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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

January 31st Protest

It was to be expected: I arrived early, like I usually do. The protest started late, as things in Africa usually do.

I met up with the team from Al Jazeera and let them know that the police were setting up just past the monument. We got some shots of them forming a perimeter around 2:30pm, well before anyone arrived for the demonstration, which was scheduled for 3pm in La Place de L'Obelisque (or, as some old-school Dakar residents will know it as, The Monument).

By around 4 pm a crowd of a few hundred had gathered. It was a mixture of mostly men, groups of young women, children and a few older women milling about in the triangle in front of the Obelisque. I stopped one elderly lady and asked her why she was there.

"Wade needs to leave," she said. "We are tired of him."
"Are you here for your family?" I asked
"I am here for myself, I am here for everyone."

Another young woman said in an interview with Al Jazeera that she didn't understand why Wade had told Gaddafi to leave office, but now was insisting on his right to run for a third term.

As the people grew quiet and bored waiting for the M23 leaders to arrive, Y'en a Marre was assembled behind the monument. They held signs, chanting and singing in preparation to march to the open area in front of L'Obelisque.

Then opposition leader Macky Sall arrived, waving from an SUV as his supporters walked down the street yelling. This was where things got going. By the time they reached the square there were thousands gathered.

As I walked across the sand to the other side of the monument, I stopped to take a picture of three little boys. They were quite fascinated by my audio recorder, and one little boy started talking into it quite loudly in Wolof. One of his friends laughed and told him to speak in French. I managed to piece together that they were Idrissa Seck supporters.

"He's going to help us," they said.

"And what about Wade?" I asked

"We want him to go."

I gave them my orange for their trouble and hoped they would get out of there before things started to heat up.

The Al Jazeera team and I headed to the upper floor of a nearby building to watch from the balcony. Y'en a Marre marched on the square, forming a huge mass of people that filled the space in front of the monument and the surrounding street.

Then Youssou N'Dour arrived. A huge cheer went up from the crowd. There was a definite air of celebration and hope in the air as people sang the national anthem of Senegal. It was quite moving to see so many people (my estimate would be over 10,000) coming together to stand up for their rights as citizens of this country.

When the speeches began I decided it was time to leave and caught a taxi home. Just in time apparently, since people began tweeting that the protesters were burning tires and the police were shooting tear gas soon after I left. Several people have been injured tonight, and reports say that one young person has died after being run over by a police vehicle. After watching a video of the attack, I am shocked more people were not killed. The armored police vehicle drove right into a crowd near the Obelisque, as another truck came behind firing shot after shot of tear gas.

Here is the report by Al Jazeera that I helped with. I'm just a bit tired now, so it might give you the information my muddled brain missed.

Good night everyone. Pray for peace in Senegal.


  1. Wow. Glad you had the sense to get out of there when you did. Your quotes really humanize the protests. I think most people reading and hearing about them are completely desensitized by now, but it seems to be easier to sympathize with one real person than with a mob.

  2. Excellent post - terrible situation. Both are just a glimpse of what could be ahead. Happily, your future is bright. For Senegal, it seems, there are more dark days coming.