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With 190 Presidential Candidates, Senegalese Democracy Is Vibrant — And Messy

Nearly 200 people are running to be the president of Senegal in the 2024 elections. What does this say about the state of Senegalese democracy? Financial Afrik takes a closer look.

Photo of Senegalese singer and presidential candidate Queen Biz, taken from her Instagram account

Senegalese singer and presidential candidate Queen Biz

Adama Wade

DAKAR — Senegal faces an exceptional influx of candidates vying for the presidential office in the February 2024 elections.

With 190 people having obtained the necessary endorsements from the Directorate General of Elections, Senegalese citizens will have an abundance of choices.

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From former prime ministers to activists, trade unionists, social media influencers, and even figures like Anta Babacar Ngom from the Sedima Group, Senegal's "king of chicken," as well as singer Queen Biz — the political landscape of Senegal appears saturated with contenders. Each carries with them hopes, ambitions, pretensions, frustrations, and, it must be said, the advanced symptoms of the political landscape’s impoverishment.

This phenomenon raises questions: is it a remarkable demonstration of democracy, or is it a reflection of a fragmented political system with 336 parties burdened by personal ambitions and, consequently, little effectiveness?

Popular democracy

Some don’t bat an eyelid at this situation, believing instead that this fervor could symbolize an inclusive democracy where every citizen has the right to aspire to a national role, provided they meet the stipulated conditions. Thus, the pluralism of candidacies, although a logistical and administrative nightmare, can be interpreted as a reflection of the democratic vitality of Senegal, where freedom of speech prevails, and political competition is open.

Nonetheless, this leads to a profound reflection on the nature of the democratic system. Should it act as a separator that filters, selects and installs the best at the top? Or is it meant to be the domain of only the wealthy, celebrities, and government officials?

A strong democracy is one that listens to all voices but also channels the debates towards a common vision.

In any case, the country's traditional elitist democracy, long reserved for highly educated individuals, political veterans and insiders of the political arena, is being challenged. This long-standing political elite is being disrupted by a wave of diverse aspirants.

A popular democracy is emerging, a stage where many have the ability to apply. Should we rejoice in this? Or does the multiplicity of contenders risk diluting the relevance of political discourse? Can political projects distinguish themselves? Do they have enough airtime in this tumultuous sea of opinions and ambitions? In such a context, there is a danger that the clarity of the democratic debate may be muddled, and voters may become lost in a labyrinth of promises and visions.

Photo of \u200bFrance's President Emmanuel Macron (L) welcoming his Senegalese counterpart Macky Sall (R) at the Elysee presidential palace before their bilateral meeting, in Paris on June 10, 2022.

Senegal's current President Macky Sall (seen here with French counterpart Emmanuel Macron) will not seek reelection in 2024

Ludovic MARIN / AFP

Senegalese democracy at a crossroads

In short, Senegalese democracy stands at a crossroads. Championing this array of candidates for the highest office could be seen as a celebration of the ultimate expression of participatory democracy.

It's about seeing in each candidacy the expression of diversity and the richness of opinions and visions for Senegal. On the other hand, complaining about it might signify a fear of diluting the very essence of democracy, where the clarity of choices is overshadowed by the multitude of voices.

Perhaps it's about finding a balance between elitism and populism, exclusivity and inclusion, in order to preserve the coherence and clarity of the democratic debate. A strong democracy is one that listens to all voices but also channels the debates towards the construction of a common vision.

Moreover, this profusion of candidates may be an opportunity to reconsider African democratic models, with the goal of achieving a system where every voice matters and where the democratic debate remains clear, coherent and constructive.

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