Senegal’s Sall Must Turn Political Dominance Into Effective Governance

Macky Sall, who was inaugurated as president of Senegal last April, came to power amid massive discontent with his predecessor, President Abdoulaye Wade. Critics, including youth protest movements Y En A Marre (“Enough is Enough”) and M23 (named for a 2011 demonstration), accused Wade of failing to address core economic and infrastructure problems while enriching himself and suppressing dissent. In an address to the nation one day after taking office, Sall listed economic issues as being among his administration’s top priorities. “It is a matter of urgency in our cities and our suburbs,” he stated, “to fight unemployment, flooding, insecurity and pauperization. It is a matter of urgency in rural areas to take responsibility for infrastructure, access to potable water, electricity, and essential social services.”

Sall and his Alliance for the Republic (APR) are the dominant force in Senegalese politics, but the country’s economic troubles remain. They are now compounded by threats to Sall’s legitimacy, ranging from youth riots to contentious domestic politics to violence in the southern Casamance region. Complicating Sall’s task even further is the fact that he must tackle Senegal’s problems in the context of increasing regional uncertainty stemming from the crisis in neighboring Mali.

Sall, a geologist by training, is no stranger to politics. A former protégé of Wade’s, Sall served as prime minister during the latter half of Wade’s first term before the two men fell out. During the run-up to the 2012 elections, held in two rounds on Feb. 26 and March 25, opposition politicians often seemed to be following the anti-Wade movement rather than leading it, but Sall emerged as the best campaigner in the opposition camp. After Sall took 27 percent of the vote in the first round to Wade’s 35 percent, Sall rallied the opposition to win a landslide second-round victory of 66 percent to Wade’s 34 percent. In legislative elections held in July 2012, Sall’s Benno Bokk Yakaar (“United in Hope”) coalition won 119 of 150 seats in the National Assembly, further cementing his dominance, albeit with a low turnout of 37 percent. Sall subsequently pushed through major reforms of political institutions, notably a decision in September 2012 to dismantle Senegal’s Senate in order to fund flood prevention measures. In terms of formal power, Sall clearly holds the reins.

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