The Smell of Jasmine Spreads to Senegal

Posted on February 24, 2012 in GlobeScope, Politics

By Aishvarya S. Raghavan:

The presidential elections in the usually politically stable West African country of Senegal, scheduled for February 26 2012, are in the news for myriad of reasons. Once considered to be the most successful out of the democratic transitions in Africa, recent developments have ushered it under the scanner.

One week before the elections, tear gas was fired in Dakar to stop the public protests taking place in the Capital city. The protests took place against the tentative appointment of 85-year-old current President Abdoulaye Wade, who has already enjoyed two terms in the presidential chair. Wade’s first term started in 2000, when there were no limits to the number of terms. In 2001, constitutional changes limited the re-election to maximum two terms. Even though the changes were made by Wade himself, the President is taking the shot at a third consecutive term in the upcoming election. Wade makes it clear that his first term started before the amendment in the constitution, making him free to contest the election. He also dropped plans to change the constitutional rules for election of the Vice-President as well, which as people fear, is a way of ensuring his re-election as well as appointment of his son as the Vice-President. In midst of it all, Youssou N’Dour, regarded as the most famous singer alive in Senegal and much of Africa, announced that he has also entered the race for the presidency of Senegal.

On 27 January 2012, after a series of discussions, The Senegal Constitutional Court allowed Wade to contest the elections and disqualified N’Dour. On 28th, the public erupted on the streets protesting against this development. Inspired by the Egyptian protests of 2011, the public proposed to turn the Place de l’Obelisque into the Senegalese version of Tahrir Square. Wade, however, is calm and calls the protests “nothing more than a light breeze which rustles the leaves of a tree, but never becomes a hurricane”, insisting that even in midst of it all he has a strong following and he is confident that nothing violent will come out of these protests.

Contrary to his opinion, police firing has started taking place in Senegal and at least 9 people have been killed in the North region and several injured  in the weekend protest demonstrations on the 19th February.The presidential spokesperson, Serigne Mbacke Ndiaye, blames the opposition for “fueling up urban guerrilla warfare”, denying any role of the police in the firing. N’Dour, although having denied the right to contest the elections, is actively taking part in the protest, singing with civilians and a protest organization called the M23 (taking their name from the massive anti-government protests on June 23 last year) on the protest grounds. The lyrics can be translated roughly to “Go away, old man”- obviously referring to the President.

The M23 meanwhile has made plans to gather at the Place de l’Independence, a public square in the center of Dakar. Opposition candidates like Idrissa Seck and Cheikh Bamba Dieye are also expected to take part. Meanwhile, retired Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, has arrived in Senegal to mediate the conflicts and also plans to meet the opposition as well as Wade. “Senegal is a very beautiful country and nothing should be done to destroy it” said the former president, to reporters on Tuesday.