Wade, Abdoulaye 1926–

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Abdoulaye Wade 1926–

Political official

Abdoulaye Wade (pronounced “wahd”) was elected president of Senegal in 2000, ending forty years of socialist rule in the West African nation. He was a university economics professor for much of his career as well as the longtime leader of the Senegalese Democratic Party. Since assuming the presidency Wade has emerged as the unofficial leader of a pan-African movement to improve the continent's financial future through increased industrial development. “I've never seen a country develop itself through aid or credit,” he told New York Times correspondent Norimitsu Onishi. “Countries that have developed—in Europe, America, Japan, Asian countries like Taiwan, Korea and Singapore—have all believed in free markets. There is no mystery there. Africa took the wrong road after independence.”

Wade was born in 1926 in Saint-Louis, Senegal, which at the time was a French colony. It had been a possession of France since 1673 and was part of French West Africa until attaining sovereign status in 1960. By then, the thirty-four-year-old Wade had joined the faculty of the University of Dakar as a professor of economics and law. He had spent much of the previous decade in France, earning multiple degrees from universities in Paris, Besançon, and Grenoble.

Suffered Repeated Political Defeats

Léopold Sédar Senghor, leader of the country's Socialist Party, was Senegal's first president after independence and held the office until 1980. Wade entered politics as a challenger to the incumbent Senghor in 1974, when he founded the Parti Démocratique Sénégalais (PDS), or Senegalese Democratic Party. The new party soon attracted many adherents among the younger generation of Senegalese who thought that Senghor was growing too complacent in office. Wade first ran for president in 1978, but lost to Senghor. In three subsequent elections the winner was Abdou Diouf, Senghor's successor as head of the Socialist Party, who also remained in power for twenty years. In homage to Wade's resilience in response to repeated political defeats, Senghor was said to have dubbed him “Diombor” ("hare"), a reflection of Wade's reputation for being both agile and persistent.

In Senegal's 1988 elections, Diouf won with a suspiciously high 72 percent of the vote. Wade—the second-place finisher with 25 percent—and other opposition leaders accused the government of engaging in vote fraud. He was detained by police for his role in anti-government demonstrations but given a suspended sentence. Wade was invited by Diouf to participate in a government of national unity, and from 1991 to 1992 he served as secretary of state in Diouf's cabinet. In May of 1994 Wade and his wife were among those charged with the murder of a government official. The accusations were found to be baseless and dropped entirely, but Wade remained in jail on charges of hindering state security. He and other political prisoners went on a hunger strike and were released four days later. In 1995 Wade returned to the post of secretary of state, and served another three years in Diouf's cabinet before resigning.

Wade campaigned again to become president of Senegal in 2000, marking his fifth bid for the office. His party's slogan was “Sopi!” ("change"). Because no candidate received a majority of votes in the general election, a run-off election was held between the two top vote-getters: Diouf and Wade. In this contest Wade won with 58 percent of the vote. He was sworn in on April 1, 2000, at the age of seventy-four, and immediately named the election's third-place finisher, Moustapha Niasse, as his prime minister.

Wade had promised change, and he kept his word by instituting several new anti-corruption measures. He also moved to end a long-running separatist rebellion in the province of Casamance, signing a peace agreement in 2004. However, the accord only served to split the separatists into competing factions, and the Casamance independence issue remained unresolved. In addition, unemployment was high throughout Senegal, and corruption was still rampant in some sectors. The Senegalese military shouldered much of the blame for a 2002 ferry disaster off the Gambian coast that resulted in more than 1,800 deaths. Incompetence and gross negligence were determined to be the causes of the capsizing of the vessel, which was carrying scores of university students from Ziguinchor, in Casamance, to Dakar on the eve of a new semester. With more fatalities than the Titanic disaster, it ranks as one of the worst peacetime maritime tragedies in history.

Sought Economic Development in Africa

Wade has become a leader in efforts to improve the lives of all Africans, not just the Senegalese. He has led summits that resulted in the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), a proposal drawn up by Wade and three other leaders: Nigeria's Olusegun Obasanjo, South African president Thabo Mbeki, and Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria. The historic plan, which calls for attracting foreign investment to Africa, was presented at the annual meeting of the G8 (Group of Eight) leaders of industrialized nations in June of 2002. Other African heads of state have been critical of NEPAD, viewing it as an invitation to the West to re-colonize the continent through uneven economic arrangements.

At a Glance …

Born May 29, 1926, in Saint-Louis, Senegal; son of Momar Tolla and Aissatou Dabo Wade; married Viviane Vert; children: Karim, Syndiely. Education: University of Besançon, France, certificates in psychology, mathematics, sociology, physics, and chemistry, 1952-54; University of Dijon, France, law degree, 1955; University of Grenoble, France, doctorate in law and economics, 1959; University of the Sorbonne, Agrégation (civil service competitive examination), Paris, 1970.

Career: Educator, lawyer, political organizer, and government official. Admitted to the Senegalese Bar, 1959; University of Dakar, professor of law and economics, 1960-66, and dean of the law and economics faculty after 1970; Parti Démocratique Sénégalais, founder and secretary-general, 1974; Government of Senegal, secretary of state, 1991-92, 1995-98; president, 2000—.

Memberships: International Academy of Trial Lawyers, International Academy of Comparative Law.

Awards: Commandeur de l'Ordre du Mérite, Republic of Senegal, 1962; Grand Officier de la Légion d'Honneur, government of France, 1992; W. Averell Harriman democracy award, National Democratic Institute, 2005.

Addresses: Office—Président de la République, Avenue Roume, BP 1 68, Dakar, Senegal.

Senegal's new constitution went into effect in 2001 and specified that after Wade's seven-year term ended in 2007, elections would be held every five years. On February 25, 2007, he won reelection to a second term, beating his two main opponents by a large margin with nearly 60 percent of the vote. In June of 2007 the eighty-one-year-old president traveled to Germany for another G8 summit, still hoping to bring NEPAD to fruition. An editorial he wrote in the International Herald Tribune summarized his optimism that Africa's long history of coups, famines, and ethnic violence was finally coming to a close. “Many of the G-8's concerns are linked as never before to events in Africa,” he noted. “European nations are finding that they cannot address the waves of illegal immigrants that have reached their shores—and those who die trying—without addressing African economic policies and security measures.” He also cited unprecedented levels of new investment in Africa by India and China, steady economic growth rates for the continent over the past decade, and an increasing number of elections deemed free and fair by international observers. Terming the twenty-first century the beginning of “the age of interdependence,” he asserted that “the question of ‘what are we going to do about Africa’ is no longer pertinent.”.

Although Wade is limited to two terms by the new constitution, the head of one of the most stable democracies in Africa has said that since taking office, he realizes now how power has corrupted many leaders who have remained in office for decades by extralegal means, such as Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe. “All around you have people seeking advantages, who flatter you and tell you everything you do is beautiful,” he told Onishi in the New York Times. “You say something inane, but they laugh. Power is very dangerous. I think a lot about power. I'll write about it one day.”



African Business, January 2005, p. 28.

Economist, February 24, 2007, p. 58US.

Financial Times, November 13, 2000, p. 4; February 2, 2005, p. 2.

International Herald Tribune, June 9, 2007, p. 9.

Newsweek International, April 22, 2002, p. 70A.

New York Times, April 10, 2002; February 20, 2003.

Time International, July 10, 2000, p. 28.

—Carol Brennan