Is it a sign of the times; perhaps even a new paradigm shift, or just an ephemeral indulgence in rare political maturity? In the coming weeks and months, two very conflicting and contradictory events will likely occur, one of which may redefine Africa’s political direction for generations to come. Africa has, for long, been haunted by a stigma of a mostly true, but also of a somewhat embellished nature. But all that is about to change, as what looks like a political maverick, but certainly a trendsetter, emerges from the vast African continent to break away from the age-old stain and unflattering characterization of a continent. The assumption that President Macky Sall stands shoulder above the rest of Africa’s power-hungry leaders is bearing out in a rather dramatic way. In what looks like a truly Mandelasque fashion, President Macky Sall plans to amend the Senegalese constitution in order to retrench his and future presidential terms by two years.
This is an extraordinary and unprecedented act of political courage in a continent renowned more for its imperial, life-time rulers, than by their humility and political sagacity. When all is said and done, President Macky Sall would have reduced his term in office by four years, proving the coming of age of Senegal’s democratic experiment. President Sall’s political initiative is hardly surprising, considering that Senegal, rather than Ghana or Nigeria, is Africa’s most politically and culturally conscious, boasting a slew of preeminent world-class scholars, authors, academics and a rare tribal homogeneity found nowhere else on the African continent. The correlation between Senegal’s political and culture awareness and its broad-mindedness, sophistication and tolerance are borne out by events leading up to Senegal’s last presidential election. Senegal has over time been challenged by political circumstances, but each time, has come out stronger and more committed to its democratic tradition.
In a continent plagued by a history of brutal dictatorships, political repression and blood-letting, President Sall’s bold proposal to reduce the presidential term in office underscores his deeply held beliefs in the transitory nature of political power. In a statement that put African dictators to shame, President Sall completely rejects the erroneous notion of political power “as a means to an end.” in reference to African leaders who insist on ruling, despite mass popular discontent. The emergence of Senegal as Africa’s premiere democracy is cemented in President Sall’s deference to the tenets of democracy as highlighted in the way the Senegalese president demeans Africa’s dictators stuck in primitive, medieval mindsets. The constitutional changes envisaged by the Senegalese leader have the potential to reverberate all across Africa and shake the crumbling foundations of dictatorships that still precariously cling to power against popular will. This glowing reflection ought to not be seen as the canonization or blanket endorsement of President Sall, whose Gambia policies are incoherent, inconsistent and seem to lack the most basic understanding of the implications of Gambia’s political instability, despite the presence of thousands of Gambians in Dakar, forced to flee their country. In the present political world, the UN recognized “responsibility to protect, r2p” such as Tanzania’s intervention to oust General Idi Amin from power in Uganda trumps the UN Clause of “non-interference” in the internal affairs of other countries. The UN R2P norm states unambiguously that “sovereignty is not an absolute right, and that states forfeit aspects of their sovereignty when they fail to protect their populations from mass atrocity crimes and human rights violations.” In a period in history when democracy and the rule of law are spreading, Africa still struggles to overcome the recalcitrance of political dinosaurs invested in the ugly politics of division, corruption and violence.
But as Senegalese President Macky Sall continues to make Senegal an exception the political power greed, it behooves him to make the spread of democracy across the border into Gambia, Senegal’s policy objective. As it now stands, Senegal’s internal politics and the fact of geography have made the use any necessary means, including military force, to restore democracy and rule of law in Gambia, impossible. In light of the limitations imposed on Gambians willing and able to force political change in Gambia, the need for Senegal to accommodate the policy of “responsibility to protect,” is both a moral obligation and a political necessity. With the Gambia constantly shifting from chaos to crisis, social and economic considerations in both countries come into play in the broader political narrative as to the kinds of relations Senegal ought to foster between the sister countries. But as President Sall seeks to shorten his term in office, across the border, Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh seeks to extend his term in office to more than half a century. The glaring political difference between Senegal and Gambia is not lost on Gambians who, in a decisive majority, want political change. The tyranny of the Jola minority imposed by Yahya Jammeh, is a recipe for civil strife, in the event of political change, and the continuation of this tribal bigotry, rather than make the problem of state imposed tribalism go away, will deepen the hostility and rage Gambians now feel. For Gambians, who seek political change, see Senegal, rather than Yahya Jammeh and his military support, as standing in the way of regime change in their country. The deprivation of Gambians of the ability to accumulate international support to restore democracy and the rule of law in their country is a major stumbling block in the effort to force political change in Gambia. And as President Macky Sall seeks to shorten his term in office, across the border, Gambians are preparing for a showdown to bar Yahya Jammeh from contesting presidential elections in 2016. In this effort, Senegal has a crucial role to play to help end the murders, executions, mass incarceration and fleeing of Gambians from their country.