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Senegal: Popular protests confront president’s third term

Published Feb 12, 2012 7:27 PM

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade is fighting for a third term in office. But many Senegalese say that two were enough and he should step down. The most popular chant in the protests sweeping the West African country is “No third term. Protect my constitution,” according to Fallou Gueye, a Senegalese political activist living in New York.

Senegalese protesters.

A third term may not seem to be a fundamental issue. But the struggles have led to mass demonstrations and six deaths, one of a cop; big protests both in Senagal’s capital Dakar and in small towns like Podor in the north; plus a rise of political tension throughout the country.

Gueye says that one way for people in the United States to better understand what is happening in Senegal is to view the popular uprising of the Senegalese against Wade as analogous to the uprisings a year ago of Tunisians against Zine al-Abadine Ben Ali and of Egyptians against Hosni Mubarak.

Wade heads the Senegalese Democratic Party. After several unsuccessful campaigns, he was elected in 2000. When Senegal’s new constitution was adopted in 2001, he promised to adhere to its limit of two terms.

Last years Wade tried to get Senegal to change the constitution to allow for a vice president. The most likely person for this post was Wade’s son, Karim Wade. The outcry over his attempt to found a dynasty was so intense that Wade dropped the project.

But now he is campaigning for a third term. He is officially 85 years old, though many Senegalese suspect he is even older and is planning on maneuvering to get his son to replace him.

The protests, according to Gueye, are being led by “Y’en A Marre” (French slang for “fed up”) in conjunction with M23 (23 of June Movement), a coalition of civil social and oppositional groups, named after its tactic of holding mass protests on the 23rd of each month. M23 emerged after the major protest held June 23, 2011, against Wade.

High youth unemployment

Y’en A Marre is primarily a youth group, led by rappers and musicians, reflecting the extraordinarily high unemployment rate for youth, even those with university degrees. The CIA Factbook estimate for unemployment among Senegal’s 12 million people is 48 percent. Many observers say unemployment hits youth particularly hard.

After the cops deliberately killed one student, youth and students around Dakar University led a series of militant protests in which barricades and cars were burned.

The same elections court that accepted the candidacy of Wade for a third term rejected that of Youssou N’Dour, the world famous Senegalese rapper and musician. The court claimed N’Dour failed to gather enough signatures. The young people in Y’en A Marre say this is another manipulation of elections by the Senegalese elite.

During the last 50 years every Senegalese postcolonial government has subordinated the needs of Senegal’s economy to that of its former colonial power, France, while making sure officials got their personal rewards. The country’s entire private sector is controlled by French multinationals, such as French oil/gas company Total, France Telecom, Société Générale, BNP Paribas, Air France and so on. Senegal’s money supply was first tied to the French franc and now to the euro at a fixed rate. (Sanou Mbaye, Le Monde diplomatique, Feb. 2012)

What this means is that France controls the basic layers of the Senegalese economy. All the waste, corruption, inefficiencies and chicanery that go on among the Senegalese ruling class are just ripples on the stream of profits that go to the French multinationals.