Senegal Modern History

By | January 30, 2023

Senegal is a country located in Western Africa. With the capital city of Dakar, Senegal has a population of 16,743,938 based on a recent census from COUNTRYAAH. In 1960, the Republic of Senegal achieved full independence from the colonial power of France. The country’s first president was Leopold Sédar Senghor. In the 1960s, Senegal was in practice developed into a single-party state, but during the 1970s opposition parties were allowed. Senghor handed over power to Abdou Diouf in 1981, who together with the Socialist Party won all elections until 2000, when Adboulaye Wade from the PDS party won and a peaceful change of power came to fruition. In 2012, Wade himself was defeated by Macky Sall of APR-Yakaar in an unusually troubled election for Senegal.

Léopold Sédar Senghor was a Catholic teacher, poet and politician who advocated “African socialism”. The 1963 National Assembly election was won by his party, the Senegalese Progress Union (in French abbreviated to UPS), but the result was disputed and triggered riots in Dakar. Soon, the parties that did not want to join UPS were banned. In the 1968 election, UPS claimed it received 99 percent of the vote, which led to new unrest.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Senegal. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

But while most African leaders adhered to one-party or military rule, Senghor chose to go against political diversity. An opposition party was allowed in 1974. Two years later, it was decided that three parties with different ideological orientations would work: Senghor’s own party which changed its name to the Socialist Party (PS), a liberal party and a Marxist-Leninist. They were supplemented in 1978 with a conservative party, while other political organizations continued to work underground. Check best-medical-schools for more information about Senegal.

The conflict in Casamance erupts

At the turn of the year 1980-1981, Senghor voluntarily left the post and was succeeded by his Prime Minister Abdou Diouf, who abolished the restrictions on political parties. Thus, the 1983 presidential and parliamentary elections became the first free in Senegal’s history. They won by a large majority of PS and Diouf remained as president.

An armed conflict erupted in the Casamance region in the south in 1982, when the Movement for the Casamance Democratic Forces (MFDC) launched a struggle for independence. The region is partly isolated from the rest of Senegal by the Gambia cutting into the country as a long-arm and the development in Casamance had long been neglected. Furthermore, cultural and religious traditions are partly different there and many Casamancebor people had reacted to the “Wolofisation” when Senegalese from the north had moved there and received high administrative posts.

In 1982, Senegal and Gambia entered into an economic and military confederation called Senegambia. The purpose of the confederation was to create a free trade zone and more easily reach Casamance. But Gambia slowed down the cooperation for fear of being dominated by the larger neighboring country and seven years later Senegambia disbanded.

Diouf and PS won all elections between 1983 and 2000, while the Liberal Senegal Democratic Party (PDS) and its leader Abdoulaye Wade were in second place. At each election there were unrest and the opposition accused the regime of cheating. Wade and other politicians were arrested on several occasions. But both Wade and other opposition politicians also joined the government for two longer periods in the 1990s.

The support for PDS and Wade increased with the growing dissatisfaction with the PS regime, which was criticized for failing to solve the country’s major problems with widespread poverty and high unemployment. The party was also accused of corruption and imperfection. To bring about a change of power, several smaller parties to the left of PS agreed to support Liberal Wade.

Socialists lose power

The 2000 presidential election was historic. Diouf did win in the first round, but did not get his own majority. In the second round, support for Wade increased, winning 58 percent of the vote. Diouf quickly acknowledged his defeat and congratulated Wade. Pride over the peaceful shift of power was evident even among Diouf’s followers.

One of the major challenges facing the new president was the Casamanca conflict. Peace talks had taken place at Wade’s takeover of power for several years without any lasting results. Despite several agreements on ceasefire during the 1990s, the fighting continued. Although the conflict was relatively low-intensity, the civilian population was severely affected. Thousands of people were forced to flee their homes, some of them to neighboring countries Gambia and Guinea-Bissau.

After a new constitution was adopted following a referendum in January 2001, Wade dissolved the PS-dominated parliament and announced new elections. The parliamentary elections in April became a success for the PDS-dominated election alliance Sopi, which included some forty parties. With almost half of the vote, Sopi received 89 out of 120 seats in parliament. The election was judged to have been carried out correctly and soon a new government was formed.

In September 2002, a ferry disaster occurred that would have political consequences. The state-owned passenger ferry MV Joola sank on the way from Casamance to Dakar, and over 1,800 people lost their lives. The ferry line was run by the military who received severe criticism both because too many passengers had been allowed on the boat (permission was available for 550 people) and because it took several hours before the rescue operations were started. The government took on the debt and both the Defense and Transport Ministers and the Prime Minister were allowed to resign.

Increased political violence

However, criticism against the president and the government continued. Promised damages for victims did not occur and it took until 2005 before a replacement ferry was put into service. It reinforced the image of Casamance as a disadvantaged region. Despite deliberations and agreements on ceasefire, several new outbreaks of violence occurred in Casamance in the early 2000s.

At the same time, a new kind of political violence created for society in Senegal. Several threats and assaults were directed at journalists and opposition politicians, among others. Human rights organizations, trade unions and political parties protested against the increasing political violence.

A peace agreement was signed in December 2004 between the government and one of the founders of the separatist movement MFDC in Casamance. The MFDC pledged to end its armed struggle while the government in turn promised to give the rebels amnesty. The agreement also contained promises of a reconstruction of Casamance. However, the MFDC was still fragmented and several of the organization’s factions were opposed to the agreement.

Prosecution was brought in 2005 against Idrissa Seck, who was prime minister from 2002 to 2004 but dismissed by the president. Seck was accused of embezzling state funds and jeopardizing the country’s security. He was released in February 2006 and released after six months in custody. Many saw the legal process as part of a power struggle between Wade and former employee Seck, who now emerged as one of the president’s foremost challengers.

Wade strengthens his power

At the beginning of 2006, new unrest erupted in Casamance. An outbreak group from the rebel movement MFDC clashed with the Bissau Guinean military along the border with Guinea-Bissau. Struggles also took place between different factions of the MFDC. In the northern part of Casamance there were clashes between the Senegalese army and separatists.

The parliamentary elections that would have been held in 2006 were postponed, citing that money was better needed for reconstruction following floods the summer before. The opposition accused the government of trying to stay in power in every way.

In contrast, presidential elections were held in February 2007. The 80-year-old Wade ran for re-election. Among the 14 contenders were former Prime Minister Seck, Socialist Party’s Ousmane Tanor Dieng and Moustapha Niasse of the Alliance for Progressives (AFP). Wade won 56 percent of the votes already in the first round. Crucial to the success was a massive election campaign, strong control of the state apparatus and large financial resources. The opposition was divided and had difficulty reaching the voters. The election itself was conducted correctly according to election observers, but the opposition accused the government of cheating. Several of the major parties formed an alliance and decided to boycott the parliamentary elections in June 2007.

The boycott paved the way for an overwhelming victory for the Alliance Sopi dominated by PDS. Many voters seemed to have obeyed the opposition’s call not to vote; turnout was at a record low of 35 percent. Large parts of the opposition also boycotted the election in August to the newly created Senate (see Political system). The Senate election meant that Wade further strengthened his power, as the PDS secured 34 of 35 electoral seats and the president himself appointed the remaining 65 senators.

Dissatisfaction and rattles

In November 2007, Dakar was shaken by violent riots, in what was described as the worst unrest in two decades. The trigger was the government’s attempt to remove thousands of salvo stands from the city’s narrow streets. But the protests also concerned rising food prices and high unemployment. Many expressed dissatisfaction that the government was investing in building luxury hotels and freeways instead of trying to fight widespread poverty.

From the end of 2007 it became clear that there were major contradictions within the governing PDS. The party leadership abolished the general secretary post held by Macky Sall, who was also President of the National Assembly and had been Prime Minister from 2004-2007. Sall and Wade must have been in conflict since the previous criticism of President Karim Wade in connection with a major construction project in Dakar.

Many expressed suspicions that President Wade was trying to pave the way for his son to succeed him, as PDS leader and for the country. At the end of 2008, Sall was also maneuvered from the President’s post.

During the year, a constitutional amendment was adopted which meant that the president’s term of office was again seven years (see Political system). The opposition protested and felt that voters should be allowed to decide on the change in a referendum.

Kravaller broke out several times in 2008, against high consumer prices, recurring electricity cuts and police overwhelming protesters. The tougher living conditions also led to several school strikes.

Hard fighting in Casamance

The dissatisfaction contributed to a sharp setback for Sopi in the local and regional elections which, after being postponed several times, was held in March 2009. The opposition gathered in the alliance Benno Siggil Senegaal took power in Dakar and several other major cities.

In one of countless redevelopments, President May Karim Wade received a government post for the first time in May 2009. He became minister in a new super-department responsible for communications and international cooperation. The appointment triggered accusations of nepotism. At the same time, President Wade reiterated his already stated intention to stand for re-election in 2012.

During the summer of 2009, new battles broke out in Casamance. The clashes between separatists and government forces were the worst in seven years. Several casualties were demanded in assaults and battles that returned during the year.

In connection with the 50th anniversary of Senegal’s independence, a huge statue was inaugurated in Dakar in April 2010, depicting a man, a woman and a child. The statue initiative, which was built by North Korean workers, was taken by the president, who, however, received a lot of criticism, partly because of the high cost of $ 27 million and for the easily dressed figures to run counter to Islam.

Riot against President Wade

From mid-2010, an increasingly intense debate raged over Wade’s decision to seek a third term. According to the critics, this violated the constitutional rule for a maximum of two terms of office for a president. However, PDS considered that this restriction was not applicable since it was first introduced in 2001, and Wade was only elected once since then.

Electric shortages and toughening economic conditions contributed to the protests against the president growing in strength in 2011. Many, especially young Senegalese, gathered under the slogan Y ‘a marre (We have had enough). Among other things, they organized themselves through Facebook. Tongues in the protest movement were several rappers, including Thiat (Oumar Touré) and Fou Malade (Malal Talla), as well as journalist Fadel Barro.

When Wade made an attempt to enforce a constitutional change in June, the reaction became fierce. The proposal was that 25 percent voter support in the first round would suffice for victory in the presidential election, instead of the current 50 percent. It would have almost guaranteed victory for Wade. He also wanted to set up a vice presidential post, which everyone assumed would go to Karim Wade.

When the National Assembly discussed the constitutional amendment, the loosely composed network that was behind the Y mobilized a marre slogan. The riots broke out in different parts of the country on June 23. Government buildings and the property of the state electricity company are on fire. The protests were so violent that the proposal had to be withdrawn. The network then came under the name of the June 23 movement (M23).

Worried election campaign

In the fall of 2011, PDS officially nominated Wade as its candidate in the presidential election in February 2012. Demonstrations against the government continued. The M23 organized protest meetings on the 23rd of each month. Unrest was reported on several occasions.

Many felt that Wade had a decent chance of winning in the first round, despite the strong criticism against him. The reason was the great divide within the opposition. When Benno Siggil Senegaal appointed Moustapha Niasse, leader of the Progressive Alliance (AFP), as his candidate, the leader of the Socialist Party, Ousmane Tanor Dieng, announced that he would also be a candidate – even though PS was a member of the alliance. Several former allies with Wade also claimed the presidential post. Among them were Macky Sall, former Prime Minister Idrissa Seck and former Foreign Minister Cheikh Tidiane Gadio.

In January 2012, world-renowned singer Youssou N’Dour also announced his intention to run for president. N’Dour, who was also a successful businessman and owner of several media organizations, was believed to be able to attract many of the young people who participated in the protests against Wade. But his candidacy was rejected by the Constitutional Court the same month. He found that only 9,000 of the 13,000 signatures he collected were considered valid. The requirement to set up was 10,000 signatures. Two other candidates were also rejected while 13 were approved – among them Wade.

Wade is defeated by Sall

The decision that Wade was allowed to stand was expected, as the members of the Constitutional Court were appointed by the President and loyal to him. But the rash triggered violent confrontations. Tens of thousands of dissatisfied voters protested in Dakar and security forces used tear gas to disperse them. Buildings were set on fire and a police officer was killed. The following days, the rattles were spread to other cities and several deaths were reported.

The situation in the country suddenly appeared unstable. Many drew parallels with the Arab Spring that shook countries in North Africa and the Middle East last year. The United Nations, the United States and France expressed concern about the situation, several embassies were reported to be preparing to evacuate their personnel, and there were even rumors of plans for a military coup.

Before the first round of elections in February 2012, protests increased and six people were killed in connection with riots. The election was still held as planned. When the result was presented, it turned out to be a second round of elections between Wade and Sall. During the month that passed before the second round was held, it was quite calm in the country. Even the election day itself ended without major disruptions. Already the same evening, before any official result was available, Wade admitted to being defeated. Thus, the victory was in port for Sall, who left the PDS and formed a new party: Alliance for the Republic-Hope (APR-Yakaar).

Senegal Modern History