The election victory of Macky Sall marks the end of an era of political stagnation in Senegal.
Or does it?
Skeptics have pounced on Sall’s long experience as a political protege to evicted President Wade. Yet Sall undeniably represents a new generation of leaders in this Francophone West African country. Wade was an eightysomething gerontocrat; Sall is 50 years old and, astonishingly, about the same age as America’s youthful President Obama. Sall is also a technocrat; a geologist by training, he is a rare scientist to achieve a place in the commanding heights of African governance.
By outward appearances, then, Sall’s landslide electoral victory — he obtained nearly two-thirds of the votes, an astounding total for a campaigner who received only a quarter of the total votes cast in the first round of voting. Head-to-head against Wade, Sally gathered nearly all of the support that went to a dozen rival candidates in the first round, with Wade hardly better his original tally. The one-sided victory was a humiliating rebuke to Wade — and perhaps a warning to other African presidents who insist on refusing to accept limits on the number of terms they can hold in the highest office.
How Sall makes his mark on Senegal is now anyone’s guess. But two things are clear. First, the generational change in leadership is healthy in itself. Second, Sall comes from the Fula ethnic group. In a country where the Woloff are the largest ethnic group and the Serer are the most significant minority, Sall’s Fula heritage gives him the perspective of an outsider, which could help him lift Senegal out of stagnation. Popular in the beginning of his 12-year rule in 2000, Wade lost his following — and his reputation — over the practice of nepotism, public finance scandals, rising food prices and power cuts.
Sall promised to reduce government spending and improve performance. Perhaps his position as a Fula — few in number and hence Sall has few “relatives” to pay off — will help the new President slim down Senegal’s bloated government and improve the chances of providing more government services to the needy.