Senegal’s Macky Sall on Monday hailed a new era after triumphing over veteran leader Abdoulaye Wade in a presidential poll.
Senegal was jubilant after an election that brought Wade’s increasingly controversial rule to a crushing end and disproved fears that political chaos was on the way in a country regarded as a regional beacon of democracy.
“Tonight a new era begins for Senegal,” Sall said in the early hours of the morning after his victory became clear following Sunday’s runoff presidential vote, prompting thousands to spill into the streets in celebration.
Excitement was palpable in the capital Dakar as Senegalese woke up to the news that Wade had gracefully accepted defeat, scotching fears that the 85-year-old would try to cling on to power.
People smiled and congratulated each other on street corners for a show of democracy hailed by former colonial power France as “very good news for Africa in general, and for Senegal in particular”.
The African Union also praised the “maturity” of Senegal’s democracy after a hotly-contested election playing out smoothly.
“The real winner remains the Senegalese people,” the 50-year-old Sall, a former prime minister who was once Wade’s protégé before falling out of favour, said in his victory speech.
“I will be the president of all Senegalese.”
The country’s press also praised the result as a victory for the people and for democracy.
“Goodbye Wade” headlined Le Quotidien newspaper, praising the incumbent’s “honourable” exit over his phonecall to the country’s new president just three and a half hours after polls closed to congratulate him.
“Wade’s defeat … has transformed into a victory for the people and Senegalese democracy,” read the newspaper’s editorial.
But both the press and observers said that while Wade had managed to save face by bowing out, his insistence on seeking a third term and the deadly riots this provoked prevented him from leaving with his head held high.
“It is good that Wade congratulated Macky Sall. It enhances him, and it enhances the Senegalese democracy, but in reality he is leaving through the back door,” said Alioune Tine, a prominent leader of the anti-Wade protests.
Hugely popular in the beginning of his 12-year rule in 2000, Wade distanced himself from the population amid nepotism, public finance scandals, rising food prices and power cuts while he focused on fanciful legacy projects.
These include a a 50m bronze African renaissance statue, which cost €15-million.
Defiant to the last, Wade had said just days before the poll that the mere idea he could lose was as absurd “as the sky falling on our heads”, raising fears he would try to cling to power.
But in the midst of campaigning he had also promised: “I will do no less than [Abdou] Diouf,” his predecessor who was lauded for bowing out gracefully, phoning Wade 12 years ago to congratulate him on his victory.
Swallowing a bitter loss, Wade kept this promise on Sunday night, and made the call to Sall, the country’s first leader born after independence.
Even before Wade threw in the towel on Sunday night thousands of people spilled into the streets, chanting, dancing and sounding car horns as fireworks lit up the sky.
The celebrations were in stark contrast to the riots which rocked the capital’s streets for four weeks in the run-up to the first-round February 26 vote as the opposition protested Wade’s candidacy for a third term.
Having served his constitutional two terms, Wade got the backing of the country’s highest court to uphold his argument that since the law was not retroactive, constitutional changes in 2008 meant he could run again.
The unrest claimed six lives in Senegal, the only country in the region never to have suffered a military coup.
In an interview with Agence France-Presse this month, Sall, Senegal’s first president to be born after independence, said “several emergencies” loomed.
They included a “dramatic public finance situation” as well as a food crisis in the north where about 800 000 Senegalese are going hungry due to a drought gripping the Sahel region.
Sall said he also wanted to halve the size of the government — slashing the Cabinet by about 20 ministers — and reduce Senegal’s diplomatic representation abroad.
He would use the savings to lower the prices of basic goods, he said. — AFP