President in troubled times: Senegal’s Macky SallTue, 06 Feb 2024 06:14:47 GMT

President Macky Sall prides himself on having transformed Senegal during his 12 years in power, from implementing reforms to launching major infrastructure projects. But his opponents say he is a leader determined to stay in office and the architect of Africa’s latest power grab. “The Senegal of 2023 is nothing like the Senegal of 2012,” the 62-year-old president said during his new year’s greetings. Sall, who was elected in 2012 and then again in 2019, had for months remained coy about his ambitions for a third term in office.The speculation had fuelled violent unrest over whether he would run for a third term despite constitutional disputes. He eventually confirmed last July that he would not stand again. “On 2 April 2024, God willing, I will hand over power to my successor,” Sall said on December 31, looking ahead to the official end of his mandate.But since then, the simmering crisis has resurfaced. The president on Saturday announced a delay to the February 25 vote for an unspecified period, just hours before campaigning was officially set to begin.It was an unprecedented move in Senegal, often viewed as a bastion of stability in West Africa, and which has avoided the coups that have hit elsewhere in the volatile region.Opposition figure Khalifa Sall, who is not related to the president, denounced “a constitutional coup” by a leader who “dreams of eternity”.President Sall on Saturday reiterated that he would not stand for re-election.The move to delay the vote sparked the immediate resignation of government minister Abdou Latif Coulibaly, who said he could not understand the decision.”Maybe it’s just that when you’re in power, you think anything is possible,” Coulibaly told French radio station RFI after resigning.The president “cannot extend his term, it’s impossible”. There is an irony to the current situation, given that Sall had been one to challenge the re-election of his predecessor Abdoulaye Wade — arguing that a third term was unconstitutional.Sall parted ways with his former mentor and boss Wade in 2008, later uniting the opposition to defeat him in the second round vote. – ‘Line of warriors’ -With a soft-spoken demeanour but a stern face and imposing stature, Sall claims to come through his mother from a line of warriors who “would rather die than lose face”. His last years as president were marked by a bitter standoff with anti-establishment opposition firebrand Ousmane Sonko, which gave way to bouts of deadly violence. Sall, who is a geological engineer by training, prefers to be remembered for his numerous development projects.These include a new airport, the new town of Diamniadio, industrial parks, a regional express train and motorways.Sall has also tried to position himself as a respected and influential player on the international stage, whether as president of the African Union from 2022-2023 or within the West African regional bloc ECOWAS.  He has also championed reform of global political and financial governance and spoken out for an Africa that should be free to make its own choices after “suffer(ing) enough from the burden of history”. “There can be no legitimacy for some to define and impose a single way of life on all, like a civilisational ready-to-wear garment,” Sall said at the UN in 2023.He also added that he firmly condemned “any form of unconstitutional change of government,” following a string of coups in West Africa.Allegations of hypocrisy now threaten President Sall.Human Rights Watch in January said at least 37 people had been killed during violent clashes since March 2021 with no accountability, and hundreds more arrested.Senegal’s opposition has denounced a drift towards authoritarianism and accuse the government of manipulating the justice system.Legal woes prevented opposition figures Khalifa Sall and Karim Wade from competing against Sall in the 2019 presidential election.More recently, the same fate confronted Ousmane Sonko, who has denounced Sall as a “dictator”. “If Senegal were a dictatorship, as some would have us believe, do you honestly think he could have spent a single day insulting me over and over again?” Sall said in November in the magazine Jeune Afrique.”Those who want anarchy and chaos to satisfy their ambitions will find me in their path”.