Macky Sall will be inaugurated as President of Senegal on 3 April to become the country’s fourth president since independence from France in 1960. And while his election has been greeted with jubilation in the streets of Senegal, his ability to lead comes under close scrutiny.
“I will be the president of all Senegalese,” Senegal’s president-elect Macky Sall promised on Monday. Hours earlier incumbent President Adboulaye Wade had conceded defeat to his former protégé. As fireworks lit up the night sky, jubilantSenegalese sang, danced and sounded car horns in wild abandon and the streets of Dakar filled with revellers. They had spoken; Wade had listened. They celebrated a triumph of democracy, the birth of a new political order and the rise to power of a man who embodies change.
Macky Sall, 50, was born to a modest family in the town of Fatick in western Senegal. His father was a civil servant and his mother a groundnut vendor. At school he earned the nickname “Monsieur le minister”, for his serious demeanour and fastidious attention to his appearance. Yet, as the young Sall grew up, leaving Fatick to pursue a tertiary education in Dakar, the playful name-calling of his school days would prove prophetic.
He graduated from Cheikh Anta Diop University with an engineering degree in geology and then travelled to France to further his studies. It was politics, however, that would ensnare his talents. Although his father was a dedicated member of the ruling Socialist Party that had been in power since independence, Sall is said to have grown frustrated with its misrule. He joined the Senegalese opposition in 1983 and grew in stature and prominence, eventually becoming one of Abdoulhaye Wade’s closest aides.
Sall’s scientific expertise earned him the post of Wade’s energy advisor in 2000 and months later the stewardship of the state oil company after a cabinet reshuffle. He served as Wade’s prime minister between 2004 and 2007, and was director of Wade’s election campaign in 2007. In 2008 Sall fell out of favour for raising questions about financial irregularities related to Wade’s son, Karim. He then established his own party, the APR-Yakaar, and began his bid for the presidency.
As Sall began to gather support for his campaign, he also developed significant rivalries with other opposition candidates. In the last 10 years, the Senegalese opposition has been made up of two groups, the older, traditional leaders such as Parti Socialiste leader Ousmane Tanor Dieng and the head of Alliance des Forces de Progrès, Moustapha Niasse, and then younger, more fiery leaders who had fallen from grace during Wade’s 12-year rule. Among the latter group, Sall was exemplary.
His rise to power now forces scrutiny on his ability to lead the country out of a morass of escalating food prices, poor infrastructure and corruption. David Zoumenou, a senior researcher at the African Security Analysis Programme at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, believes any doubt in Sall’s ability must be tempered with faith in the ability of the Senegalese people to choose their own leaders. “He is the right man for the job because the Senegalese people have voted him into power as a competent technocrat with a good reputation for efficiency in his previous offices in government,” Zoumenou said. “He’s seen as a hard worker.”
Ousmane Sene, director of the West African Research Centre in Dakar, however, believes it is Sall’s education that has helped him win the trust of the Senegalese people. “As a university graduate, he is academically accomplished,” Sene says, adding that Sall ascends to Senegal’s highest political office with significant experience in Senegalese politics. “He’s been in politics for some time now and has served in various portfolios and acquitted himself well. He should be able to run the country efficiently,” he says.
And while Sall certainly does hold the necessary credentials to lead Senegal, it is his handling of government corruption that may prove most challenging. Zoumenou noted Sall came to power through a coalition of the opposition parties. “Some members of these have been implicated in corruption scandals,” he says. Is Sall then beholden to the politicians who helped him defeat Wade in the second round of the election? “His political will to fight corruption will now be tested,” Zoumenou says. Sene is more pragmatic, “Corruption is very hard to fight anywhere in the world,” he said. “Senegal is no different.”
Toby Leon Moorsom, an editor of the Nokoko Journal of African Studies, notes central to the fight against corruption in Senegal will be Sall’s rivalry with former prime minister Idrissa Seck, who served under Wade as prime minister, but was implicated in mismanagement of funds in an infrastructure project. He was imprisoned in 2005. Sall, who took over the reins of prime minister from him was seen to have been integral to Seck’s political demise. It was not long before Seck accused Sall of misappropriation of $3.5-million in public funds. Charges against Seck were subsequently dropped and Sall fell out with Wade in 2008, when he started to ask questions about the management of state building contracts by Wade’s son, Karim.
Sall has certainly not been above corruption scandals himself, but what will now be interesting to watch is how he deals with the legacy of corruption left by Wade’s administration. “We will have to wait and see, but I very much doubt he will press hard on anything from the past. This is partly because of his own alleged involvement, but also because of his sense of personal loyalty. He has still shown a lot of respect to Wade – and age does garner a lot of respect in Senegal, as it does in many parts of Africa,” Moorsom says. “He is proving to be a very effective politician.”
The euphoria of change may insulate Sall from any demands for immediate change, but beyond corruption it is the escalating price of foods. “The cost of living is very high,” Sene said. “Sall has promised to lower the price of basic commodities.” And he does not have much time to impress the Senegalese people. Parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held in June. DM