The real Achilles heel of the African continent is its fragile political ecosystem. Most of the social tensions, revolts, and civil wars that occurred anywhere on the African continent were always related to political issues more than anything. The Liberian Civil War in the 1990s, the Rwanda genocide of 1994, The Biafra War in the 1970s, The Sudanese Civil Wars (which occurred between 1955-1972, 1983-2005, and 2023); the War in Somalia in the 1980s,1990s, and 2020s; the Angolan Civil War, the post-electoral crisis of 2010-2011 in Côte d’Ivoire…etc. are all prime examples of conflicts based on political reasons. The quest and lust for political power is what caused Africa’s socioeconomic backwardness and lack of stability. And today, Senegal, which is known to be one of the most stable countries in Africa, is now falling prey to the scourge of political conflict.
Indeed, days of violent clashes erupted last week between security forces and supporters of Ousmane Sonko, the 2024 presidential candidate and leader of the opposition PASTEF party, sentenced in absentia on Thursday to two years in prison for “corrupting the youth.” At least 16 people had reportedly been killed and hundreds of others injured, while police had arrested around 500 people across several cities. The unrest is the worst seen for decades in a country often held up as a beacon for democracy and stability in the region.
The criminal conviction of Ousmane Sonko, a populist opposition leader in Senegal has triggered widespread unrest that threatens the West African country’s long-established political stability. Sonko has staunchly maintained that the multiple criminal cases brought against him in recent years are politically motivated and part of an effort by President Macky Sall’s government to derail his 2024 candidacy. The conviction could bar him from running. He was first indicted on rape charges in March 2021 and faces separate defamation charges.
The underlying roots of the unrest are both political and socioeconomic according to analysts at African specialist intelligence company Pangea-Risk. Certainly, consumer price inflation has slowed since 2022, but hovers at around 9%, and with food prices up more than 11% year-over-year.
The real problem here is that Senegal is being infected with the political power syndrome. Indeed, the real conundrum in Africa is that Africans tend to place too much emphasis on political power. Africans tend to see political power as the ultimate instrument to organize society and the solution to improve the lives of people. This is unfortunately a myth. Nelson Mandela acquired political power, but the living conditions of Black South Africans did not improve. The same for Barack Obama in the United States. The living conditions of Black Americans did not suddenly improve because Barack Obama acquired political power. On the contrary, it more or less remained the same. The wealth gap continued to persist.
The reason why believing that political power is the way to improve society is because political power in itself focuses on restrictions and interdictions. It focuses on what people cannot do. Political power only benefits the persons who wield it because it has a punitive function. Political power does not create opportunities and does not add value to people’s lives. On the contrary, it focuses on depriving and of what they have and punishing people for how they behave.
If we take the Liberian Civil War, for example, which was nothing more than a struggle for political power, we clearly see that the livelihood of Liberians did not improve at all; it worsened. Samuel K. Doe was assassinated by the rebels of Prince Johnson and Charles Taylor for being a dictator. This assassination led to the Liberian Civil War. After Charles Taylor won the war and acquired political power, nothing changed for the better. Taylor came to power and imposed another dictatorship. The only people who benefit were those who wielded political power; the cabinet members of the Taylor government. The rest of the population was more impoverished than it already was.
What improves people’s lives is economic power. Indeed, economic power focuses on creating opportunities for people to improve their lives since economic power is permissible. It focuses on what people could do. Society as a whole improves when ordinary people are permitted to wield economic power, this means creating things that bring economic value.
The Senegalese people shall not get distracted by political matters. They shall remain focused on acquiring economic power and wield that economic power to continue the betterment of ordinary people. Until Africans finally understand that prioritizing political power is not the solution to reduce poverty, political instability, social conflicts, and wars will be their lots, and poverty will continue to thrive while those who wield political power enrich themselves at the expense of ordinary people.