Democracy in Senegal: Tocquevillian Analytics in Africa by Sheldon Gellar (auth.)

By Sheldon Gellar (auth.)

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In the Wolof monarchies, Islam never became a royal cult despite the fact the rulers welcomed Muslim religious leaders and integrated them into their court and society. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, some rulers and part of the nobility adopted Islam while the rest of the people remained pagan. In the seventeenth century, the aristocracy began to move away from Islam while more commoners began to practice the new religion. 26 They thus attacked the selling of Muslims into slavery as a violation of Islamic law.

Local and regional notables had less wealth and political influence than the leading crown slave warriors in the ruler’s entourage. Senegal’s precolonial aristocratic societies had no equivalent social group that resembled the nascent French bourgeoisie, which clearly had more status, wealth, and political influence than serfs and artisans. Nor did Senegal’s free peasants have the same hunger for property rights as emancipated serfs and small landholders did in France in the years before the French Revolution.

18 This approach asserted that traditional African concepts of power led to the creation of larger political units in pluralistic confederations that unified different self-governing ethnic, religious, and territorial communities under the banner of the ruler. Although giving their allegiance to the sovereign ruler, each of the constituent communities enjoyed a large degree of autonomy to manage its own affairs while their leaders participated in decision-making at the central level. Rulers were selected from an electoral college consisting of representatives of the different orders, religious communities, and ethnic minorities, and could be deposed if they abused their power or violated traditional norms.

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