Friday, February 23, 2007

Election 2007

***Note: As of 9:00pm, Sunday February 25, Wade had won the election. This blog was written before the declaration.***
So this weekend is a very important event here in Senegal: the 2007 Presidential Elections. The current President, Abdoulaye Wade, was elected in 2000 and he is 84 (maybe 87) years old. A lot of people are not happy with him; they accuse him of corruption, not doing enough for the people of Senegal, especially when it comes to development, creating jobs, and improving infrastructure. My host sister, on the other hand, loves him and has been working on his campaign for the past few weeks. She rides around on a truck, wearing his colors (yellow and light blue) and a picture of his face on her t-shirt. He has a campaign song, Blockage, so when you hear that song blaring you know that his campaign parade is coming. The rest of my family does not like him, but they can't tell me who would do a better job. An interesting aspect in the elections is the role popular rap artists play. In 2000, they supported Wade because they wanted a regime change, and this was reflected in their music. Now, they want to get rid of him because he isn't doing what they had expected him to do. check out this link: http://www.africanunderground.com/ for more information.
Wade is supposedly trying to maintain power by purchasing voter id cards, by not widely distributing the cards (900,000+ people did not receive their cards before the elections, meaning those people were not allowed to vote), and perhaps rigging the military elections last weekend. It was the first time that the military was allowed to vote in the entire history of the country, but many think that Wade only wrote this into law to “guarantee” his victory. Friday night there was an enormous rally near my house on the VDN highway. The whole road was blocked, the adjacent neighborhood shut down, and the music blaring from the speakers could be heard miles away. My youngest siblings ran down to the extravaganza, donning Wade t-shirts, flags in his colors, and posters. My older siblings, all of whom dislike Wade except one, grabbed the little ones, because of the fears of violence. These fears, unfortunately, were not unfounded. Last Wednesday night there was a clash between the followers of a particular Marabout who is supporting Wade and a group of anti-Wade protesters. The clash was violent, a few people seriously injured, and took place in an upper class part of town (our neighborhood). Cars were burned, and a popular ex-pat restaurant, La Regal, suffered serious fire damage as well. The vendeur across the street and I had a lively discussion about the politics: he supported Wade in 2000, but said that nothing has changed in the past seven years. He said essentially everyone running was just a croonie who wouldn’t do anything for the general public. My sister’s boyfriend, a fervent political follower and quite good with English, gave a speech for another candidate on Saturday: one of the few candidates that wasn’t part of the Wade government or a politician at all - he is a history teacher at UCAD and is supported by the students there as well. As this is written, the believed fore runners are: Wade, Niasse (Alternative 2007), Tanor (Socialist Party), and Idrissa Seck (the former prime minister under Wade). Of course, these are only perceived front runners, because the government doesn’t allow polls to be published. Everyone agrees that this election is truly up in the air, which puts both a hint of fear and distrust in the general populace. The worry about fraud and fixed elections is why everything is shut down on election day, there is absolutely no travel between cities, and probably a curfew. My family went to vote early this morning, and have pink fingers to prove it. The majority of my family voted for Tanor, except Diodio. Baba, my littlest brother, is parading around the house shouting “Abdoulaye Wade!”
What I think is most interesting about this situation is three fold. First, I find it amazing how much praise this country receives for being “democratic” when there has only been one democratic election in its entire 40+ year existence. Not to mention, it is well known the rampant corruption of the current regime and there is rumor that if Wade wins, he will pass power down to his son, extremely un-democratic last time I checked. Not that I am bashing Senegal…but I think that the West is quick (maybe too quick) to reward developments in African “democracy.” Second, it is interesting, though a bit depressing, how much contempt the populace has for all politicians. My family can tell me all the reasons why Wade sucks, but cannot tell me who would do a better job. Every time we watched campaigns, my family would laugh at what the candidates were saying, telling me that all they did was “parle, parle, parle;” They have ideas, but no suggestions of how they will be implemented: empty promises that many Senegalese recognize. Third, despite this discontent, the candidates did do a great job getting people riled up in support. Each candidate had a song that they blared as they cruised the streets in caravans led by car rapides with people inside and on the roofs, followed by trucks/cars full of clapping, singing, identically dressed supporters (most of whom were probably paid to campaign). My youngest siblings ran outside during campaigns and helped put up posters in town. Fervent supporters marked out the faces of candidates on campaign posters – one of which displayed Niasse as a devil – while others just covered up rival candidates faces with their candidate’s picture. Boys on rollerblades with bright orange t-shirts handed out pro-Idrissa Seck pamphlets; my sister brought home tons of Wade paraphernalia to distribute to the family.
Being here as part of a historical moment in Senegal is a great experience. Granted, most of us didn’t leave our houses this weekend; I didn’t really think there was the chance of violence. I enjoyed staying in; my family and I made delicious crepes and some other fried doughy, sugary mass called bañey.

1 comment:

AnnaD said...

Interesting. Pink fingers?

Sounds like there is a lot going on in your world. You are truly blessed to have the opportunity of this experience.