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February 15, 2012

Poor Turnout at Marches Against Senegal's Wade

by Nick Loomis

Senegal's protest movement held another march Wednesday against President Abdoulaye Wade and his bid for a third term, but once again failed to attract the numbers to suggest there is a mass movement against the president. Now, 10 days before the election, some say it's too late to force the president to step down.

Despite a ban on protests in Dakar's downtown area, a small group marched to the capital's Place de l'Independence to oppose the president's candidacy. Faye, a student who only gave his last name, was among the hundreds who got past a police barrier at the meeting place.

Faye said that there aren't enough people in light of the strong position taken by police who have come to disperse them. He added, however, it is with determination they have come today and they will reach their goal, which he said is only 50 meters away.

Ten days ahead of the election, the president's candidacy for a third term, despite a constitutional limit of two, remains a contentious issue.  The goal of forcing the president to step down, though, has largely been abandoned by the opposition and the Senegalese people. Political analyst Abdou Lo said most Senegalese agree with the protesters, but are unwilling to join them.

“Saying 'Wade, you cannot compete' is just a simple waste of time because the guy is going to compete. The Senegalese people don't want to answer to the call of the leaders and the only opportunity they have is the elections, the bullet, on the 26th,” said Lo.

For his part, Wade repeatedly has said that the small size of the protests shows the people are still with him. Though the crowd grew somewhat during Wednesday's march, most merely watched and continued about their business, selling wares on the roadside or chatting over spiced coffee.

Even with a crowd totaling little more than 1,000, the arrival at Place de l'Independence in itself was treated as a victory for the opposition.  Opposition candidate Ibrahima Fall addressed the crowd, and the security forces who stood by for 15 minutes.

Fall said that for a political result, they have to be the force of the republic. He said the government has the duty to respect the constitution.

Shortly afterward and without warning, the police fired tear gas, dispersing the crowd.

Lo said while the protest was honorable, it was too little too late.