Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo is scheduled to lead a joint team of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU) to try to stop the escalating violence ahead of Senegal’s February 26th election.
ECOWAS communications director Sonny Ugoh said the joint team will meet government officials, the opposition and other stakeholders to resolve their differences before next week’s vote.
“[They] will encourage the stakeholders to dialogue. This is just a reaffirmation of our confidence in the efficacy of dialogue,” continued Ugoh. “We believe that, if Senegalese talk among themselves, they will find a common solution to the challenges they face now as they look forward to the election.”
Opposition protesters violently clashed with police Sunday in a fifth consecutive day of unrest related to the presidential vote.
Incumbent President Abdoulaye Wade has faced violent opposition to his bid for a third term, despite a two-term limit. Opposition groups, including political parties and civil society organizations, have demonstrated against a court ruling, which effectively ensures that Wade will represent the ruling party in this month’s vote.
In its ruling, the court agreed that the limit did not apply to Wade because the constitution came into effect after he was first elected in 2000. But, the opposition insists the ruling sharply contravenes the constitution.
Also Saturday, early voting started for the country's 23,000 security officers.
Ugoh said ECOWAS wants to help resolve Senegal’s violence to ensure it doesn’t destabilize the entire sub-region. He expressed confidence in the ability of the former Nigerian leader’s joint team to help ease pre-election tensions.
“We believe [Mr. Obasanjo] will be there for as long as necessary to be able to talk to all the stakeholders, so that the presidential election will be free fair and acceptable to the people of Senegal,” continued Ugoh, “and it will become another landmark in the process of democratic stability and consolidation, and that it doesn’t become an opportunity for us to derail the region in terms of relapsing into [an] era of violence and political instability.”
Ugoh said ECOWAS will continue with efforts to consolidate democratic and political stability gains the sub-regional bloc has made.
He called for calm ahead of the arrival of Obasanjo and his joint ECOWAS-AU mediation team.
“We can only, in the circumstance, call on the opposition and indeed the other stakeholders to exercise restraint to contribute to an atmosphere that promotes dialogue,” said Ugoh. “We believe that there is nothing that cannot be resolved through engagement. We also believe that there is sufficient provision in the legal instrument in the country as to how to respond to a variety of situations, including this one.”