Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Senegalese Democratic Transition of the 1990s

     The “Third Wave of Democratization” that washed across Africa in the 1990s didn’t result in a radical regime change in Senegal.  According to Samuel Huntington, the Third Wave began just after midnight on 25 April 1974 in Portugal with the launching of a military coup[i].  This coup in Portugal inspired other coups that caused political change in many cases leading to democratization.  Democratic change was already underway in Senegal with the creation of the Parti dèmocratique sénégalaise (PDS) by Abdoulaye Wade in 1974 as an opposition party to contest the only authorized political party, the Union progressiste sénégalaise (UPS), led by President Senghor and in power since independence in 1960[ii].  In 1976 the Senegalese constitution was amended to allow three political parties based on ideology: liberal, socialist, and Marxist-Leninist as an introduction to limited multiparty democracy.  The constitution was amended again in 1978 to allow a fourth political party based on Islamic purity[iii].  President Senghor voluntarily retired at the end of 1980 and was peacefully succeeded by the Prime Minister, Abdou Diouf as the second president of Senegal.  Six months after taking office, President Diouf allowed all political parties in 1981[iv].
            Huntington described Senegal since the introduction of political parties in 1974 as a “semi-democracy” as by the 1990s only one political party, originally the UPS renamed the Parti Socialiste (PS) in 1976, had controlled the government since independence[v].  By 1990 some liberalization in Senegal had occurred but real regime change did not occur until 2000 when longtime opposition leader Abdoulaye Wade was elected president[vi].  President Diouf came to power in 1980 not by election but under a provision of the 1975 Second Constitutional Reform that allowed the Prime Minister to assume the presidency and complete the presidential term if the President left office prematurely[vii].  In 1983 Diouf won his first election as President thanks in part to an “ndigel” or religious command by the religious leaders of the Mourid and Tijan Islamic Brotherhoods to vote for the PS.  One effect of allowing multiple political parties in 1981 was to split the opposition, which was not able to coalesce around a single coalition candidate in 1983.  Elections in 1988 were similar in process and result and Diouf’s rejection of international election observers and the secret ballot increased tensions between the PS and opposition groups.  The Senegalese government was also under pressure from opposition groups and the general population for an economic crisis as well as a border war with Mauritania, secessionist movement in the Casamance, and the collapse of the Senegambian Federation (short-lived federation of Senegal and the Gambia)[viii].
            The 1988 Senegalese elections featured four presidential candidates and six party lists for the National Assembly, which turned into a three-week television war of the PS against all opposition.  The 1982 electoral code mandated half of the time or space allocated to elections to be given to the government, and the remaining half of the space was divided amongst the opposition.  However, the state newspaper “Le Soleil” gave the most space to the PS.  President Diouf also campaigned throughout the country on official state trips where he promised state resources as part of his reelection bid[ix].  Registration was a difficult process and only adults over the age of 21 were allowed to vote so much of the youth movement that supported the opposition were not able to vote.  59% of registered voters participated and Diouf won the 1988 election with 73.2% of the vote, causing widespread rioting due to reports of fraud.  PS leaders were reported to have distributed extra voting cards and many voting stations were staffed only with PS workers who supervised the vote, which was conducted in the open.  Rioters attacked buses, set cars on fire, and ransacked state offices, resulting in the imposition of a three-month curfew in Dakar[x].
            In 1990 the opposition boycotted local elections and Diouf offered to create a Government of National Unity with opposition groups in response to national and international criticism.  The Second Administrative Reform of April 1990 turned control of local finances to the local chief executives, who now had the right to elaborate and manage local government budgets and expenditures.  Local budgets had previously been administered by the central state with limited local input[xi].   The 1991 electoral code reform attempted to diminish the PS advantage in elections by banning the use of state resources by political parties, mandated voter identification and the use of a voting booth, as well as required bipartisan supervision of the voting process[xii].  The devolution of powers to the local governments and 1991 electoral code convinced the opposition to participate in the February 1993 Presidential elections and organize in previously ignored rural areas.  Diouf won the 1993 elections with 58.4% of the vote, which despite claims of fraud by the opposition, more accurately reflected voter sentiment.  In response, the government created the National Election Observatory (ONEL) in 1997 to monitor elections[xiii]
            The 2000 election marked the end of the Diouf era and the transfer of power from the PS political party to the Wade’s PDS.  Longtime opposition candidate Abdoulaye Wade was able to build a coalition and force a second round of presidential vote by denying Diouf over 50% of the vote (Diouf: 41%, Wade: 31%).  In the second round, Wade was able to consolidate support from the rest of the opposition and won the presidency with 58% of the vote[xiv].

Third Wave in Africa
            Meanwhile on the rest of the continent, democratization continued in a more aggressive fashion with coups and the overthrow of governments.  By the 1990s, regular multiparty elections became the norm for sub-Saharan Africa with the exception of a few states characterized as semi-authoritarian regimes despite multiparty elections[xv].  Of the 45 multiparty systems in Africa, only four were parliamentary.  Most were highly presidential with various rules that weakened the legislature and allowed the president to act independently[xvi].  By the end of the 1990s it became clear that a multiparty system and an elected president did not ensure democracy.  The old parties that used to exist as the only allowed party have adapted to the new multiparty environment in a way to maintain control of the executive[xvii].
            The economic level of the country is another key factor in the effect of the third wave of democracy.  Transitions to democracy were most likely to occur in middle and upper-middle class countries and neither poor nor wealthy with an income between $1000 and $3000 per capita[xviii].  Senegal was considered at the low end of the middle-income countries with a per capita GNP of $520[xix].  However, Senegal also had an average annual GDP growth rate of more than 3% from 1980 to 1988 so it was favorable for democratization[xx].
            Côte d’Ivoire is an example of a country that turned to multiparty competition in 1989 during the third wave.  Côte d’Ivoire was a nondemocratic country in the same economic band as Senegal with a per capita GNP between $500 and $1000 with a substantial rate of economic growth so it had potential for political change[xxi].  President Houphouët-Boigny first began to expand political competition in 1980 with a change from single-party list voting to multicandidate single-party elections.  The electoral system was liberalized in response to general strikes by the people of Côte d’Ivoire.  Later in April 1990, the government sanctioned a multiparty system[xxii].  Presidential elections were held a few months later in November 1990 and Houphouët-Boigny won his seventh term as President.   During the election campaign the state did make some media available to the opposition, but airtime was limited to hours late at night.  Magazines and newspapers critical of the government were banned[xxiii].  President Houphouët-Boigny died in office in December 1993 after 33 years in office[xxiv].     
In other countries the political change of the 1990s resulted in rising levels of political disorder as African political elites transformed their political institutions from multiparty to single party or removing all political parties.  In some cases civilian governments were replaced with military regimes[xxv].  Contemporary political changes were conditioned by the mechanisms of rule ingrained by ancien régime.  Authoritarian leaders in power for long periods of time establish the rules regarding who participates, and what level of competition is allowed in politics[xxvi].  Democratization may also fail because of ethnic conflict or may be retarded by personalism, patrimonialism, rent seeking and corruption[xxvii]
            In Senegal there was no large ethnic divide as most of the population is uniform as Wolof and Muslim.  Rent seeking politics were also not a factor, due to the lack of valuable resources such as oil or diamonds.  Clientalism or patrimonialism politics gradually became less of a factor in Senegal as the leaders of the Islamic Brotherhoods focused more on their role as spiritual guides and eschewed politics.  The last ndigel from Khalif Abdou Lahatt in support of President Diouf was issued in 1988. Khalif-Général Salilou Mbacke inherited the leadership of the Mourides upon the death of Khalif Lahatt and avoided politics.  The new Khalif refused to implicate himself in the vulgar affairs of electoral politics and remained politically silent in the elections of 1993 and 2000[xxviii].  Other lesser Marabouts continued to issue ndigels but were often disregarded, such as Modou Kara Mbacke who was booed by the crowd at Demba Diop stadium in Dakar when he spoke in favor of the candidacy of Diouf in December 1999[xxix].
            In contrast to other countries where the third wave of democratization caused radical governmental reform, Senegal passed through a more gradual process of democratization.  President Diouf ruled over Senegal from 1980 until his defeat in 2000 when he peacefully transitioned with the opposition party led by Abdoulaye Wade.  During Diouf’s presidency powers were devolved to local governments, multipartyism was introduced, the media was liberalized, and election reform was passed which eventually gave rise to a transition of power.  These changes took place in an environment where the leaders of the Islamic brotherhoods withdrew from politics and economic conditions steadily improved and Senegal became a middle-income economy, ripe for democratization.



Bates, Robert H. 2004. “The Impulse to Reform in Africa,” in Economic Change and Political Liberalization in Sub-Saharan Africa. Edited by Jennifer A. Widner. John Hopkins University Press: Baltimore, MD.


Bates, Robert H. 2008. When Things Fell Apart: State Failure in Late-Century Africa. Cambridge University Press: New York, NY.


Beck, Linda J. 2008. Brokering Democracy in Africa. Palgrave MacMillan: New York, NY.


Behrman, Lucy Creevey. 1977. Muslim Politics and Development in Senegal. The Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 15, No. 2 (Jun 1977), pp. 261-277.


Bratton, Michael & Van De Walle, Nicolas. 1994. Neopatrimonial Regimes and Political Transitions in Africa.  World Politics Vol. 46, No. 4 (Jul 1994). pp. 453-489


Gellar, Sheldon. 2005. Democracy in Senegal. Palgrave MacMillan: New York, NY.

Huntington, Samuel P. 1991. The Third Wave: Democratization in the late Twentieth Century. University of Oklahoma Press: Norman, OK.

Kessler, Richard J. 1980. Senegal in Transition.  The World Today, Vol. 36, No. 2 (Feb 1980), pp 59-64.

Meredith, Martin. 2005. The Fate of Africa. Public Affairs: Kindle Edition.

Van de Walle, Nicolas. 2003.  Presidentialism and Clientelism in Africa’s Emerging Party System. The Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 41, No. 2 (Jun 2003). pp. 297-321.

Widner, Jennifer. 1994. Two Leadership Styles and Patterns of Political Liberalization. African Studies Review, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Apr 1994). pp. 151-174.

Young, Crawford & Kante, Babacar. 1992. “Governance, Democracy, and the 1988 Senegalese Election” in Governance and Politics in Africa.  Edited by Goran Hyden & Michael Bratton. Lynne Reinner Publishers: Boulder, CO.

[i] Huntington, p. 3
[ii] Behrman, p. 270
[iii] Kessler, p. 61
[iv] Meredith, sec. 3220
[v] Huntington, p. 12
[vi] Beck, p. 67
[vii] Beck, p. 58
[viii] Beck, p. 60-62
[ix] Young & Kante, p. 65
[x] Young & Kante, p. 69
[xi] Gellar, p. 56
[xii] Beck, p. 65
[xiii] Gellar, p. 82
[xiv] Gellar, p. 83
[xv] Van de Walle, p. 298
[xvi] Van de Walle, p. 311
[xvii] Van de Walle, p. 315
[xviii] Huntington, p. 63
[xix] Huntington, p. 60
[xx] Huntington, p. 314
[xxi] Huntington, p. 63
[xxii] Widner, p. 153
[xxiii] Widner, p. 165
[xxiv] Meredith, loc. 4609
[xxv] Bates (2008), p. 52
[xxvi] Bratton & Van de Walle, p. 454
[xxvii] Bates (2004), p. 19
[xxviii] Beck, p. 97
[xxix] Beck, p. 67

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