News / Africa

    Senegalese President Facing Unrest Over Power Cuts, Electoral Changes

    A Senegalese youth walks past the ransacked office of state electrical company Senelec in the capital Dakar, June 28, 2011
    A Senegalese youth walks past the ransacked office of state electrical company Senelec in the capital Dakar, June 28, 2011

    Security forces in Senegal have put army tanks on the streets of the capital as President Abdoulaye Wade faces the most serious unrest of his ten-year rule.

    These protests began over a ruling-party push to change the constitution to make it easier for President Wade to win re-election next year. The government quickly abandoned those changes, but the violence has not stopped.

    Former prime minister Macky Sall says President Wade's miscalculation over constitutional change has unleashed deeper frustrations over how his government is run.

    With tension rising, Sall says the ruling party had to stop its push to change the constitution. Senegalese law gives great power to the president as the guardian of the constitution, as supreme army chief, as chief magistrate, and as the director of the council of ministers. So when people saw that the president was not safeguarding the constitution, Sall says they stood up and said “no.”

    Senegal President Abdoulaye Wade (file photo)
    Senegal President Abdoulaye Wade (file photo)

    He believes President Wade will try again in a different way to make those changes. And if he does, Sall says there will be more violence and chaos.

    Sall, who is now an opposition leader, told reporters Friday that President Wade is recruiting mercenaries from Ivory Coast to kidnap opponents and civil society leaders. The president's son, Karim, says it is Senegal's political opposition who are resorting to violence by arming demonstrators.

    Riot police have used tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannon to put down near-nightly protests over prolonged power cuts.

    University student Mohamed Moustapha Seck says young people feel the country is falling backwards.

    'Lawless country'

    Ten years ago, Seck says Senegal was an example in West Africa. Now he says it is a seemingly lawless country that the government is not doing anything about. And that, he says, pains him.

    Seck says Senegal's leaders boast that this is an emerging market, but there is not even a regular supply of electricity. Investors will not invest in a country like this.

    Fadel Barro is the coordinator of a group of young musicians who have organized some of the demonstrations against the president.

    Barro says President Wade is a manipulator, a politician in the worst sense of the word. He says the president does not believe that young people can take their own initiative and are now being manipulated by his opponents.

    Political analyst Tamsir Ndiaye Jupiter says the size of the protests and their growing frequency, show the president is no longer facing just his political opponents.

    Frustration

    Ndiaye says the frustration is not limited to young people in Dakar but extends throughout Senegal to the villages where these young people come from. Demonstrators who turned out against constitutional changes were not only politicians and civil society members. He says they were joined by young people frustrated with the president's management of the country.

    Protestors are increasingly holding the president personally responsible for long blackouts because his son, Karim, is the energy minister as well as the minister for infrastructure, international cooperation, and regional development - a portfolio that gives him control of nearly 40 percent of Senegal's federal budget.

    Ndiaye says if the energy minister had been anyone other than the president's son, he would have lost his job weeks ago.

    Ndiaye says a small group of leaders, including the president's son, are trying to manage electricity without the help of properly-trained technicians. He says the absence of  transparency and ability has brought about a catastrophic and apocalyptic situation.

    Macky Sall says there is nothing wrong with Karim Wade helping his father, but he should do so as other ministers do.

    Sall says everything in Senegal can not be managed by a single minister, especially if this minister is the president's son. Karim Wade manages the earth, the sea, and the air, Sall says, he's everywhere. There must be a separation of government business from family business.

    President Wade says his son holds so many portfolios in government because of “exceptional competence.” He dismisses suggestions that his plan to create a post of vice president was meant to put his son in line to succeed him, saying that Karim Wade has as much right to be president one day as anyone else in Senegal.

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