Opposition parties in Senegal are looking for a consensus candidate to challenge President Abdoulaye Wade in elections early next year.
Toward that end, hundreds of people gathered for a large and noisy opposition rally in Ziguinchor, the regional capital of the southern Casamance region.
Called “Benno Siggil Senegal” - or “Unite to Empower Senegal” - the opposition coalition featured speakers railing against what they call the failed policies of President Wade.
The rally attracted more than 30 opposition groups, including several former members of Wade’s party and the socialist regime that preceded him. The goal of the meeting was to begin to field possible candidates who could unite the fragmented opposition and run a viable campaign against the president.
Among the half-dozen politicians present, it is still unclear who might fill this role. Though the 84-year-old president’s popularity has faded over his 10-year rule, he retains much support in the capital Dakar.
Wade says he intends to run in next February's election, though many political observers believe he is preparing his son Karim to succeed him. The president says his son has as much right to run for president as anyone else in Senegal and believes that he would be a strong candidate. He currently is the minister of state for international cooperation.
At the Ziguinchor rally, 27-year-old opposition supporter Alassane Diallo said he has had enough of the president and his son.
Diallo said it’s a matter of Wade doing whatever he feels like. Diallo said there are no checks and balances on the president’s power like one finds in other countries, and ministers are making outlandish salaries.
Diallo said he has voted for Wade in the past, but said that now the time for change is long overdue.
Many politicians at the event also spoke of the insecurity that has plagued the Casamance for 30 years. Separatists have been fighting for the independence of the agricultural region since 1982. There have been a series of cease-fires, but renewed violence over the past year has set back a once-thriving tourist trade.
Political leader Amath Dansokho of the Party for Work and Independence spoke to the rally’s boisterous crowd of young and old, saying a new government would be the region’s best chance at peace.
Dansoko said peace will never come to Casamance as long as Wade is in power. Because of the president, Dansokho said, everyday the prices of food and fuel go up and taxes go up.
Though he did not address the crowd, the former mayor of Ziguinchor, Robert Sagna, appeared to garner the loudest and most prolonged applause.
Voulymata Badji sat in a plastic chair at the edge of the crowd. She would like to see Sagna run because she said he did much for Ziguinchor before being voted out of office when President Wade came to power.
Badji said Sagna is in her heart. She said he would do well to represent the Casamance region, which has long felt ignored.
Whoever emerges as the candidate of the opposition coalition will not be running just against Wade. Former ruling-party prime ministers Idrissa Seck and Macky Sall have both launched independent presidential campaigns, as well.