What Senegal’s postponed election means for West Africa

Feb 10, 2024

Senegal was to elect a new head of state on 25 February. Outgoing President, macky sale, was not on the ballot: after two terms in office, he is no longer eligible to stand. However, last Saturday, just a day before the start of the election campaign, he announced the postponement of voting. Parliament has voted by a majority to approve the rescheduling of the election for December 15, but some members Oppose A complaint has been lodged in the Constitutional Council.
Protestors took to the streets in response to the announcement. Police used tear gas against protesters and the internet was shut down for at least 36 hours.
Sheikh Nadiaye, 37, is an actor in the coastal city of Yarakh. Even after a week has passed, he is still in shock. “As a young person, you want the president to call an election and then go,” he says. Now, however, Sall is clinging to power, at least for the time being. Ndiaye says this is a huge disappointment, especially for young people – which is important, in a country where the median age of the population is 19.
Ndiaye comments, “Even people who have no desire to immigrate to Europe start to think differently when they see this situation. I hate to say it, but “Things like this encourage youth to leave the country.”
The country is at a standstill
Migration is a complex issue. Samira Daoud, head of the West and Central Africa office of human rights organization Amnesty International, explains that the reasons behind this can be either economic or political: “And economic reasons are often determined by political reasons and the political context.”
One of the unexpected consequences of postponing the elections could therefore be a further increase in migration, which would have implications not only for Senegal, but also for Europe. The West African coastal state has a population of more than 18 million.
Until now, Senegal was seen as a stable democracy in the region, which has experienced six coups since August 2020. This stability has always been important for foreign investment, says Ibrahima Kane, a lawyer and analyst at the Open Society Initiative. West Africa,
“Whatever we have achieved, economically and otherwise, has been thanks to our image abroad,” says Kane. “Senegal is not rich; it has very few natural resources. Even the gas and oil reserves they're talking about – everyone knows there's not much there.”
Instead, he says, Senegal's greatest advantage has been its democratic system. Now, he will be lost. “Senegal's soft power will disappear,” Kane predicted.
Instability in West Africa
Investors are inclined to hold out ahead of the election – and this situation may now continue for almost the entire year. Foreign direct investment in Senegal has increased in recent years: according to the World Investment Report of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), it reached $2.23 billion (€2.07 billion) in 2022, rising to $1.85 billion in 2021. There is a significant increase. Investment is considered the key to the country's industrialization and employment generation. Approximately 200,000 young people enter the job market in Senegal every year.
But it is not that only the economy is likely to suffer losses. Observers fear that the political consequences of postponing the elections could be disastrous. Senegal shares its border with Mali. Terrorist groups linked to al-Qaeda and ISIS are active there, as well as in the nearby Sahel states of Burkina Faso and Niger. Neighboring countries to the south have been dealing with this problem for a long time, but Senegal has been an exception until now.
Ken doubts that will remain the case. “In the last two or three years, there have been a lot of cases of sleeper terrorist cells established in Senegal, and have been the subject of adjudication,” he explains. “This shows that the country is not immune to such things.” The concern is that Islamic groups could take advantage of the domestic political crisis.
ECOWAS: a weak regional organization
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is also affected. On January 28 this year, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, all of which are now ruled by military juntas after recent coups, announced they were withdrawing from the bloc. This makes Senegal all the more important, says Philippe Goldberg, head of the Center of Competence for Peace and Security for Sub-Saharan Africa at the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Dakar. The Friedrich Ebert Foundation is affiliated with the German Social Democratic Party (SPD).
“Senegal is a very important member state not only for ECOWAS, but also for multilateral engagement generally,” Goldberg said. For example, he points out that the country was the largest African contributor of troops to the UN Stabilization Mission in Mali, which ended last year after disagreements with the military government. “There has been significant political engagement with regional issues.”
According to Goldberg, ECOWAS is concerned that Senegal could become another destabilizing factor. The organization, which previously had 15 member states, is rapidly losing credibility. It strongly criticizes the military coup, and earlier this week it urged Senegal to stick to the election schedule. However, Goldberg comments that ECOWAS has prepared its statements in a very diplomatic, vague and unfriendly manner.
“They essentially congratulate Macky Sall for respecting his country's constitution and not seeking a third term,” he says. “I think it clearly shows how nervous the region is.”

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