Yesterday Senegal went to the polls and struck a powerful blow on behalf of democracy in Africa and in the Islamic world.
President Abdoulaye Wade has held power for twelve years, and changed the constitution to permit himself to run for another term. But giving credit where it is due, he did not award himself another term; he gave himself another chance. The people of Senegal went to the polls on February 26 in the first round of elections and denied Wade the majority he needed to escape a far more difficult second round. That round occurred yesterday (March 25) and, with all his opponents uniting behind former prime minister Macky Sall, Wade was defeated.
By 9:30 in the evening Wade called Sall and conceded. Wade entered politics as a reformer and opponent of the entrenched power elite, and it is good to see that he will leave office with this legacy of strengthened democracy. A military coup in Mali just a few days ago showed African democracy to be under threat, and the results in Senegal are cheering. In our last presidential election the turnout was 56.8 percent and that was viewed as very high for the United States. In Senegal’s first round in February, turnout was 60 percent. Senegal is a poor country (GDP per capita around one thousand dollars), 90 percent Muslim, with a literacy rate around fifty percent. Those data are a reminder that democracy is not limited to rich nations and that the desire for it is found among the poor as well.