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Lessons for Nelson Chamisa from the Senegalese elections



UNIVERSITY of Cape Town-based constitutional law expert Justice Alfred Mavedzenge has rallied the Zimbabwean opposition led by politician Nelson Chamisa to take lessons from events in Senegal that resulted in former president Macky Sall transferring power to a rival movement that coalesced around new Senegalese head of state Bassirou Diomaye Diakhar Faye.


Mavedzenge said courageous opposition leadership, clear ideological grounding; collective and selfless leadership are key lessons Chamisa and the Zimbabwean opposition can take from Senegal.

“At the moment our attention is on Senegal where citizens have succeeded in stopping their president from seeking a third term. In addition, they succeeded in electing a youthful opposition candidate (Bassirou Diomaye Diakhar Faye) as their president. These are aspirations shared by many Zimbabweans given the legitimate suspicion that President Emmerson Mnangagwa may be tempted to seek a third term and/or postpone the next (2028) elections to 2030.

“It is a positive thing that, as a people, we are interested in how others are achieving change in their countries. Culturally, that is our nature. I am reminded of one of our indigenous proverbs which says ‘kugara nhaka huona dzavamwe’ which means: in order to achieve our aspirations, we must learn from others.

“However, the biggest question is whether we are learning the right lessons? What are some of the lessons which can be drawn from recent events in Senegal?  Is there any basis to learn anything from Senegal?” he asked.

Mavedzenge said Chamisa must learn to shun his high insecurity fears and work with a broader movement.

“The approach to opposition politics in Zimbabwe needs a major overhaul. There is a need to transition from building individual oriented groupings to establishing issue-based movements. Zimbabweans need to look out for and support leaders who have clear ideological grounding capable of uniting people across the traditional political, social and religious divides. There is a need for opposition leaders who live and practise democratic values of consultation and accountability. Without these values it is impossible to build a movement capable of spearheading a democratic breakthrough,” he said.

Senegal events

In 2023, former president Sall was forced to abandon his third-term aspirations when he made a public announcement in which he declared that he would not contest in the 2024 elections.

Earlier in 2012, Senegalese citizens successfully stopped another of their presidents (Abdoulaye Wade) from seeking a third term, when they united and overwhelmingly voted for Sall, the then-opposition candidate.

After abandoning his third term bid,  Sall attempted to prolong his tenure by postponing elections. Presumably, this was part of his attempt to buy more time in order to identify a preferred successor whom he could support in the elections.

In Senegal, candidates for presidential elections are approved by the Constitutional Council. President Sall’s preferred candidate was not approved by the Constitutional Council on account of failure to meet one of the eligibility requirements.

Using its majority in Parliament, former Sall’s party attempted to postpone the elections.
On 5 February 2024, Parliament passed a Bill postponing the presidential election from February 2024 (as originally scheduled) to December 2024.

This sparked widespread protests which resulted in several people being killed by state security agents.

The postponement of the elections was challenged through a petition filed before the Constitutional Council. The council ruled in favour of the petition, holding that the postponement was unconstitutional. It ordered the elections to be held as soon as is possible, without specifying a date.

A follow-up application was filed before the Constitutional Council requesting the body to clarify the date for elections, and the council ruled that the elections must be held prior to the end of March 2024 in line with the constitutional deadline.

The election was subsequently held on 25 March 2024 in compliance with the ruling of the Constitutional Council and the constitution. Faye won the elections by 54.28%, defeating the candidate of the then ruling coalition  Amadou Ba, who garnered 35.79% of the total votes. Faye has since taken over the reigns from Sall, as the president of the Republic.

President Faye has appointed Ousmane Sonko as his Prime Minister. As mentioned above, prior to the March election, Ousmane Sonko was the most popular opposition leader who, however, had been disqualified from contesting in the elections, and he chose to endorse his colleague Faye.
Chamisa comparison

Mavendzenge said unlike Senegal’s Sonko who could work with Faye, Chamisa has shown that he is highly insecure with the idea of working side-by- side with other competent leaders.

“Unlike Sonko and Faye who were open to criticism, Nelson Chamisa perceives those who are critical of his leadership style as jealous of him or Zanu PF enablers. Sadly, it is a view also shared by several Zimbabweans in the opposition.

“As a result, Nelson Chamisa has run his parties as if they are religious cults. The results have been quite costly not only for him but for Zimbabwe’s struggle for democratic breakthrough. For instance, even though the Senegalese government banned the then main opposition party (PASTEF) led by Sonko, they did not succeed to decimate the opposition.

“In Zimbabwe, the dismantling of Nelson Chamisa’s Citizens’ Coalition for Change has automatically led to the death of the opposition, and the ruling party Zanu PF is now enjoying free reign. In this sense, the difference between Senegal and Zimbabwe is that in Zimbabwe Chamisa became the opposition while in Senegal, Ousmane Sonko built an opposition movement,” he said.

Clear ideological grounding

Mavedzenge said Faye and Sonko mobilised the Senegalese people around a clear ideological standpoint and projected themselves as de-colonial leaders who are committed towards ending the French neo-colonial exploitation of Senegal.

“This allowed them to establish alliances with various interest groups within Senegal and in the diaspora.  The Zimbabwean opposition leadership space has persistently been occupied by personalities who are demagogues but with unclear ideological inclination, and as a result they have failed to establish the necessary alliances with critical stakeholders within and outside of Zimbabwe,” he said.

Mavedzenge said even though he had a trade union background, the late opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was not ideologically articulate and as a result he was very much untrusted amongst African leaders and some of the critical stakeholders within the Zimbabwean body politic.

“Consequently, Morgan Tsvangirai succeeded to galvanise support within the opposition circles but was largely unsuccessful in his efforts to establish alliances with those who traditionally support Zanu PF. However, in 2008 he succeeded I  defeating President Robert Mugabe but he could not capture state power due to lack of support from critical domestic and regional leaders, partly because of lack of trust which is attributable to his ideological opaqueness.

“The current opposition leader, Nelson Chamisa, appears to have suffered the safe fate. He confuses religion with [political] ideology. He forgets that, even though God may be in support of his candidature, God is not religious. God still expects his chosen leaders to use their wisdom to articulate a clear vision, and craft a path which those who support them can follow.”

Courageous opposition leadership

The Senegalese opposition’s success in stopping former president Sall’s third-term bid and winning the March 2024 presidential election is attributed to the brave and courageous personality of its leadership.

“In Zimbabwe, the main opposition leader Nelson Chamisa does not lead from the front. He leads from social media handles. When he took over the leadership of the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance in 2018, Nelson Chamisa vowed that he would lead peaceful protests from the front.

“Since then, he has only participated in one march where he became famous for doing push-ups as a symbolic demonstration of courage, but nothing further materialised,” said Mavedzenge.

Some of the opposition leaders, who include Job Sikhala, Jacob Ngarivhume, Makomborero Haruzivishe, Joana Mamombe, Cecilia Chimbiri, Netsai Marova, Obey Sithole and others, engaged in peaceful protests and were detained and ended up in jail for very long periods. Job Sikhala, who was deputy national chairperson in Chamisa’s party, spent 595 days in prison, while youth leader Makomborero Haruzivishe was jailed for a year.

“Unlike Faye or Sonko in Senegal, Nelson Chamisa did not lead any protest to demand the freedom of his fellow comrades. In fact, he discouraged and distanced himself from groups of opposition supporters who attempted to organise peaceful protests as means of putting pressure on the state to release these leaders.  Without leaders who are capable of leading from the front, it is impossible for Zimbabweans to achieve what the Senegalese achieved under the leadership of Sonko and Faye.” 

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