Senegal is quite the tiny country. A lot of people have not heard of it, especially people who work at the bank you have to call and tell them you are out of the country (sene-whaaaT?). Anyways, a lot of the reason why people do not know much about it is because it is historically not one of those African countries that have some work to do in the democracy department, which many African countries are. So now I was surprised when my mom texts me telling me that the election drama in Senegal is making it to newspapers in the United States.
The story is (now I am going to be as neutral as possible because one of our jobs as representatives of the U.S. government is not to express opinions on politics), that the president now, Abdoulaye Wade, has been president since the year 2000. I was thirteen years old back then (the good ol days). Additionally, his age is up for debate but the consensus is that he is around 85 years old, going on 86 in a couple of months. His second term is up (the constitution changed a couple of times saying how long a term is, from seven years to five, and back to seven), and the National Assembly said he could run for a third term because the latest seven year rule did not count for his last term. Many Senegalese people think that the fact that he is allowed to run at all is totally bogus and are quite fed up with his antics while in office.
In the past couple weeks leading up to the election which is set for this Sunday and has 14 candidates including Wade (and not including famous musician Youssou Ndour who ran but had a couple thousand ‘illegible signatures’ so was disqualified), there has been many violent protests throughout the country. And by saying throughout the country I mean mostly around Dakar and the bigger cities like Thies, St. Louis and Kaolack. In Kedougou, the only signs that there is an upcoming election happened last week when Wade came to Kedougou and the guards at our house would not let us out because apparently there was some rock throwing. Otherwise, safe and sound down here in the bush.
Coming down from Dakar the other day, I witnessed some fires and road blocks and was not permitted to move around the city by Peace Corps, who is keeping us informed of any violence and telling us to stay in our villages where it’s safe (don’t you worry folks). But it will be interesting to see the results next week. A candidate has to get 50% of the vote to win, and with 14 candidates, it is likely that they will have to call a second round of votes the next month. (There was also one time when Wade tried to change that to 25%, the people did not agree). Another interesting thing that I have noted is that many of my friends that are not from the area in which I live. Any teacher or health worker in this country is in the affecté system which means very few teachers or health workers live in the place where they are from. Many people did not fill out the paper work or get approval to vote in the village in which they work, and are not able to go home to vote. With the violence and protests, it is difficult to travel around the country anyways. I would think that this will prevent a lot of the educated population from voting at all.
So will Senegal be able to keep its reputation of being one of the few West African countries with a peaceful and working democracy? Stay tuned and we’ll find out together.
Some interesting articles/videos