From African renaissance to African decadence: the twilight of a Senegalese Patriarch

President Wade fought for 26 years as a charismatic opposition leader to the successive regimes of Leopold Sédar Senghor (1960-1981) and Abdou Diouf (1981-2000). This long march to the seat of President had been punctuated by an ascending and legitimate hope placed by the bulk of Senegalese upon his shoulders as an indefatigable democracy fighter and a liberator towards social and economic change. This hope was mainly nurtured by the youth of urban centres, representing 63 percent of the overall national population at that time, and 73 percent in 2011. This increase in numbers highlights how President Wade’s current project of holding power against the sovereignty of his people has undermined the sources of his legitimacy, both democratic and Pan-Africanist.

African renaissance, when the patriarch blew in the horn from Dakar

When he took office in 2000 President Wade of Senegal claimed the label of a strongly committed and decompensated democrat and Pan-Africanist.[1] His 3 April 2000 speech was a long litany of promises of democratic governance and economic emergence. His speech looked even like a lecture in democracy for his peers that kindly attended his enthronisation as special guests. Most importantly, this still fresh speech resounded in the national stadium of Dakar as an oath to national relief and uprising from a 40 years of patrimonial and corrupt socialist rule and to the Pan-African dream of a liberated and independent Africa: “Democracy is accessible to Africans and Senegal has given the proof of that”, Wade told in 2000 the world that was listening and to the Africans who were enviously watching.

One year later, in 2001, he declared at the African Unity Organisation Summit of Lusaka that he was ready to become a governor of Senegal as part of a United States of Africa. In 2002, he managed to get his Omega Plan for the economic renaissance of Africa merged in the New Partnership for African Development (Nepad) along with the Millennium African Plan (MAP) by presidents Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Abdel Aziz Bouteflika of Algeria, Olusegun Obsanjo of Nigeria.

What is important in this early chapter of the liberal presidency is the source of legitimisation of his power. In effect, before 2006, when President John Kuffuor was elected in Ghana, no one among President Wade’s peers than him had enjoyed democracy as the sovereignty of the people, given the popular plebiscite to his first term by a largely diverse Senegalese people, as well as the continental and international recognition that welcomed him in African and significant global multilateral institutions. The subsequent trust he received as a peacemaker in many African regional and national crises (Madagascar, Mauritania, Togo, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, etc.) and in some international conflicts (Iranian nuclear case, Middle East, etc.) earned him the Houphouët Boigny Peace Price in 2005.

Re-elected in 2007 for a second and last term, according to the Constitution he himself proposed in 2001 and claims today to be the only author, President Wade escaped from an eviction of his regime which had been weakening three years before in 2004. The separation from his presumed successor (as head of the Parti Démocratique Sénégalais and as chairman), former Prime Minister Idrissa Seck, after a long conflict, explains why Mr. Wade had to rig the electoral process to escape from a second round. This separation happened mainly in favour of his son, Karim Wade, and against major opinions from within his own political formation and alliances such as the Front des Alliés and the Cap 21. The big story here is how the democratic basement and the international recognition and trust of Wade’s regime have cracked down as the building block of his legitimacy. Actually, it is his unconfessed project of illegal and “monarchical” project of political succession, from father to son, which constitutes the thread of the decadence of the democratic and pan-African aura of President Wade’s rule.

African Decadence, now the patriarch wants to cut down the palaver tree

Considering the longevity of the struggle between his political opposition and President Wade’s regime, one may even doubt over the legitimacy of the latter. The 2007 elections that renewed his mandate were declared fraudulent by the Senegalese opposition which significant branch, formed by his former allies against the socialist regime, has never recognised President Wade’s legitimacy to rule. The long way to such elections was marked by an authoritarian temptation that caused the electoral law and relevant constitutional chapters to be suppressed, or changed, in a way that ensures his triumph and consolidate his hegemony. Civil liberties such as freedom of expression and public criticism were strongly and systematically prevented through aggressions and arrests of journalists, civil society and political leaders. Many marches were banned or fiercely repressed by a re-armed police and special task forces remodelled under the liberal rule with special focus on mass protests initiated by the opposition.

This authoritarian resumption has been formally instated through the creation of a second house of MPs (the Senate) in the Parliament who are 65 per cent appointed by the President himself, and 35 per cent elected by local governments favourable to or pertaining to the Presidential coalition. This bicameral chamber did not only pave the way for destructive governance based on corruption, violence and scandalous diplomatic and economic deals through its hilarious votes. Most importantly, the new Parliament, which elections were boycotted by the opposition in June 2007, has been serving the new strategy of political succession. The failure of the chamber is actually the main reason for President Wade’s controversial decision to be a candidacy to the next presidential elections.

The fact is that to this hegemonic project of authoritarian political succession are sacrificed the democratic mechanisms and consensus that allowed Wade to mount as President in 2000. A new doctrine of constitutional relativism, perfectly balanced with impunity, earns his regime a greater grasp on state power and economic governance. By way of 16 changes of the constitutional law, President Wade sponsored and dictated 11 years of unyielding rule upon the political opposition and civil society and social movements. His main targets have been those bodies that champion the observance of anti-corruption and transparency governance and the national electoral law. Furthermore, the announced, reschedule or cancellation of electoral contests has been another favoured game aimed at destabilising the opposition and forces resisting to his monarchical plans. Despite his will to answer to his reputation of a ‘political demon’, President Wade’s stratagems aimed at circumventing growing public protest and concealing his decreasing popularity did not but swell the dissidence against his camp. But continuing rejection from his disillusioned people does not seemingly stop him from threatening the next 2012 presidential elections from being held.

The first threat Mr. Wade throws has been – and still is – his attempt to vote a law instating a vice-president seat which was dedicated to his unpopular son by a Parliament which he has secured total loyalty[2] through clientelist practices. At the same time Wade intends to bring back the multiple ballot paper while the unique paper has been a major democratic asset he himself claimed and obtained in 1998 and with which he came to power in 2000. As such tricks seem to have failed, President Wade has now turned to putting a huge pressure on the Constitutional Council in charge of the registration and validation of candidacies to national presidential elections of 2012. Given that Senegal is among the rare countries in Africa where the wise men of the Constitutional Council are elected by the President, political opposition, civil society organisations and social and popular movements are increasingly responding and threatening to oppose violence to the acceptance by the latter judicial chamber of Wade’s candidacy to February 2012 presidential elections. The pressure Wade has been exerting is lately embodied in the consultation of foreign experts who are deemed, not only too much politicised to be neutral, but also incompetent in constitutional matters. The fierce reaction to this new desperate strategy from local constitutionalists, who are all university teachers and internationally recognised consultants in their domain, is explained by the contemptuous attitude of President Wade. The latter did not shudder at all when he delightfully called them “half-backed constitutionalists”, less armed to deliberate on his unquestionable and salutary candidacy.[3] What this recourse to external expertise means is fundamentally political, but has important implications on the future of the Senegalese democratic model and reputation.

Calling on foreign and recommended expertise[4] does not only sound scornful of the highest national institution – the guardian of the Constitution which the President. What is more, it shows the lack of legitimacy Wade has been trying to overcome with all kinds of undemocratic manipulations that have proven to be unsuccessfully so far. His legitimacy has suffered a great deal as intellectual or elite disrepute has taken over popular resentment. The erosion of President Wade’s regime and legitimacy also owes much to ever increasing and more radical resistance from civil society and opposition leaders, including religious leaders whom he has been degrading the image through publicly unveiled scandals and corruption affairs.

From another perspective, Mr Wade’s appeal to international expertise and attempts to find intellectual legitimisation to his controversial candidacy for a forbidden third term that would be illegal – the Constitution limits presidential mandates to a couple since 2001 – is seen as an indirect and premature demand for international intervention in case his disillusioned people resists him. This possibility has to be seriously considered when he passes through electoral fraud or goes against an unfavourable deliberation of the Constitutional Council. The anxiety felt by the public opinion and major political forces is justified more so that this judicial body has accustomed Senegalese to declare its incompetency on matters that fall within the range of its legal capacities also increases. No less important, the fierce rejection by President Wade of the submissions of the National Conclave[5] directed by the political opposition and civil society organisations in 2008, hollows out concern and fear of escalation of violence before or after upcoming elections. The last straw that hit the camel’s back is the message President Wade delivered at the G8 international conference on the Libyan war in Deauville (France), when he approved the idea of an international military intervention in Libya and urged former Muammar Gaddafi to surrender and cede power. By doing this, certainly on the expectation that Western powers would support his electoral plans, Mr. Wade stood from the continental position of the African Union for a political resolution of the conflict. In disregard of the need to get over with too much interference by foreign powers in the North African new thrust of democratic struggles, through a non violent strategy. More than a political carte blanche, President Wade has secured another military intervention in case his hopes of succeeding himself in Senegal will be wrecked in 2012.[6]

The link between Mr Wade’s constitutional footwork to takeover himself by force and the alignment to foreign militarism and interference in African crises clashes with his paternalist pretence to a Pan-African preacher outclassing the other proponents of the African renaissance ideal and projects (Nepad and the African Union). Though understandable, with regard to his decadence in the national scene, this aggressive attitude on behalf of President Wade is totally opportunist. In effect, this perfectly contrasts with the image of the ‘African Patriarch’ he has been reflecting as a peacemaker in Chad, Madagascar, and Cote d’Ivoire and abroad (i.e. the Middle East). Although with the fact that he was obviously fond of Alassane Ouattara in Cote d’Ivoire, and supported coup plotter Dadis Camara in Guinea.

Indeed, the exhalations of an end of reign for the oldest chairman in Africa – President Wade is 86 –, and perhaps of the world, have not brought him to cease his scandalous style of economic governance. Bribery of religious leaders is still raging, even though, from behind the scene, several religious leaders have distanced from his poisoned presents and other grandiose promises related to the development of religious towns. Millions of dollars are being invested in precipitated stupendous development projects entrusted to foreign companies.[7] If these big sites of the illuminated Messiah-President are often overvalued and managed by national agencies that are only and directly accountant to him and cannot be audited[8] at all – not even by the national Parliament, or the government and judicial oversight bodies – one of them has been most controversial and deviating from the orthodoxy of economic and developmental governance.

The erection of the ‘Monument of the African Renaissance’ that dearly cost CFA14 billion (US$35 millions) to the Senegalese is not only controversial for this reason and other moral arguments opposed to its upmost architecture Mr Wade.

Monument of the African Renaissance

Monument of the African Renaissance

As Amy Niang wrote in one her posts on Pambazuka, “For Mr Wade, the monument conveys a ‘message of dignity for Senegalese and Africans. President Wade sees himself as a moral guide, a messiah. So it’s perfectly natural and befitting his role as elder statesman of African leaders to dream for his people, to envision a prosperous future for the continent and carry his vision forward into posterity […] Wade feels he needs to imprint his legacy on a continent that hasn’t fully captured the extent of his genius. Oblivious to the way the Senegalese feel about the faults that punctuate his ten-year administration, Wade is curiously apprehensive about his image internationally. He seems little concerned about the present, but is quite keen on leaving to posterity the cult of his greatness.”[9] If the debate sparked by this statute nearly ignited a inter-religious conflict that did happen at the level of discourses between Christians and Muslims, and between the brotherhoods among the latter, because of the religious arguments put forth by Mr. Wade and his ‘zealous ideologists’ and flatterers, there is more on how he actually vandalizes the African renaissance utopia.

In addition to the unbearable cost and financial instability he imposed on national treasury, President Wade claims to his brave people 35 percent of the proceeds of tourism to be generated by the behemoth on property rights that also compensate his intellectual genius and the world class entrepreneurship of his son. Amy Niang is also right in mentioning the aesthetic scandal the statute has been. One can hardly understand how the image of “A strong and muscular African man having his arms wrapped around a woman aloft and holding a child resolutely pointing towards the future [geographically represented by the Westward direction of the child’s forefinger, or Western model, I must say] can convincingly convey a message of dignity for Senegalese and Africans.” Is it that the African patriarch wants African sons and daughters to heal their present wounds and build their future through undying and unproductive remembrance of past harmful encounters, and by way of historical analogy and replication of a negating Other? What is certain is that this unknown image of the genuine African eldership plays much in favour of President Wade’s meticulous and overflowing care about his self on the international scene. Not to mention how the ‘Monument’ and its political and economic consequences and cultural pretences are irksome to the aspirations and relentless efforts of most African communities and honorable individuals to rebuild a world of their triumph and liberation, mental most of all.

It is not exaggerated in the end to say that “Wade has lost, a while ago, the authority of wisdom widely known amongst elders of African societies […] through his undemocratic and un-developmental legacy epitomized by the legend-like way in which, he appreciates the fragile democratic reputation and the shrinking resources of his country, and contemplates the African fate, of course for the greater evil of all.

Unfortunately, this legacy may be rather materialized if nothing is done to stop the messiah Wade. Whether this comes from the Senegalese nationals and diaspora or from the African revolutionary forces and leadership, it has not to be expected from an international community that cannot even pretend to be evolving in a coherent governance system for lack of a global government the United Nations definitely will never be in its present form. Closer to us in the continent, elections are again turning out to be contested in many African countries (Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia, Cameroun, Uganda, etc.) as in the past. The Monument of the African Renaissance is one among many of those statues and extravagant projects African leaders have the best skills to cherish, while their peoples starve and finger their way out in the darkness of ignorance. Political opportunism playing as one of the main instruments of authoritarian regimes in the continent is not specific to Mr. Wade. Did not many African leaders – starting from regional power Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan– distance from Muammar Gaddafi when NATO support broke the Libyan rebellion’s way into Tripoli?

Aboubakr Tandia


Short Biography

Aboubakr Tandia is a PhD candidate in Political Science at Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar and is serving as assistant researcher in the Groupe d’Études et de Recherches sur les Migrations et Faits de Sociétés (GERM) in Gaston Berger University of Saint-Louis in Senegal. His PhD thesis is on the role of religious institutions in conflict prevention and resolution and peace building in independent Senegal (1962-2010). Mr Tandia is also working with other colleagues on several projects on the role of religion and conflict in the making of state boundaries between Senegal and Mauritania, climate change and protracted conflict in the Upper Casamance, and a project on popular culture, body politics, and youth policies in Senegal. He is member of the team conducting a book project on African youth and development within the African Young Researchers Network (AYRN), a new organisation set up in Cote d’Ivoire in 2010 to gather African young academics on research and policy issues concerning Africa.

Links on Aboubakr Tandia

[1] This status he already claimed as an opposition leader supporting pariah regimes such as Zimbabwe in the 1980’ and 1990’s, Togo under Eyadéma, and Gabon under remnant Omar Bongo Ondimba. Also, his first book, entitled “Un destin pour l’Afrique” (A Fate for Africa,) published in 1985, is the first of a series of supposedly committed reflections on the Pan-African ideal, among least considered recent ones written under his presidential term,

[2] But this attempt that received popular resentment and opposition from thousands of protesters on 23 June 2011 was unprecedented in Senegal. To the extent that the most dynamic opposition to his regime is now led by a movement called the M23 (Movement of the 23 June) which gathers all political forces and movements.

[3] See El Hadji Mbodj, “Ces exorcistes constitutionnels venus d’ailleurs”, Le Populaire Friday 25 November 2011.

[4] Except a few nationals who belong to his own political majority and served in his uncountable former governments, President Wade had as special guests in his seminar of Monday 21 November 2011, or ‘constitutional mercenaries’ as some have called them, French and US political scientists, and experts of Business Law, which sullied his desperate and widely covered attempt to legitimate his candidacy, at the expense of the independence of the Constitutional Council.

[5] The consultations gathered more than 72 organisations and institutions, including from the diaspora. Besides the national Consultations organized by the opposition and civil society on 23 February 2008, Mr. Wade declared that the gesticulations of the latter, which he sees as attacks against his majesty, are [paradoxically] far from moving him.

[6] Political leader Ousmane Tanor Dieng of former ruling party the Parti Socialiste (PS) hinted at this at the Meeting of the Socialist Internationalist Council held in Athens (Greece) between 1 and 2 July 2011 where he denounced the “ambiguous attitude of the international community towards Senegal”.

[7] To name but a few, the Port of the Future is to be built in Bargny by Arcelor Mittal with a railway line of 740 Km linking it to the Faleme mines in Kedougou with an estimated cost of CFA1000 billion, and the new Blaise Diagne national airport (CFA345 billion). These projects follow the African festival Fesman which costed CFA80 billion and the Monument of the African Renaissance among many other infrastructures.

[8] The law has been modified to that end a three times between 2000 and 2011 to exempt the public companies in charge of the President’s projects many of which he entrusted to his son and direct entourage, notably the Agence Nationale de la Promotion des Investissements et des Grands Travaux (APIX).

[9] See Amy Niang, “African Renaissance, reloaded: The Old man, the behemoth and the impossible legacy”, Pambazuka, issue 475, 23 March 2010. URL:


About perspectivesonafrica

Research and news about Africa
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