We Need to Vote More Like Senegal

There are so many things that I miss about Senegal. I miss waking up every morning to the sounds of goats, I miss being called by my Senegalese name, Ayisha,  I miss my adopted family, but more than anything, and perhaps most surprisingly, I miss the political attitude of Senegal as a country.

Senegal is a small country in West Africa, neighboring Mali and Gambia. They gained their independence from France, peacefully, on April 4, 1960. Since then, Senegal has remained one of the most successful, West- African countries. They function as a democracy, not unlike ours and, like us, some of their most important accomplishments have been spearheaded by their youth.

Prior to Senegal’s February 2012 presidential election, Abdoulaye Wade announced his plan to run for a constitutionally questionable third term. This did not sit well with many Senegalese people who believed that instating a third term for Wade would bring them closer to the kind of authoritarian rule that the current Senegalese constitution prohibits. Wade’s candidacy led to protests, organized and attended primarily by youth.    

Several of these protests led to deadly encounters between protesters and police.

 After losing the election to the opposition candidate Macky Sall, Wade quickly accepted defeat, and Senegal had yet another peaceful transfer of power.

When pictures of political protests taking place in developing countries like Senegal appear in the news, it is easy to jump to conclusions and form opinions. But in the case of Senegal, their protests are much fewer and further between than our own. This is largely because they do not take anything they have for granted. Everyone in Senegal either remembers it themselves or knows someone who was alive before Senegal gained independence. Democracy is not something any citizen there believes should just be handed to them, it is something to work for.

In cases like 2012, when the prospect of democracy seemed to slip, Senegal did not break. They gathered, they protested, and then, most importantly of all, they voted.

In Senegal, voting is not usually easy and accessible unless you reside in a major city. For example, in semi-rural villages such as the one that my Senegalese family lives in, Touba Toul, it takes about an hour and 40 minutes by bus to make the trip to Thies, (people in villages generally do not own cars) which is the closest polling place. This is an hour and 40 minutes if the bus runs on time, if the bus runs at all, and if you make both your transfers. Usually, this is not a huge problem because in Senegal it is considered rude to arrive somewhere any earlier than an hour after the time that you were invited for.  However, voting is not the same and requires a bit more punctuality.

Despite how incredibly hard it can be to get to the polling place, the average voter turnout in Senegal is about 53 percent.

In the United States of America, the average is only around 51.46 percent. In Senegal and other nations like it, we see people fighting just to be allowed to vote, skipping a day’s wages to get to the polls, sometimes even risking their own lives. We need to take a page from their book.  

As time moves on, Americans become more and more complacent.

There really is no logical excuse for our low voter turnout rate. It could be chocked up to laziness, or even general frustration at the administration, but that is not enough. Voting takes so little time and DOES make a difference. Like Senegal the youth could be America’s hope during the upcoming 2020 election.