatically pondered on throughout the audio. I was indeed motivated by the audio to write and share my opinion about what I think of the unpredictable political situation evolving in Senegal and why we, as Gambians, neighbours and friends to them ought to be concerned about it. So, bear with me for a broader dissection this time.

But first, I want to seize this special moment to register my endorsement of all the NPP led coalition candidates in the upcoming local government election scheduled for 20 May 2023. I am therefore looking forward to all government party candidates to overwhelmingly win especially in Banjul City Council, Kanifing Municipal Council and Brikama Area Council. I believe that a friendly rather than an unfriendly opposition party leader in any local government establishment will effectively usher in better development and success than otherwise. However, unlike in the past councillor’s election, I am appealing and hoping that all voter-card holders of the NPP-led coalition will come out that day in large numbers to elect Mr Faye mayor of BCC, Mr Badjie mayor of KMC and Mr Ceesay chairman of BAC. I am indeed confident that all other contestants in the provinces will, in the final tally, do very well.    

That said I wish to commence by reminding my readers about how before his sad and abrupt death the late vice president Mr Badara Joof, during the cabinet-members retreat he chaired soon after his appointment, lamented on the ambiguity of The Gambia’s foreign affairs policy and went as extreme as even questioning whether there existed a clearly defined one between The Gambia and our neighbour, Senegal. Unfortunately, Joof never lived to see the foreshadowed post-retreat report on the remedies adopted with particularity to our enigmatic foreign-affairs business and also on the other departments he boldly accused of crippling the success and progress of the NPP government. Among those he identified and still fresh in memory were the “unprofitable tourism industry and the pitfalls of our land distribution mechanism” that he believed were ruining everything.

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Well, I once again wish to pray for his soul to continue resting in peace!

Notwithstanding, I am still wondering what exactly happened to that report since the end of that special retreat and don’t expect to be told that it was buried along with him at the Banjulinding Cemetery.

I needed to reflect on that incident because of my concern about the contemporary political uncertainty and controversy in Senegal; to put it bluntly the whole country is on edge over whether President Macky Sall will be seeking a third term in their presidential election due to take place in ten months time and how his decision to go or stay will affect their political stability and that of the entire Senegambia region.

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It is obvious that Gambians like me and Mr Girrigara keenly monitoring the ongoing political developments in Senegal against the backdrop of our relationship with the government of President Macky Sall since 2017 have been concerned about the atypical course unfolding every day.

Who is not aware of the latest squabble of the Senegalese opposition parties including civil societies, legal newscasters, journalists, professors, religious leaders, name it, speaking and writing in unison over how if President Sall exhausts his constitutionally mandate two term limit in February 2024 cannot legally seek a third term? Although his actions so far tend to permeate nothing but ambiguity over whether he will leave or stay. Several of his critics are pretty much persuaded of his intention to flout the Senegalese constitution and seek a third mandate.

Ironically Sall was accordingly elected in 2012 to finally solve, among other prevailing problems, the pervasive complication of presidential term limit in Senegal which he had indeed claimed to have ironed out long ago and has spoken and written extensively about his success there in many ways.

Oh yes, I am in possession of one of such video tapes still accessible in social media where he assured and reassured the Senegalese electorate before 2019 of his firm determination not to ever seek a third term after completing his two consecutive mandates in 2024. I guess that may be the reason behind his ambivalence over whether or not he has now changed his mind; albeit his diehard loyalists, party militants and certain interest groups are all over the place arguing that the constitution, in a hidden clause, allows him to contest for a third time.

However, judging his recent complicity with appointments and redeployments in the Senegalese judiciary, the security forces and his special enticement of the religious leaders, Mr Sall behaves as if his 2024 candidature will materialise in one way or the other. If that happens, then The Gambia may have nothing to worry about; however, if it doesn’t, I think we have a lot to worry about his successor and its security ramifications.

Anyway, my paper pivots around the probability that President Sall may beat all the odds and even win a third term which I suspect will be a tough five years tenure vitiated by internal and external pressure and isolation respectively.

Even at the Ecowas executive level where the lexicon on genuine democracy and the framework for political stability, conflict resolution and peacekeeping in the subregion pirouette around the need for member states to respect their electoral laws and refrain from altering national constitutions for self-perpetuation, President Sall of Senegal, President Faure Gnassingbe of Togo and President Ouattara of Ivory Coast continue to remain dogmatically antagonistic to all democratic aspirations. It never dawned on the three intransigent French-speaking leaders that Ecowas merely intends to adopt such resolution primarily to mitigate military takeovers and political rebellions that had once beleaguered post-colonial-African governments. Of course Senegal was throughout that somber era unaffected by the nightmare of rampant military coups but not from political rebellion and deadly civil disobedience. In March 2022 alone, 14 political activists from Senegal’s main opposition party were killed in a mass protest and not to mention the four decades of insurgency by secessionists from their southern region of Cassamance.

In those dark days of African coups and countercoups, it was mostly the West African Anglophone countries that were afflicted but are now credited for gaining political stability, thanks to their respect of presidential term mandates and entrenched constituted electoral laws. Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Liberia are now enjoying the benefit of complying with their electoral laws especially those that restrict heads of state from overstaying in office beyond their constitutional tenures.

With that in mind, coupled with the additional highlights below, I thought it imperative for The Gambia government, with its Anglophone reputation to tell us where we stand in this whole algorithm. We shouldn’t dismiss the incident as just another ordinary meeting where The Gambia simply voted with the majority of member states or even abstained in such a critical suggestion endorsed by Ecowas Anglophone nations but rejected by only Senegal, Togo and Ivory Coast.

For not standing by the government of President Sall in that Ecowas proposal which I think was in the process a blatant disregard of the strong security bond currently in existence between our two countries, left me flabbergasted with our Foreign Affairs policies.

Because based on my personal experience the whole gesture of not supporting Senegal resembled that of The Gambia’s position towards Nigeria in 1993 when President Jawara overtly supported the international condemnation of General Sani Abacha’s dictatorial tendencies and his brutal execution of Nigerian civil rights activist and writer Ken Saro-Wiwa. Sir Dawda had mistakenly pandered to the whims of the international community at a time when he either forgot or recklessly ignored the reality that Abacha was in total control of his strongest internal security organization. Abacha was ultimately aware and decided to dismantle the PPP government’s internal security pillars which soon translated into the infamous 1994 military coup.      

I therefore notice some element of similarity here when The Gambia in spite of her special reliance on Senegal’s security support chose to go along with Ecowas member states and supported a critical proposal that has been rejected by Senegal. At least one would think that with The Gambia’s 1997 constitution still in existence and has no presidential term limit, we would support the stance of Senegal with the reasonable justification that it doesn’t exist in our constitution yet but will in the near future. The Gambia, in May 2015, during the 47th Summit of Ecowas held in Ghana stood together with Togo to say no to presidential term limits. Mr Sall was by then all for it.

Surprisingly, we didn’t oppose it this time.

So, does it mean that President Barrow endorsed the popular Ecowas advocacy and intends to step down in 2026 after serving two consecutive terms? That would definitively make The Gambia the last Anglophone country in the subregion to join the accredited democratic nations.  

Besides, judging the speech he delivered in local languages to the Muslim religious leaders on Koriteh day, 21st of April 2023, President Barrow was generally perceived to have announced his resolve to leave office in 2026 and to subsequently retire as an ordinary citizen devoted to humanitarian work.

I am not making this up. Even the Senegalese main opposition leader Ousmane Sonko in his 1st of May 2023 long-awaited press briefing alluded to Barrow’s “intention” to relinquish power in 2026 “in solidarity with the applauded Ecowas Anglophone nations”.

I also read an article from former minister of information Demba Ali Jawo urging President Barrow not to exceed a second term in 2026. I believe his article was prompted by Barrow’s remarks and the global interpretation that he will honourably leave after this term.

Nevertheless, there is also the hypothesis that the probability of President Barrow seeking another term in 2026 depends on the success of President Sall making it in 2024. That if Sall fails to go through, Barrow will indeed leave; otherwise, he will seek another term like his brother.

Time will tell!

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