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Senegal - Political Culture

Patron-clientelism became the backbone of the Senegalese political culture. Political parties attracted members mainly on the basis of patron-client relationships. Politicians were, according to Mamadou Diouf, “political brokers” or, in the words of Linda J. Beck, “patrimonial democrats” drawing supporters by proving they were effective and generous in the distribution of wealth. Some have termed patrimonialism the basis of the social contract in Senegal. Electoral politics, however, became more competitive in the 1990s, and the marabouts, whose numbers continued growing exponentially with each new generation, began to give competing ndigels, or they withdrew from electoral politics altogether to avoid alienating their followers.

Senegalese have a clear sense of national identity that exists alongside their various ethnic, religious, and regional identities. Senegalese are proud of their history of achievements, including the election of an ethno-religious minority as their first president. This national pride in the country’s history of political tolerance and inclusion has been reinforced by a political leadership that historically has emphasized inclusive rather than exclusive forms of ethno-politics. Nearly nine out of ten Senegalese believe democracy is the most preferable political system, and political elites broadly agree on the rules and institutions governing elections.

Senegal has never had a coup d’état and enjoys a high level of commitment to civilian rule among political elites and the officer corps of its Armed Forces. There are concerns about perceived impunity of the security forces. In the absence of a constitutional provision for legislative confirmation, the president nominates judges, promotes like-minded judges to senior positions, and posts troublesome judges to remote jurisdictions, resulting in judicial self-censorship that makes the judiciary an inadequate counterbalance to the power of the presidency. Corruption is perceived to be a problem, and access to justice is agreed to be too limited. The Macky Sall Administration appears to be determined to drive meaningful reforms to strengthen the judiciary and improve governance.

Competition and political accountability: Senegal’s electoral system is transparent and delivers credible results that are accepted by the political parties. It is not a perfect system but is accepted by the political elites.

With slightly more than 12,000 registered civil society organizations (CSOs), Senegal has a very dynamic civil society that played a significant role in the elections of 2012. CSOs tend to be personality-based “non-governmental individuals” energized by a single dynamic leader who becomes inextricably associated with the organization, and inadvertently retards its development as a self-sustaining institution. Funding is a challenge for civil society, and CSOs are often accused of implementing donor agendas.

Private newspapers were permitted to open in the mid-1980s. While Senegal’s high rate of illiteracy limits access to the press, portions of newspapers are read over the radio on a regular basis. Liberalization of Senegalese radio did not happen until the mid-1990s. Their growth has been explosive; there are now slightly more than 60 private and community radio stations around the country. Liberalization of television, however, remains slow-paced. The agency responsible for allocating broadcast frequencies, Autorité de Régulation des Télécommunications et des Poste (ARTP), has been criticized; telecommunications entrepreneurs who had hoped for sweeping deregulation had been disappointed by the ARTP’s approach of guided deregulation instead. Reform of the 1996 Media Code was critical for the ability of Senegal’s media to play the role required of independent media in a democracy.

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