Senegal: How Abdoulaye Wade's star has faded

By Ofeibea Quist-Arcton
Africa analyst, National Public Radio

Image source, AFP

When Abdoulaye Wade swept to power in 2000, he was the toast of Senegal - hailed by the youth as the hope of the West African country.

Propelled from veteran opposition leader to a hands-on, apparently dynamic, president, Mr Wade campaigned on the platform of his slogan Sopi - "change".

Senegalese now complain that his leadership has been a change for the worse.

After 12 years in office, Mr Wade's support has dwindled - even among the young Senegalese who helped propel him to power.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
The young seem particularly against Mr Wade's third term bid

He faces a barrage of criticism - including tarnishing Senegal's credentials as a mature, stable and peaceful democracy with a republican army that has remained in its barracks.

His opponents say Mr Wade's most egregious offence is his determination to impose his son, Karim, on the nation as Senegal's next leader.

Karim Wade is nothing short of a super minister in his father's cabinet - in charge of powerful portfolios such as energy.

The Senegalese resent the fact he is being groomed by his father to take over - without the say-so of the electorate.

Mr Wade accuses his opponents of temper tantrums and petulance and predicts he'll beat them hands down in the scheduled 26 February vote.

His advancing age is also an issue. At more than 85, Senegalese say it is time for Mr Wade to retire graciously, although he blithely ignores all hints that it is time to go.

This shaven-headed octogenarian with owl eyes, switches effortlessly from Wolof to English to French - and from Senegalese grands boubous to smart Western suits.

He loves showing off models in his presidential office of his pet projects and grand plans - for Senegal, West Africa and the continent.

Cunning survivor

But the malaise goes deeper than the opposition.

From the monstrous Renaissance Monument that Mr Wade had built - which offended traditional, cultural and Islamic sensibilities - the Senegalese have long felt he has stopped listening to their wishes and needs.

The youthful Y'en a Marre - was sparked by Mr Wade's rather arrogant decision to try to lower to 25% the threshold for a presidential candidate to win an election in the first round.

That backfired and he was forced to withdraw the proposal after unprecedented riots on 23 June last year.

Senegal is tired of a president who swans around the globe as a self-styled international conflict mediator, when their own country has its own problems that need resolving.

But Mr Wade is a cunning political survivor.

The question is - in the face of such overwhelming public opposition to his continued presence on the political scene - can he pull another trick from under his sleeve or out of the hat?

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