Election Postponement in Senegal and Its Implications for Political Stability in the Subregion


The declaration by the Constitutional Council of Senegal, a country considered to be one of the stable democracies in Africa, that the postponement of the presidential election by President Macky Sall was illegal reflects how political processes have been impugned on the continent. According to reports, the president had issued a decree to postpone the election from holding on February 25, allegedly because of disputes surrounding eligibility of potential candidates and election-related corruption charges. For many stakeholders, this was connected to his ambition to hold on to power after serving two terms in office; which affirms the perception that African leaders have the penchant for perpetuating themselves and allies beyond constitutionally stipulated terms, for as long as they can hold on to power. While the president maintained that he would leave office at the expiration of the current term on April 2, this did not deter stakeholders such as political parties, opposition candidates and civil society actors to demand that the elections take place before the expiration of his term in office. The current context of the electoral season in Senegal was thus the focus of the March 14, 2024 edition of the Africanist Scholars’ Forum, where discussions centred around the intricacies of political transitions within the African continent.


We observed that the Senegalese President decreed the postponement of the election by revoking an earlier decree that convened the electoral body to organize the ballot on February 25, 2024. The opposition that this action generated invites a rethink of the legislative framework(s) for political transitions; especially with the need to put checks and balances on the empowerment of the executive arm of government as the major determinant of actors and procedures of the electoral process. While some analysts have critiqued the lack of independent electoral commissions within the culture of political transitions in Francophone Africa, there is also the counter argument that the conduct of electoral bodies during elections in countries that claim to grant them independence has not been devoid of the influence of members of the executive arm of government. There is, therefore, a lingering challenge of the lack of effective checks and balances regarding the conflict of interests of elected officials, which hamper the conduct of free and fair elections across West Africa, and on the continent as a whole.

We also note that there is a growing disillusionment with the practice of democracy in Africa, especially West Africa. Prior to President Sall’s postponement of Senegal’s elections, three West African countries, namely: Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso recently exited the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) following sanctions from the regional body due to successful military coups d’etats in these countries. The political climate in Africa, which is the continent with the youngest population recording a median age of about19.0 years, is yet to reflect the capacity of being endowed with highly competent human resources. In another light, the critical role of Senegal in supporting the growing influence of Russia within the subregion, having been referenced as an ‘important and reliable partner’ by President Putin, implies that the outcome of the presidential election has quite some significance for the immediate future of West Africa, especially considering the efforts at installing a multilateral global order.

During the buildup to the elections, the national pulse of Senegal revealed the potency of citizen activism, as led by members of the opposition parties alongside civil society actors, including prominent groups like the Aar Sunu Election (Protect Our Election) Collective comprising about 40 Civil Society Organizations (CSOs). Their efforts ensured that the President would not have reason to extend the duration of his government beyond the mandate of two terms, after he has led the country for a period of twelve years. These efforts included the refusal to negotiate a new date for the polls and insistence that the election holds before April 2, which is the expiration date of the president’s second tenure. Some members of the opposition and lawmakers subsequently filed cases on the violation of the constitution by a parliamentary bill that sought to extend the president’s tenure. The Constitutional Council was also very central in realising this objective with its ruling to void the decree and decision of the National Assembly, which enabled the postponement of the election until December 15, 2024; as they contravened the provisions of the constitution. It thus requested that a new date be set for the elections as soon as possible. This eventually led to rescheduling the election for March 24, which took place after the dissolution of government, appointment of a new Prime Minister, Mr Sidiki Kaba, and release of political prisoners.

In the build up to Senegal’s elections, there have been continuous calls for institutional reforms; as there is the need to decentralize power structures that superimpose the president on other arms of government. There have also been calls for wealth redistribution to ensure economic equality and fairness within the next dispensation. The possibility of reforms, however, will be dependent on the electoral process and its outcome, as the expectation that the country will able to restore its democratic stability through a free and fair process lingers.


There can be no justification for triggering civil unrests owing to the lack of political will to ensure free and fair elections, especially as this ultimately results in the distrust of the government by the electorate. It is thus important to re-evaluate the legal frameworks that afford impunity and self-perpetuation for potential despots within democratic polities.

The terms of engagement by security agents during peaceful protests ought to be clearly outlined, and this should entail the minimal use of force in order to prevent casualties (especially fatalities) resulting from the use of brute force on protesters. The record of four fatalities across Dakar, Saint-Louis and Ziguinchor would have been prevented with the right strategies of operations by state agents. This also implies that the engagement of counterterrorism units for internal security measures during protests is inappropriate due to the precarity it portends in the disproportionate use of force.

The Senegalese pre-election context also presents an example of the shrinking civic space within the West African Corridor. Governments in the region often display intolerance against dissent by weaponizing the law to incarcerate opposition leaders, and deploy state agents to disrupt peaceful protests. It is thus important that the tenets and values of freedom of speech and association, as core ingredients for democratic practices, are cultured within the subregion. The start-point would be to initiate processes of accountability that ensure acts of impunity, under the guise of state officialdom, are duly investigated with punitive consequences.

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