Senegal's President Wade nervous about reelection prospects

Senegal's President Wade, up for reelection, faces growing unpopularity and unemployment, but the opposition is divided enough that he could still succeed.

Rukmini Callimachi/AP
Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade takes questions from reporters after attending the inauguration of Africa 7, the sixth television station to be licensed in Senegal amid a boom in broadcasting in the region, in Dakar, Senegal on Saturday. The new channel is going live just months before the 2012 election and the 85-year-old Wade is facing an uphill reelection battle.

Senegal’s presidential elections are about three and a half months away, and it seems President Abdoulaye Wade is feeling nervous about his re-election prospects.


Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade late on Wednesday offered two key rivals cabinet jobs in exchange for working with him in the run up to elections in February, but both men’s parties immediately rejected the offer.

The octogenarian president is seeking re-election despite rivals saying he should be barred from taking part, and tensions are escalating steadily in a country that has already seen violent protests over the vote.

Speaking on state television, Wade offered Ousmane Tanor Dieng and Moustapha Niasse, leading figures in the opposition Benno Siggil Senegal coalition, jobs as ministers of state “with all the benefits” that come with the job.

“But I clarify that this is not at all a government of national unity,” he said.

“When you hit an impasse you have to stop and think. It would be useful for the opposition today to join me for the rest of my mandate so we can … work together,” he said, before adding that he was sure of winning re-election. 

It is significant that Wade chose these two figures, both of whom are relatively older politicians from the Parti Socialiste and its offshoots, and did not offer posts to Idrissa Seck and Macky Sall, both of whom are younger, are former Wade proteges, and are serious contenders for the presidency. By only selecting some of his rivals, and by excepting two of the strongest candidates, Wade appears to be trying to divide the opposition rather than co-opt all of it.

Tanor Dieng and Niasse’s refusal is no surprise – nor indeed was the offer itself. But the incident conveys Wade’s nervousness about the elections (a nervousness he has increasingly shown since June, when he withdrew a controversial package of electoral changes in the face of street protests).

Zooming out to look at the overall pre-election scene, I am watching four main indicators in the run-up to the elections:

  1. Wade’s popularity (which seems low at present, especially in Dakar)
  2. Economic performance (growth is expected to remain above 4%, but the economy remains vulnerable to the possibility of a global recession, and unemployment remains a major source of popular anger).
  3. The cohesion of the opposition (which remains weak).
  4. The decisions made by youth protest organizers regarding which candidates they will support, if any.

Wade’s unpopularity and complaints about unemployment are threats to his re-election, but he may still be able to count on the opposition’s internal divisions. Still, by declining Wade’s offer of cabinet posts, the opposition is solidifying its anti-regime stance and increasing the chances it may be able to unify, especially if the elections go to a second round.

– Alex Thurston is a PhD student studying Islam in Africa at Northwestern University and blogs at Sahel Blog.

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