/ 28 March 2024

From hope to crisis: Senegal’s victory and Togo’s setback

Senegal Votes In Presidential Election
Supporters of Bassirou Diomaye Faye, presidential candidate, ride in a motorcycle convoy during the presidential election in Dakar, Senegal, on Sunday, March 24, 2024. Senegal's electoral authority was wrapping up counting ballots in a presidential election that's too close to call. Photographer: Annika Hammerschlag/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A few hours after Senegal’s president-elect Bassirou Diomaye Faye won the hotly contested elections, which had seemed impossible due to outgoing President Macky Sall’s attempt to tamper with the constitution and defer elections to November, a sense of relief swept through Senegal and the region. 

The elections brought a sigh of relief to a region struggling with a decline in democracy, marked by excessive executive power and a rise in popular coups. His victory comes at a crucial moment and is seen as an opportunity to strengthen democracy, not only in Senegal, but in the whole of West Africa. 

It is hoped that Senegal will once again be one of Africa’s, and West Africa’s, poster children for democracy, as the region has witnessed democratic backsliding over the past few years. This regression has been characterised by pervasive corruption, authoritarian regimes, press restrictions, human rights abuses, discrimination against minorities and economic downturns, eroding public trust.

However, less than 48 hours after people across the continent celebrated Senegal’s win for democracy, Togo re-emerged as a West African nightmare. Reports indicate that the president and members of his ruling party unanimously approved changes to the constitution, eliminating direct universal suffrage for the presidency. Instead, the president will be elected by parliament for a six-year term, without any debate, effectively depriving Togolese citizens of their right to choose their leader. 

This move directly violates the African Union’s Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, which prohibits any amendments or revisions to constitutions which undermine democratic principles.

This constitutional manoeuvre in Togo follows a similar one in May 2019, which allowed the current president, Faure Gnassingbe, to seek re-election and potentially extend his stay in office until 2030. This action sparked massive protests in 2017 and 2018, tarnishing Togo’s democratic image. It further stains Togo’s history, as it was the first country in West Africa to experience a military coup, in 1963.

After these troubling developments, what do the people of Togo think about democracy? According to the latest Afrobarometer data (2021-2023), 68% of Togolese prefer democracy over any other alternative but 64% expressed dissatisfaction with how democracy functions in their country. 

Moreover, 82% reject one-party rule, 53% reject military rule, 78% reject autocratic rule  and 82% advocate for limits on presidential terms. In addition, 52% believe that Togo is not a democracy or is a democracy with significant problems.

Respecting the views of the Togolese people on democracy and aligning with their vision of an ideal democratic country would restore confidence in democratic governance. It is imperative to develop mechanisms to curb parliamentary actions that deny citizens the right to choose their leaders, especially in a country where 74% of citizens support elections as the only method for leadership selection.

Togo’s ongoing constitutional crisis requires decisive action from the Economic Community of West African States and the African Union, considering the potential implications for the security and stability of the already fragile region. 

While the region and the continent are in the grip of euphoria over Senegal’s successful elections, all eyes should be on Togo. The events unfolding in that country should not be overlooked, as there is a risk of contagion if the democratic crisis is not swiftly condemned and addressed.

Nyasha Mpani is the project leader for the Data for Governance Alliance Project at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, in Cape Town.