By Simon Mwebaze

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here are those of the authors. View more opinion on ScoonTV.

Senegal has been an outstanding beacon of democracy and peace in West Africa. It has had three peaceful transitions of power amidst several coups in neighboring West African countries including Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso. But that may be about to change considering the latest developments in the country. 

On February 10, current Senegalese President Macky Sall announced the postponement of the February elections. At the moment, the elections have been postponed to December 15. The main reason behind the postponement according to the President is to resolve disputes over eligibility of potential presidential candidates.

The dispute is claimed to be centered around the disagreement between the Parliament and the Constitutional Council. The Constitutional Council of Senegal had confirmed 20 candidates while excluding several others. Following this, the lawmakers have unanimously agreed with the president to postpone the elections.

However, some opposition tends to disagree with the postponement. Opposition groups cite that President Sall is trying to hold onto power. He is at the end of his second term which was supposed to conclude in April 2023.

 More so, the vote for the postponement of the elections was controversial. This is because, before the vote, security forces removed opposition members from the Chamber, leaving only members in agreement with the decree to vote.

 The controversial decision led to protests in the city of Dakar where security forces clashed with citizens. The protests were led by the Aar Sunu Election (Let’s Protect Our Election) which consists of 40 civil, religious, and professional groups.

 As a result of the protests, there have been three deaths and 271 people arrested and detained according to Human Rights Watch. The government has additionally suspended the internet as a result claiming it is a medium for the spread of subversive hate speech that has provoked the protests.

The current events come on the heels of the recent unrest Senegal experienced in 2021 and 2023. The protests, and reactions to them both internally and regionally reveal certain insights.

 The tension reveals a continuing abuse of power in Africa. The current tension in Senegal is referred to as a “constitutional coup” by the opposition. The president has exercised unconstitutional power by evicting opposition members from the Chamber with the help of security forces.

 The state has gone as far as suspending internet access in the country. This is because it is claimed that hate speech instigating the protest violence was being spread through social media. This continues a trend on the African continent where leaders in power stifle the right of citizens to communicate under the guise of preventing harmful activities including violent protests and terrorism.

 It also implies a possibility of term extension for President Sall who is at the end of his second term. The postponement allows him to hold onto power a little longer which could turn into a bid for another third unconstitutional term. More so, it is claimed that he could be looking to influence the potential replacement should they hold an election later in the year. 

There is also an indicator of the ineffectiveness of regional and international bodies. In this case, ECOWAS (The Economic Community of West African States) has called for the restoration of the electoral calendar upholding the constitution. So far, their requests have been ignored.

 The ignorance of ECOWAS demands is not new. The body has in the past threatened Niger with military intervention which it has never implemented. This left the military coup in place with little chance of restoration of the toppled Niger president.

 The 50-year-old regional body has also seen member states abandon it. In 2000, Mauritania was the first country to withdraw from the body. More recently, Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso have followed suit.

 More so, the proposed sanctions by ECOWAS continue to create more problems than it solves. The body has imposed trade sanctions on states including Mali and Niger for recent coups which have had an opposite effect from their intention. Instead of weakening the coups, the sanctions have brought more economic suffering for the civilians they are trying to help.

It’s not just ECOWAS that has been ineffective. Other role players in the issue including the French foreign ministry, the US State Department, the EU, and the AU have had their efforts fall on deaf ears for now.

 Senegal is on the brink of changing its image as a peaceful state. It seems the political challenges of its neighbors are slowly affecting and infecting it. To avoid a similar fate as its neighbors, the country’s leaders need to return to respecting the rule of law. Regional and international bodies should look toward working with the current government for peaceful mediation so that they avoid encouraging and emboldening coups within the region.