Can Senegal Succeed?

DAKAR – Senegal’s people are deeply disenchanted. In 2000, they enthusiastically went to the polls to elect Abdoulaye Wade as their president. Wade had campaigned as an agent of change, but change never came to Senegal throughout his decade in power. Now the only change he wants to make is to the constitution, so that he can retain his hold on power.

Unfortunately, Wade turned out to be almost a caricature of the dozy African potentate for whom power, nepotism, and embezzlement become indistinguishable. So deeply has he identified his and his family’s interests with the state that he appointed his son, Karim Wade, to head four different ministries – international cooperation, air travel, infrastructure, and energy – simultaneously.

To somehow make young Wade his successor, the 86-year-old president has resorted to every trick in the book. He staged a photo opportunity for his designated-heir with Barack Obama during the G-8 meeting in Deauville earlier this year, and followed that up with a trip to Benghazi – his flight escorted by French Mirage fighters – to lambast Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi. In doing so, Wade broke ranks with the rest of the African Union, naively expecting to gain French and Western support for his bid to retain power.

Soon after, he launched his constitutional changes, which Senegalese view as an attempt to enshrine in law his son’s victory in the 2012 presidential election. Thousands marched in protest to the National Assembly in June, and the amendment has since been withdrawn.