Wade Ends Socialist Dominance in Senegal Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In 1960, Senegal gained its independence from France. For its first forty years as an independent country, Senegal was ruled by the Socialist Party, which encouraged the development of a market economy with a limited degree of state involvement to ensure social equality in both urban and rural areas. Abdoulaye Wade’s defeat of the incumbent Senegalese president Abdou Diouf represented not an abrupt break with earlier economic policies but rather support for greater economic development.

Summary of Event

Unlike many African countries that received independence in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, Senegal never experienced a successful coup d’état or a military dictatorship. Senegal, government Political parties;Senegal [kw]Wade Ends Socialist Dominance in Senegal (Mar. 19, 2000) [kw]Socialist Dominance in Senegal, Wade Ends (Mar. 19, 2000) [kw]Senegal, Wade Ends Socialist Dominance in (Mar. 19, 2000) Senegal, government Political parties;Senegal [g]Africa;Mar. 19, 2000: Wade Ends Socialist Dominance in Senegal[10650] [g]Senegal;Mar. 19, 2000: Wade Ends Socialist Dominance in Senegal[10650] [c]Government and politics;Mar. 19, 2000: Wade Ends Socialist Dominance in Senegal[10650] Wade, Abdoulaye Diouf, Abdou Senghor, Léopold

Senegal’s first democratic leader was the extraordinary poet-president Léopold Senghor, who not only governed Senegal fairly for the first twenty years of its independence but also was the most important French-language poet of the twentieth century. He persuaded majority Muslims and minority Catholics to respect one another; he also encouraged Wolofs, who constitute Senegal’s major ethnic group, to live in harmony with ethnic minorities such as Serers and Pulars.

Senghor made it clear to all Senegalese that although his political party was called the Socialist Party, his policies were incompatible with the common socialist idea that government should play a central role in economic planning and development, and he explained that his understanding of “African Socialism” meant that social development should help both urban and rural areas of Senegal. As a devout Catholic, Senghor completely rejected the idea that Socialism must be accompanied by atheism. Senegalese Muslims, who constituted 95 percent of the population, completely agreed with Senghor’s conviction that traditional religious beliefs and full respect for different religions should determine public policy. In the 1970’s, Senghor mentored not only the Socialist Abdou Diouf but also Abdoulaye Wade, who was the leader of the main opposition party, the Bloc Démocratique Sénégalais (Senegalese Democratic Bloc). Senghor understood that the needs of Senegal were more important than success for his Socialist Party.

Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

On December 31, 1980, President Senghor surprised his fellow citizens by announcing his retirement from politics. The next day, his prime minister, Abdou Diouf, succeeded him as the president of Senegal. Senghor was the first modern African leader to yield executive power voluntarily to another. His decision served as a model for the peaceful transfer of political power for future Senegalese political leaders.

Senegalese citizens soon came to the realization that their new president and his main political opponent had much in common. Both Diouf and Wade had studied law and economics at prestigious French universities, and both were firmly committed to economic policies that preserved the just and tolerant democracy created by the greatly admired Senghor, to whom all later Senegalese presidents would inevitably be compared. Senghor set a high standard of political integrity and complete commitment to preserving the dignity and freedom of all Senegalese people. Between 1978 and 1993, Wade ran unsuccessfully four times for the presidency of Senegal. The first time he lost to Senghor, and the next three times he lost to Diouf. Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, Diouf and Wade were respectful rivals who worked together to expand the central role of Senegal in three important international organizations originally created by Senghor: the African Union, the West African Economic and Monetary Union, and the International Organization of the Francophonie (a cultural organization of French-speaking countries).

By the middle of the 1990’s, Senegal had begun to experience fairly severe economic problems that were endangering efforts begun under Senghor to lift rural Senegalese out of poverty. Wade had been arguing for years that his experience as a specialist in both international law and economic development programs supported by the United Nations and the European Union made him a more effective leader who could improve the quality of life in Senegal. By contrast, Diouf, after more than nineteen years in office, found it difficult to persuade Senegalese voters that he could propose new policies. Although the Senegalese admired their second president as an honest man who, like Senghor, had not enriched himself while in public service, many voters felt that Diouf should follow Senghor’s model and not remain in power for too long. Diouf, however, thought that he could win the 2000 presidential election.

Senegalese presidential elections are based on the French model. In both countries, many candidates may run in the first round of presidential elections. If no candidate obtains a majority of at least 50.1 percent of all votes cast in the first round, the top two candidates compete in the second round. Like Senghor, Wade courted support from influential Muslim leaders called Marabouts and from the Mouride Muslim Brotherhood. Wade presented himself as the true heir to Senghor, who was then dying from Alzheimer’s disease. Senegalese voters came to view Wade as a unifier who might re-create the glorious days of Senghor’s presidency while at the same time improving the quality of life for all Senegalese.

Before the first round of elections held on February 27, 2000, Wade and a serious third candidate, Moustapha Niasse, reached an agreement: Whoever placed third in the first round would encourage his supporters to vote for the other candidate in the second round. As most commentators expected, Diouf came in first in the first round with 41.30 percent, but Wade placed solidly second with 31.01 percent. Wade committed himself to name Niasse as his prime minister should Wade win the second round, scheduled for March 19, 2000.

That is, in fact, what happened. Wade easily defeated President Diouf when 58.49 percent of the voters chose Wade as the third president of independent Senegal. Just as Senghor was the first modern African leader to willingly cede power to another, Diouf became the first modern African leader to accept defeat at the polls. On April 1, 2000, he attended the inauguration of his successor, Abdoulaye Wade, and then, like his mentor Senghor, withdrew from politics and moved to France. Both Senghor and Diouf understood that their very presence in Senegal might limit their successor’s ability to govern freely.


Although Wade clearly won the Senegalese presidential election in 2000, there was serious doubt about what would happen next. Since African countries began obtaining independence in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, no head of state had accepted defeat in a national election. Diouf clearly did not want to be hated by the Senegalese, whom he had served loyally for almost twenty years. He understood that a democratic head of state had to accept the will of the voters. When he lost the presidential election in 2000, Diouf did not contest the results, and he showed other African leaders that the peaceful transfer of power from one political party to another should be the rule and not the exception. Wade even suggested that Diouf should have received the Nobel Peace Prize for his acceptance of defeat in order to maintain peace in Senegal.

Diouf’s firm commitment to democratic values served as a model for other African leaders. Just two years after Diouf’s acceptance of his defeat in 2000, the Kenyan National African Union—which had governed Kenya without interruption since 1964, first under the rule of Jomo Kenyatta from 1964 until his death in 1978 and then under the rule of his successor, Daniel arap Moi, from 1978 until his retirement in 2002—had to face a similar decision. Although the Kenyan African National Union nominated a strong candidate in Uhuru Kenyatta, son of the beloved Jomo Kenyatta, Emilio Mwai Kibaki, who was the candidate of the National Rainbow Coalition, easily defeated Uhuru Kenyatta, who accepted his defeat at the polls. Kenya remained a democracy. Similar peaceful transfers of presidential power also occurred in Zambia, Mali, and Madagascar during the first decade of the twentieth century. This growth of democracy and peaceful transferral of power in Africa owed much to the respect for the popular will shown by Abdou Diouf in 2000. Senegal, government Political parties;Senegal

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bratton, Michael, Robert Mattes, and E. Guymal-Boadi. Public Opinion, Democracy, and Market Reform in Africa. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Describes the links between evolving democratic freedom and implementation of true market economies in Senegal and other African countries.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Edie, Carlene J. Politics in Africa: A New Beginning. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth Thomson, 2003. Explains the central roles of Senegal and South Africa in persuading many African countries to reject dictatorship and to embrace democracy.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hernendez-Cata, Ernesto. The West African Economic and Monetary Union. Washington, D.C.: International Monetary Union, 1999. Describes Senegal’s role in encouraging economic stability and political freedom in many French-speaking West African countries.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Robinson, David. Muslim Societies in African History. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Explains how Muslim brotherhoods and Muslim religious leaders helped create and preserve a stable and tolerant democracy in Senegal.

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Categories: History