Since its independence, Senegal has been one of America's strongest and most consistent friends in francophone West Africa. Our relationship has been based on a shared set of principles and ideals: democracy and respect for civil liberty and human rights.
On Saturday, February 25, I was pleased to come back to Senegal, where I had the pleasure of leading a delegation of more than 50 American observers who traveled throughout Senegal, visiting many of the more than 10,000 polling stations, to watch as Senegalese citizens exercised their democratic rights.
This was definitely an important election to observe. In Washington, I had followed developments in Senegal with interest; watching as this traditionally peaceful model of stability had begun to erupt with protests, eventually leading to more than 10 deaths. I knew that I had to come and do my part to ensure that peace continued; that Senegal's vote was free, fair, transparent, and respected; and that ordinary Senegalese citizens saw their aspirations realized.
I spent Sunday, Election Day, in Dakar and its suburbs, observing the vote at several polling stations, most located in school buildings. We crossed the schoolyards through several inches of sand, and were struck by how extremely calm and quiet everyone was. Long lines of voters in brightly colored African dress waited patiently for a chance to cast their vote. Having been prepared for potential demonstrations and a rowdy electorate, we were all surprised at the organized, well-ordered lines.
During the first stop, at Parcelles Assainies, Ambassador Lewis Luken's driver cast his vote. As the observation team watched, he picked up ballots with photos of each of the fourteen candidates; stepped behind the black curtain; placed his choice in the official envelope; tossed the remaining ballots in the trash receptacle; dropped his official ballot in the ballot box; and dipped his little finger in a bottle of pink fluorescent ink. It was a great way to kick-off our observation of this process that was being repeated across Senegal by approximately 50 percent of the country's eligible voters.
As the observation team left the polling station, a middle-aged Senegalese gentleman, followed by his three tiny children, stopped me. "Sir," he said, "thank you for coming. Enjoy your visit. May it be peaceful." As the team drove through town to visit more polling stations in the Dakar's suburbs, it was, not due to me or my colleagues but due to the spirit of the Senegalese. It was evident that despite the turbulence of the past few weeks, the intemperate rhetoric, and unfortunate violence, the people of this country have a deep and abiding respect for democracy. I certainly hope this never changes, because I am confident that Americans will always stand shoulder to shoulder with the Senegalese in defense of these most basic principles.