When most of Senegal registered election results, 207 million voters had cast ballots. The question was hardly, who was likely to win or who was likely to lose? Instead -- and Senegal is no exception from other African countries near or far -- the challenge was whether President Abdou Dioud will allow fair and clean competition.
Senegal's recent history, although far from perfect, shows reasonable possibilities of a peaceful and quiet transition to a multi-party system. Since its independence in 1960 from France -- first as part of the Mali-Federation followed by a quick split only a month later -- Senegal was credited for being a semi-democracy. For 40 years, the socialist, one-party domination was met with little resistance. Only in 1982 did the dissatisfaction with the socialist consolidation of power turn violent. Yet some claim that the separatists' clashes with government forces in Casamance province of South Senegal was hardly inspired by the political structure in Dakar, the capital.
Despite all assumptions, Senegal is moving ahead with its attempts to introduce to the world a side of Africa that is rarely seen. Now, Senegal, one of Africa's oldest democracies, is exploring new options, and is looking to remain unique and a step ahead of its neighbors.
What made the Senegali elections on Feb 27 so optimistic is the fact that most doubts of fairness and fear of fraud quickly diminished. As of Tuesday, Feb 29, most observers had assured that a run-off election was certain. By itself, that is a victory. Although no candidates were assumed the winner, the real victory lies within the fact that President Dioud has passed the test proposed by his main challenger, Abdoulaya Wade. Wade and his supporters, who ran their campaign firmly believing that fraud is what kept Dioud in power, warned of popular revolt if the President declared himself the winner.
But with 1.6 million votes counted, and the president and Wade failing to secure over 50 percent of the vote, many Senegalese have begun to view the process with more faith and little doubt. The Associated Press quoted a Senegali truck driver as saying, "Everyone is happy today because we never believed that Dioud would allow a second round." Although such testimony is not enough evidence to demonstrate the peoples' satisfaction of how things turned out, the relatively quiet voting atmosphere indicated that Senegal is one more step further in its quest toward peaceful development.
By achieving orderly transition, Senegal is benefiting others beside its own people. On a continent where violence is prevalent in political reconstruction, Senegal has presented a model of an African country, rarely seen and little heard of. While the military take-over in nearby Ivory Coast has harmed the over all development assistance and trade in the region, Senegal's success could alter that distorted image and benefit West Africa and the region as a whole.
Yet even Senegal is not completely protected from a major violent breakout. While the country ought to be proud of its achievements, thus far, many problems still need to be addressed, such as poverty and the issue of the southern separatists.
Nevertheless, it was very pleasing to see Senegali candidates fighting fairly in a challenging election, coming in critical times. As well, it was cheering to read reports of mass rallying in the streets of Dakar of people crying "sopi" or "change" in the Wotof language, with little police abuse or intervention accompanying the reports. Senegal is getting ready for a run-off election. We hope for this small country, a mighty success that will prevail for many years to come.