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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Different Senegal

I'm typing from the other side of the ocean now.

I've officially left Canada, with no plans of returning any time soon. A stop-over at home in Senegal for a month or two seemed only natural as I prepare to enter the international journalism scene (more on that another day). I'll be moving to Tunisia soon, but for the time being I am soaking up the sunshine in my second home. And let me tell you, while so much has remained the same, this is not the Senegal I knew growing up.

The Arab spring has had a huge effect on the usually peaceful Senegalese. Peaceful (and not-so-peaceful) protests are popping up on a regular basis as our country gears up for an election in February. Our aging President Wade (his age is contested, but most agree he is in his late 80s to mid 90s) has decided to run again, claiming that the constitutional change limiting a president to two terms doesn't apply to him because it occurred during his first term. While Wade was in opposition he opposed corruption like this from his nemesis Abdou Diouf: Now he has a bevy of his own discrepancies to answer for.

Before I leave, I am adding a conversation with a group called Y'en a marre! to my Senegal bucket list. "Y'en a marre" translates to "had enough," after a song written by Côte D'Ivoirian reggae singer Tiken Jah Fakoly. The was group, led by popular Senegalese rappers, formed in February of last year to protest against Wade's candidacy. The leaders of the group have stirred up young men in the country to political action. They've been imprisoned, but have kept fighting for democracy and change in the country. They are made up of the impoverished working class, a collection of youth who refuse to align themselves with a political party. To me, that sounds like much-needed change, but I'd like to interview them first-hand to be sure.

About a month ago my dad and I watched a video online of a man shooting at a crowd of protesters. He was calm, nonchalant and swaggering as though he were doing nothing more than shooing away a few pesky little boys. What is even more disturbing is that people are walking by in the video as if nothing as happening. They most likely believed his was shooting off fireworks since it was the holiday season. One young man died that day, as the police stood back and watched. The man who shot him is Barthelemy Dias, whose face was all over the paper my old friend Moussa brought me the next day. Dias is the opposition Socialist Party's youth leader, and he has now been arrested on murder charges and possession of an illegal firearm. He was shooting at a group of young men from the ruling party, who he claims attacked his office.

This is not the old Senegal, a place where the only major violence happens down south in the Cassamance. This is not the Senegal that held the first ever peaceful transfer of power in Africa. This is a Senegal of anger and frustration, of protests and riot police. This is a Senegal with embassy emails about contingency evacuation plans, and notices saying to avoid going downtown. But maybe it will be a Senegal of change in the weeks and months to come.


  1. Great overview. Time will tell whether Senegal remains a spot of hope in a troubled region or succumbs to the pressures of greed and power. We are hoping and praying for the former!

  2. It's hard to see the Dakar of our youth on the precipice of breakdown and not be able to do anything about it. It brings into sharp relief an aspect of our "third-culture-ness" that we never really had to deal with as children. Glad to hear the story from friend and not a newscaster!

    1. Thanks Dan. I agree, while our friends from Cote D'Ivoire and Liberia had some pretty disturbing memories, we had a relatively idyllic childhood...except for some robberies, which were the exception, not the norm. We can pray, and thank God that we didn't have to deal with it as kids.

  3. A note from a longtime friend:
    What you describe is what we remember Senegal from our first term (c1989). While everybody else talked about "peaceful Senegal," we always had the memory of gas stations set ablaze, of all stop lights broken, of windows broken, and then of the Maruitanian crisis, with murders happening all over the country, constant curfews. We're praying that you are spared of that.