The night of Monday, February 5th, was dark in Senegal — literally and metaphorically. The country’s parliament had just voted to postpone the elections by almost a year to December 15th. Senegalese citizens were supposed to vote on February 25th. But with this new decision, President Macky Sall would hold on to that seat beyond April 2nd, his expected handover date. It was his idea in the first place. The only difference was that Sall’s postponement was indefinite. Several opposition lawmakers were blocked from voting on Monday as parliament rescheduled the election for December, prompting outrage and condemnation.
By the morning, protests had erupted across the streets of Dakar, the nation’s capital. Riot police lined up outside the national assembly, firing tear gas and making arrests to break up the crowds. Authorities also cut off the mobile internet in the West African country. International bodies, including ECOWAS and the United Nations, are trying to step in. They’re all calling for the parliament to reverse its decision and allow Senegal to hold its elections quickly.
But as of today, not much has changed, and consequences are looming over the nation’s economy. The delay blows a hole into Senegal’s reputation as one of Africa’s democracy stalwarts. Military coups have rocked several of its West African neighbours and even made some pull out of the region’s bloc. But Senegal has conducted peaceful elections for over two decades and made itself a “model democracy” in Africa.
The first consequence comes from Senegal’s decision to shut down the internet (again). It’s the third internet shutdown in nine months. And according to some estimates, Senegal lost $300,000 per hour due to the June shutdown.
Yet, Senegal was among the countries poised to be among Sub-Saharan Africa’s fastest-growing economies this year by the IMF. Only Niger (12.8%) had a higher growth projection than Senegal (8.8%). This expectation hung on Senegal electing a new leader this year and attracting fresh inflows from investors. No one saw a postponement coming because it had never happened before.
After the parliament announced its decision, Senegal’s dollar bonds due in 2033 fell 3.6% to 83.77 cents on the dollar, while its 2037 debt slumped 4.7% to 69.84. Since November, Senegal’s bonds have outperformed sub-Saharan African peers, likely on expectations of a smooth election. Also, Senegal is on the cusp of becoming a significant oil and gas producer, with projects involving BP Plc, Kosmos Energy Ltd. and Woodside Energy Group Ltd. set to go online this year. But now, the uncertainty around the elections is leading investors to speculate an additional premium on the risk of investing in the country.