Category Archives: Senegal

Constitutional reforms underway in West Africa

A number of countries in West Africa are undergoing a constitutional reform process, in pursuit of stronger, democratic institutions: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire and Mali. Senegal held a constitutional referendum earlier this year. In stark contrast to recent constitutional changes and ongoing debates in the Central Africa region – Congo Brazzaville, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo – where focus has been on extending presidential terms, the declared intent of some of these reforms is to build bulwarks against presidential overreach and overstay.

The constitutional changes in Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire and Mali follow the violent overturn of democratic processes in all three countries, albeit under very different circumstances. In Benin and Senegal, constitutional reform was a promise of the presidential campaigns of Patrick Talon and Macky Sall, respectively.

Constitutional review commissions in Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire are preparing completely new constitutions. A principal concern in Burkina Faso is to find ways to “lock in” presidential term limits and to better balance strong presidential powers. It was former President Blaise Compaoré’s attempt at removing presidential term limits that led to his overthrow in October 2014 in a popular uprising. A 92-member commission representing the ruling party, opposition parties (including the CDP of Compaoré) and civil society (including labor unions and traditional authorities) was seated in early June. Its members have two months to present a new draft constitution. The draft will undergo popular consultations, go to the president for comment and be finalized by the commission before submission to a popular referendum. Opposition parties have demanded, however, that the decisions of the constitutional commission be reached by consensus, threatening to walk out on the process otherwise.

In Cote d’Ivoire,  President Ouattara appointed a commission of 10 experts at the end of May, giving them a month to make proposals for a new constitution. During the month of June, Ouattara himself undertook consultations with opposition parties, civil society, traditional leaders and others to receive their suggestions before scheduling a referendum to take place before the end of the year. Key expected changes include the introduction of a vice-presidency and the rewording of article 35 which requires a presidential candidate to be born of both parents of Ivorian origin. The constitutional review process is controversial, however. Opposition parties criticize it for being insufficiently participatory, rushed and ill-timed, as the country has yet to fully heal and reconcile after the 2010 election-related violence.

In Mali, a 13-member expert commission is charged with proposing revisions to the 1992 constitution to incorporate provisions of the 2015 Algiers peace accord signed between the government of Mali and former rebel groups. The constitutional commission will have six months to complete its job. The 1992 constitution is the consensual product of the 1992 National Conference and is vested with significant popular legitimacy. It is unlikely to be completely scrapped and replaced.

The constitutional revision that passed by referendum in Senegal in March of this year shortened presidential terms from seven to five years, and added wording to clarify that “no one can serve more than two consecutive terms” (Art. 27). Other articles were amended to provide for greater oversight by the National Assembly and Constitutional Court, although changes affecting presidential powers are overall fairly minor.

In an even more radical move, newly elected President Patrice Talon of Benin has suggested that presidential terms be limited to one single term. A 35-member commission with representation from political parties and civil society was charged with proposing a series of political and institutional reforms. The commission submitted its report on June 28. The report includes two constitutional scenarios – one where the current two five-year terms are maintained, the other where they are replaced by one single six- or seven year term. The commission was divided on the issue, as some members were concerned a single term would not provide sufficient incentives for accountability.

The process and focus of these various constitutional reforms vary and reflect different priorities and political realities in each country. Overall, however, the combined picture is one of democratic dynamism that contrasts sharply with the institutional atrophy witnessed in other regions of the continent.

Senegal’s controversial constitutional referendum – how much of a change?

On March 20th Senegal held a referendum on constitutional amendments introduced by President Macky Sall. The yes- and the no-campaigns competed vigorously in the weeks leading up to the vote and ultimately the yes-campaign backed by President Sall won with 62.7 percent of votes. Voter turn-out was 38.3 percent. The referendum was widely seen as a test of President Sall’s popularity. Proponents of the no-campaign included the youth group Y’en a marre and even members of Sall’s own coalition such as the mayor of Dakar Khalifa Sall.

Key among the newly passed amendments is the one reducing the duration of presidential terms from 7 to 5 years (art. 27). This was a campaign promise by President Sall when he ran and was elected in 2012 – and paradoxically the most controversial element of the referendum. The change will only apply to the next mandate, meaning that Macky Sall will serve out his current 7-year term. Opponents say this is going back on his campaign promise of shortening his present mandate – calling it Wakh Wakhet (going back on his word). Also, critics are suspicious that Sall may use the constitutional change to restart the presidential term-counter at 0 and claim he can run for two more terms, as did former President Abdoulaye Wade before him. Macky Sall and his supporters point to an opinion by the Constitutional Court that the duration of the presidential mandate could not be changed mid-stream. They also underscore the wording of the new art. 27 which states that “no one can serve more than two consecutive terms.”

In total, 20 articles of the 2001 constitution were replaced or had sub-articles added.  Overall, the changes affecting presidential powers are fairly minor.

Amendments in addition to shortening the presidential term include:

  • Allowing independent candidates to run in elections at national and local levels (new art. 4).
  • Setting an upper age limit for presidential candidates at 75 years (new art. 28).
  • Institutionalizing the position of Leader of the Opposition with specific rights and responsibilities to be determined by law (new art. 58). This is a position that exists in a number of Francophone African countries, including Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Guinea.
  • Giving the Senegalese diaspora the right to elect their representatives in the National Assembly (new art. 59).
  • Increasing the membership of the Constitutional Council from 5 to 7 judges, of which 2 now have to be proposed by the National Assembly (new art. 89); and requiring the validation by the Constitutional Council of organic laws (new art. 78).
  • Instituting the practice of regular questioning of the Prime Minister and cabinet by the National Assembly (new art. 85), and the right of parliamentary committees to hold hearings with leaders of public entities and parastatal companies (new art. 81).
  • Locking in the duration and number of presidential mandates, as well as the mode of election of the president which cannot be changed through constitutional revisions (new art. 103).
  • Providing for transparency in the management of natural resources that must be exploited in a sustainable manner and for the benefit of the people (new art. 25-1); and requiring the government to protect the environment (new art.25-2).

President Sall chose a more modest revision than the complete overhaul of the constitution proposed by the National Commission for Institutional Reform (CNRI) in 2014. Among the innovations proposed by the CNRI which Sall did not include among his amendments were the following [see previous post here for further details]:

  • Requiring that the president step down as chair of his/her party.
  • Prohibiting a direct family member of an incumbent president to succeed him/her.
  • Requiring that the president appoint a prime minister from a list of three candidates submitted by the parliamentary majority, if the presidential and parliamentary majorities differ [that is, in case of cohabitation], in which case executive power would largely shift to the prime minister.
  • Reducing the legislative majority required to override a presidential veto from three fifths of the members of parliament to a simple majority.
  • Limiting the president’s power to dissolve parliament.
  • Capping the size of the cabinet at 25 ministers.

Though the newly passed amendments do provide for greater oversight by the National Assembly and Constitutional Council, they do not check presidential powers nearly to the extent envisioned by the CNRI. The CNRI had its origins in the Assises nationales, a one-year long consultative process conducted by parties and civil society organizations in opposition to then President Abdoulaye Wade. When Sall ran and won against Wade in 2012, he was backed by a large opposition coalition with roots in the Assises.

Scott Straus – Making and Unmaking Nations

This is a guest post by Scott Straus, Professor of Political Science and International Studies, University of Wisconsin, Madison

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In Making and Unmaking Nations, I set out to understand why genocide occurred in some places but not in others. The answer is complex, of course. But a good part of the story, I found, has to do with long-running political ideologies, which stem from decisions that presidents had made previously. To understand then why genocide happens, or does not happen, leadership matters. I further argue that some of Africa’s first generation of presidents, which today do not often receive credit, had a long-term positive impact on the political trajectories of their countries.

Some background on the project: for the past 18 years, the focus of my research has been genocide. My first book focused on the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. From there, I sought to develop a general theory by employing comparative methods. As I worked on that subject, I developed two main critiques of the existing literature. The first is that scholars typically compared genocide cases to genocide cases. A common comparison included the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, and Bosnia, for example. The second is that scholars compared cases that were quite different—in terms of world region, historical time period, and the countries themselves.

My research thus privileged two comparative principles. First, genocide cases should be compared to non-genocide cases, in particular ones that possessed many of the drivers that scholars believe cause genocide. The operative question became: what was commonly different among the non-genocide cases compared to the genocide cases? Second, the comparative frame should aim for greater structural similarity among the cases. All told, I decided to focus on post-Cold War Sub-Saharan Africa. For the non-genocide cases, I examined Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, and Senegal. For the genocide cases, I examined Rwanda and Darfur.

The non-genocide cases all experienced a civil war that could be construed as being fought along identity lines. In Côte d’Ivoire, for example, there was a civil war that began in 2002 in which the rebels were based in the north and were primarily Muslim. They fought against a Christian, southern-led government, and the rebels fought in the name of ending discrimination against Muslim northerners. In Mali, in the early 1990s, Tuareg and Arab rebels fought the government in the south, also in the name of their communities. In addition to war, the countries experienced political transition. In Côte d’Ivoire, there was a succession fight, failed elections, and a coup. In Mali, the country was transitioning from an authoritarian system to a multi-party one. Moreover, in each country there was low-level, unpunished violence against civilians committed by state forces and in some countries there were pro-government militias, even hate media. On balance, these factors represented much of the consensus in the genocide studies literature about the causes of the phenomenon.

So what was different about the non-genocide cases? Part of the answer lies with the dynamics of the armed conflict, in particular the level of threat that the rebellions posed to the central governments. In Côte d’Ivoire, an international intervention halted the rebel advance and separated the two sides. In Mali, the rebels were confined to the north. In Senegal, the rebels were restricted to the far south. In contrast, in Rwanda the rebels ultimately overpowered government forces. Darfur is more complicated. There the rebels were limited to the west but they were able to score some significant military success and threaten local, government-allied actors.

But alongside questions of threat, I also discovered an element that surprised me. In particular, in the non-genocide cases, when I conducted interviews with leading military and political actors, as well as intellectuals in the country, they consistently said something along the lines of, “We do not define this fight as a war between one identity group and another identity group.” In effect, they argued that the nation was multi-ethnic or plural. In some cases, they also claimed that dialogue, rather than war, was a founding principle of politics in their country.

That raised the question of why? Why in places like Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, and Senegal did at least some elites not define the armed conflict in identity terms? Obviously not everyone held such views. In these countries, there clearly were elites who framed the fight as a war between ethnic groups or religious groups. But a significant current did not.

The answer that I develop in the book concerns “founding narratives,” or public stories that define who constitutes the primary political community of the country, who should hold power, and what values, if any, define the national political community. They are “founding” in the sense that they define first principles of the nation and were developed at critical junctures when regimes changed. That included when countries became independent or when regimes transitioned from one type to another, say as they transitioned from authoritarian states to democratic ones.

At these critical junctures, presidents faced and made choices about how to define their nations. In some cases, they explicitly fashioned and promoted a plural or multi-ethnic vision. They said, in effect, “we are a country of many groups,” and they in turn developed policies that allotted institutional or development power across the country. To be sure, there was favoritism, but the vision was of a multi-ethnic nation. In contrast, in other countries, the claim was that the state belonged to a primary identity group, which was said to have political primacy over another identity group that shared the same territory.

To explore this proposition, I developed a database of presidential speeches for the five main countries in the study. For each year, prior to the onset of a military crisis, I selected the same two national holidays when presidents typically delivered addresses to the nation. I in turn sought to track what kinds of themes were developed, and then to see whether those themes reappeared when the military crisis unfolded.

The finding in brief is that presidents in Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, and Senegal consistently developed themes of pluralism, unity, tolerance, and dialogue as fundamental to their nations while in Rwanda and Sudan presidents promoted the idea that the state represented the interests of Hutu and Arab Muslims, respectively. In war, these ideological visions in turn shaped the strategies and tactics that military and political leaders crafted in response to threat. Where the nation was imagined as plural, the idea of fighting a final war against another ethnic or religious group was not in the repertoire of action. By contrast, if elites saw a threat emanating from a group that did not deserve power against a group that did, the idea of a war of destruction against the former group became imaginable.

The story is more complicated than that. One has to ask whether and how these founding narratives took root in a country. One has to ask whether there were counter-narratives and also whether other factors shaped escalation or de-escalation. But in the end I attribute significant impact to ideological visions and to the presidents who developed and promoted them. In Africa, the likes of Félix Houphouët-Boigny, Léopold Senghor, and Alpha Oumar Konaré displayed real leadership. They were not saints, but their visions for the nation created bulwarks against genocide and similar forms of mass violence against civilians.

Scott Straus is Professor of Political Science and International Studies at UW-Madison. Scott specializes in the study of genocide, political violence, human rights, and African politics. His most recent book publication is Making and Unmaking Nations: War, Leadership, and Genocide in Modern Africa (Cornell University Press, 2015). His introductory book on genocide, Fundamentals of Atrocity Prevention, is scheduled for publication in late 2015 by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He has also published several books on Rwanda, including The Order of Genocide: Race, Power, and War in Rwanda (Cornell University Press, 2006); Remaking Rwanda: State Building and Human Rights after Mass Violence (University of Wisconsin Press, 2011); and Intimate Enemy (Zone Books, 2006). Scott also co-authored (with David Leonard) Africa’s Stalled Development (Lynne Rienner, 2003), translated The Great Lakes of Africa (Zone Books, 2003) and co-edited (with Steve Stern) The Human Rights Paradox (University of Wisconsin Press, 2014). He has also published in the American Journal of Political Science, Perspectives on Politics, Foreign Affairs, World Politics, Politics & Society, Journal of Genocide Research, African Affairs, Terrorism and Political Violence, Genocide Studies and Prevention, and the Canadian Journal of African Studies. Scott has received fellowships from the Andrew Mellon Foundation, the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, and the United States Institute of Peace. In 2009, he was awarded the campus-wide William H. Kiekhofer Distinguished Teaching Award and in 2015 a Distinguished Honors Faculty award. In 2011, he was named a Winnick Fellow at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. He co-edits the book series Critical Human Rights with Steve Stern. Before starting in academia, Scott was a freelance journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya.

 

Senegal – What do the local election results mean for President Macky Sall and the ruling coalition?

President Macky Sall went into the June 29, 2014 local polls determined to make a score for his alliance Bennoo Bokk Yaakaar (BBY – “together for the same hope,” in Wolof) in general, and for his party, the Alliance for the Republic (APR), in particular – even if it meant going against other candidates from BBY in localities where the alliance could not agree on a list. Preliminary results indicate that while BBY may have won a majority of the electoral districts (70% or more), it lost most of the big cities to the opposition or to dissidents within the ruling coalition.

Up for grabs were 2,700 councilors seats, to be filled through a mixed majoritarian-proportional electoral system. Newly elected councilors will in turn elect mayors and heads of provinces. Final, consolidated results are not yet available, but results published at the departmental level indicate that BBY has lost in Dakar and several cities, including Thiès, Touba, M’Bour, Dagana and Ziguinchor. In Saint Louis, Mansour Faye, a brother-in-law of President Sall, managed to win with 800 hundred votes ahead of Ahmet Fall Braya of the Democratic Party of Senegal (PDS) of former President Wade. Voter turn-out appears to have been low, below 40%, similar to the 37% voter turn-out for the legislative elections in 2012 (International IDEA).

In Dakar, the chief electoral prize due to its large body of voters, BBY lost big to incumbent mayor Khalifa Sall. Khalifa Sall ran with his own coalition after failing to get the backing of BBY, though he belongs to the Socialist Party (PS), a member of the BBY coalition that supported Macky Sall in the presidential run-off in 2012. The PS is the party of former President Abdou Diouf and of founding father Léopold Sédar Senghor, in power from 1960 to 2000.

Prime Minister Aminata Touré (APR) was the biggest loser in Dakar – where she stood against Khalifa Sall in the commune of Grand Yoff, one of the 19 communes that form the district of Dakar. Khalifa Sall won in 15 of those communes, including Grand Yoff. The PM was swiftly dismissed from her position on July 4th after serving 10 months in office. President Sall appointed Mohamed Dionne to replace her on July 6th, the third prime minister in less than three years. Dionne is a close aid of Macky Sall, and a former employee of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

What do the local election results mean for Macky Sall and BBY? The BBY coalition appears to have been weakened by the polls due to the lack of internal consensus on party lists in key constituencies. Analysts point out that when former President Wade lost the major cities in the 2009 local elections, it was a harbinger of things to come in the 2012 presidential race. With Khalifa Sall as a potentially significant adversary in the 2017 presidential poll, Macky Sall may decide that the APR and PS are no longer “together for the same hope.”

Senegal – Local elections: a test for President Macky Sall

Senegal’s 5.3 million voters went to the polls on Sunday, June 29th, to elect their representatives at the local and departmental levels, in a vote largely seen as a confidence vote in the government of President Macky Sall. Overall, the elections were peaceful without major organizational issues, despite a record number of party lists. Voters were presented with a choice among 2,700 party lists or independents, up from 1,600 in the last local elections held in 2009, for 602 local offices. Initial results from the polls that closed at 18h00, Dakar time on Sunday are already trickling in, and complete results are expected by the end of the week. The Senegalese Radio Television Station RTS is streaming results by polling station as they become available: http://www.rts.sn/.

The high number of party lists in competition for Sunday’s poll is a result of the fragmentation of the alliance Bennoo Bokk Yaakaar (BBY) that brought President Sall to power in March 2012. In a number of cities even the president’s own party, the Alliance for the Republic (APR), presented competing lists. The APR is a relatively newly created party, in existence only since 2008. It is accused by its coalition partners of having an exaggerate appetite for power. In 2009, the APR only won control of a few local governments, a situation it was clearly intent on changing.

Dakar was a key battleground for these elections. The mayorship of the capital of Senegal is generally seen as a natural launching pad for a bid for the presidency. Facing off were the incumbent mayor Khalifa Sall of the Socialist Party (PS) – a member of the BBY alliance – and current Prime Minister Aminata Touré (APR), among others. They both stood for election in Grand Yoff, one of the 19 communes that form the district of Dakar. Following decentralization reform in 2013, mayors are now indirectly elected by the councilors of the communes that make up the district, a process that increases the challenges of securing reelection for the incumbent.

According to preliminary results, it would appear that Khalifa Sall won the vote in Grand Yoff. In the lead-up to the polls, Sall created a new coalition, Taxawu Ndakaru, with the participation of civil society and even opposition parties, in an effort at securing reelection. With the 2013 decentralization reform, the mayor of Dakar has lost some control over the resources of the individual communes that form the capital district, but the position remains highly coveted given the visibility it provides and the size of the electorate in Dakar.

Other hotly contested cities include St. Louis and Fatick. In St. Louis, Mansour Faye, a brother-in-law of President Sall, seeks to wrestle the mayorship from incumbent Cheick Bambia Dièye – although Dièye (like Khalifa Sall) is a member of the BBY alliance that supported Macky Sall in the presidential run-off in 2012.

Senegal – Towards a new constitution?

The National Commission for Institutional Reform (Commission Nationale pour la Réforme des Institutions – CNRI) submitted its report to President Macky Sall on February 13, 2014. Unexpectedly, the commission headed by former Unesco director general, former minister of culture and university professor Amadou Mahtar Mbow, presented a complete new draft constitution to go with the report. The 154-article long CNRI draft constitution received mixed reactions and less than a warm welcome from President Sall’s party, the APR, which claims the CNRI overstepped its mandate. The APR notably opposes the constitutional provision that would inhibit the president from retaining the chairmanship of his party.

Other constitutional changes contained in the CNRI draft constitution (which maintains a semi-presidential system) include:

  • Reduction in the duration of the presidential mandate from seven to five years; a two-term limit is maintained.
  • An age limit of 70 years for presidential candidates [there was no upper age limit before – and former President Wade was well past 70 when he ran for his last mandate].
  • The interdiction of any direct family members of an incumbent president to succeed him/her [a direct stab at Wade and his son Karim].
  • If the presidential and parliamentary majorities differ, the president must appoint a prime minister from a list of three candidates submitted by the parliamentary majority; and the power to determine national policy and to initiate legislation shifts to the prime minister – an interesting innovation aimed at governing situations of cohabitation.
  • Reduction in the legislative majority required to override a presidential veto from three fifths of the members of parliament to a simple majority.
  • Limitations to the president’s power to dissolve parliament.
  • A cap on the size of the cabinet at 25 ministers, and
  • A three term-limit for deputies.

The CNRI was mandated by President Sall to make recommendations aimed at improving institutional functioning, consolidating democracy, deepening the rule of law and modernizing Senegal’s political regime. The CNRI has its origins in the Assises nationales, a one-year long consultative process, from May 2008 to June 2009, conducted by parties and civil society organizations in opposition to then President Abdoulaye Wade, and headed by none other than Prof. Mbow. President Wade’s party refused to participate in the consultations that went ahead nevertheless and produced a somber evaluation of the socio-political-cultural development of Senegal and a Charter for Democratic Governance (Charte de gouvernance démocratique) that outlines the signatories’ vision and aspirations.

Many of the specific constitutional changes included in the CNRI draft constitution are outlined as aspirations for a truly democratic constitution in the Charter produced by the Assises nationales.  As one of the original signatories of the Charter, Macky Sall should perhaps not have been surprised by Prof. Mbow’s bold initiative.

President Sall – who was backed by a large opposition coalition with roots in the Assises nationales – has remained remarkably silent on the proposed draft constitution.