People power prevailed when the Senegalese electorate voted for Macky Sall as their country’s new President, defeating the incumbent, Abdoulaye Wade, whose controversial decision to contest a third term led to massive demonstrations against him, which left six people dead. The constitution was amended to limit the presidential term to two, with the 85-year-old Wade arguing that the limit should not apply to his first term, which came in before the constitution was changed. His argument was backed by the Constitutional Court in January, leading to the violent protests.
But many Senegalese were disappointed because they thought that Wade, himself a long-time opposition politician before he finally won the presidency in 2000, should have behaved better given his own political experience. But he somehow atoned for his initial recalcitrance by accepting defeat when voters plumped for Sall, 50, in the run-off on March 26 when most of the other 12 candidates in the first round backed Sall.
In February’s first round Wade fell short of a majority, polling only 34.8 per cent while Sall came second with 26.6 per cent.
The groundswell of opposition to Wade ensured that if he had attempted to rig the poll in his favour it would have been obvious that something fishy had gone on and this would have led to more violence in the only country in West Africa that has never had a military coup. The threat of more violence could have informed the decision of Wade to concede defeat to Sall who held several ministerial positions under Wade before becoming prime minister.
Senegalese voters have bucked the recent trend in Africa where aged politicians still rule the roost. For instance, when 74-year-old Rupiah Banda lost the presidential election in Zambia in September 2011, the winner was another 74-year-old, Michael Sata, who had challenged for the position three times before.
A month later, in Cameroon, President Paul Biya, 78, was re-elected for another seven-year term. By the time he finishes this current term he would be 85 and would have been in office for 36 years.
During the election campaign in Senegal, Sall promised that, if elected, he would shorten the presidential term to five years from the current seven, and enforce the two-term limit. This is a promise that the people of Senegal would want their new leader to keep. In Africa, where politicians of a certain age abound, there is a need to build a new community of younger leaders to take on the challenges of the 21st century.