Before the February 26, 2012 controversial presidential election in Senegal, Christian and Muslim religious leaders in this predominantly Muslim nation had a single theme on their prayer agenda—peace and stability for this West African state. Senegal has been an independent republic since 1960, after it won its freedom from French colonial rule.
Despite a low-intensity rebellion by the MFDC separatist rebels in the southern Casamance region, Senegal has been one of West Africa’s most stable countries practicing constitutional democracy.
It has a long history of participating in international peacekeeping and regional mediation. So, this is why the recent pre-election political violence, which claimed six lives, has whipped up a lot of international concerns.
In the countdown to the February 26, 2012 polls, that peace and stability looked as fragile and threatened as never before, with relentless violent protests on the streets of the capital, Dakar and in other parts of the country. By the eve of the poll, six people had died in weeks of violence and others injured in anti government protest.
An association of Christian churches even spearheaded a day-time vigil recently at Dakar’s Independence square, giving prayers and supplications to God punctuated by few days of fasting.
For 40 years after independence, Senegal was ruled by a Socialist Party until current President Abdoulaye Wade was elected in 2,000. He was reelected in February 2007.
With this long history of electoral democracy that has long served as a model for the rest of the African continent, electoral experts say the February 26, 2012 presidential polls will begin a new electoral cycle that will later result in the election of a new National Assembly and Senate.
According to the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), which has deployed many election observers in the country, this year’s electoral process will be a critical test in evaluating Senegal’s progress in consolidating democracy.
As the date for the just ended first round of polls drew closer, the fear, tensions and uncertainty over what would happen intensified, prompting some residents to think about stocking up food and other essential commodities.
“All the other people that we talked to, civil society, religious leaders, expressed the same anxiety and the same desire,” former Nigerian President and Olusegun Obasanjo, African Union special peace envoy told Journalist last Weekend.
Laymen in churches could be heard asking the clergy whether there would be service on polling day, which fell on a Sunday. In my church for example on the Sunday before election, an announcement came out from the pulpit clarifying that “there will be service next Sunday but only one service.”
But fewer than usual showed up, with many staying home. In the larger society, half of million registered voters failed to collect their voter cards and voter turnout was low, with 42% of eligible voters staying away from the polls.
To the surprise of many both locally and internationally, the polls passed off peacefully, bringing a big sigh of relief. So, the prayers by many religious leaders and their flock were not in vain.
Now with none of the candidates winning outright and incumbent President Wade and the man who came second, Macky Sall heading off for a runoff by March 18/25, 2012, more and stronger prayers are certainly needed.
The praying and fasting must be unceasing, as history has shown that election runoffs are fraught with greater tension and indeed dangers. Ivory Coast is the most recent dreadful example, God forbid. I’m sure my Senegalese brothers and sisters will shame the devil and repeat the peaceful and calm election they had on February 26.