News / Africa

Senegal Youth Mobilize Before Elections

Protesters opposed to President Abdoulaye Wade running for a third term shout slogans during a rally in Dakar, Senegal, January 31, 2012.
Protesters opposed to President Abdoulaye Wade running for a third term shout slogans during a rally in Dakar, Senegal, January 31, 2012.
Nick Loomis

A non-partisan youth movement has kicked off a weekend-long protest in Dakar, as many presidential candidates campaign throughout Senegal, including 85-year-old incumbent Abdoulaye Wade. The small, but committed, protest movement says there will not be an election on February 26 if Wade is a candidate.

A crowd of about 3,000 answered the call of Y'en A Marre, a youth movement whose name means "Enough is Enough," to come to Dakar's Obelisk Square to protest the candidacy of Abdoulaye Wade. Movement organizer Fadel Barro addressed the small crowd at the start of the protest and said he is not discouraged by the turnout.

Barro said that if they came and saw a crowd of a million people at the first call, he would have been afraid. But, he said, he is reassured that they, the elite, have come.

But some in attendance said the opposition needs a million to achieve its goal. Babacar Sall, a man in his fifties, came out to support the youth in their effort and was frustrated that his fellow citizens did not do the same.

Sall said that if one million Senegalese came here today, the president would leave power. But, he said, others stay at their house and complain that life is expensive and those that do not come to show their frustration are the ones who will push Mr. Wade to win the election.

Despite a two-term limit that President Wade signed into law in 2001, Senegal's constitutional council approved his bid for a third term in late January.  Although five people have died in the ensuing unrest, Mr. Wade has repeatedly pointed to the small numbers of protesters to justify his persistence.

The opposition movement in Senegal is larger than the thousands who take to the streets, but there is a lack of urgency in the country - which has seen two for two peaceful transitions of power by the vote. Protester Abib Diouf says things are different this time around.

Diouf said that he will not vote in an election in which Abdoulaye Wade is a candidate.  He said that he does not have confidence in the vote because Wade will decide the outcome.

Most of the 13 opposition politicians have taken to the campaign trail and left the effort to revoke Wade's candidacy. As a result, many youth feel that they do not have a candidate.  Diouf accepted an open invitation to speak to the crowd on Saturday. For him, the alternative is clear.

Diouf said he has had enough of the government and they need to take it back. He said go in peace and see you tomorrow, God willing.

For the second half of the protest, Y'en A Marre expects much larger crowds, but the same peaceful atmosphere.

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