Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Senegal's Presidential Election 2012

I sit down to write this blog on the Senegalese Independence day. There is music in the background and I can only assume that people are not only celebrating their freedom, which they received in 1960 from France, but also an historical even that just took place a few days ago. April 2nd marked the inauguration of Senegal’s fourth president. The battle for presidency was like nothing I have ever seen, but I feel grateful to have witnessed it, for it represented much more than just an election.

As eastern neighbor Mali is currently divided between a military coup in the south and the Taureg rebels in the north, our Mauritanian neighbors of the north have been unable to host NGO workers or volunteers due to threats, kidnappings and connections to Al Qaeda. Our unstable neighbors to the south, Guinea and Guinea Bissau have their government in shambles and travel into this country, by Americans, is strongly discouraged. One would say the Gambia is stable, but their current president, not only claims that his ancestors sent him the power to cure HIV/AIDS in a dream, but his self love, corruption, and exploitation has prohibited the country to thrive and meet their economic potential. The stories of West Africa go on and on. It has been a difficult place since independence and development and foreign aid has done little to improve the millions of lives living in poverty.

27 million dollar statue (not my photo)
Senegal’s story is one of hope. Though poverty and exploitation still exists in many rural areas, this past election campaign proved that the Senegalese people believe in change and have the power to see it happen. Since arriving in Senegal, I have heard nothing but negative comments about the past president Abdoulaye Wade. The most popular one relating to a 27 million dollar statue built by the North Koreans in exchange for land in which Wade receives 35% of profits and revenues. Wade explains that the vision of the statue came to him in a dream, therefore he had to build it even though nearly everyone will agree that the money could have been used to…um I don’t know…fix roads, strengthen the school systems, help rural areas get electricity, fix hospitals and health huts?????

There has also been criticism over Wade’s family life, he was raised in France and married a French women.  His son, Karim, who is also a politician and thought about running for president does not even speak Wolof (the national language) It is said that the Wade family is not really Senegalese because they have never had to suffer.  Either way the majority of people were content to see the end of his term. However as time approached when he was supposed to step down, rumors started to leak that he would be running for a third term which is illegal in Senegal’s constitution.

After the Constitutional Council approved him to run for his third and last turn, violent protests erupted all over the country. It is said that he paid off the council members. It was also at this time that they disqualified opponent Youssa Ndour, who at the time had a huge public backing. 

Picture of Protests, not my photo

more protests, not my photo

Before the campaign started, Wade invited all the village chiefs, including my host father, to Dakar to honor their hard work and dedication. He made them promises that if he was re-elected, he would help improve their communities.  (Should I mention that he has done absolutely nothing during the last two terms for any village outside of Dakar)
 February 27th was the first election and he did not get enough votes to win so a second run off election with scheduled against Macky Sall.  The second election happened on March 25th.  I was in village for both elections and it was interesting to observe. 

When going to vote, you enter a classroom where there is a committee supervising.  There are paper cards for each candidate with a photo and their name. You pick up one of each and then go behind a curtain where you put the person you want to win in an envelope and seal it.  After you put it into a sealed box and dispose of the candidates you did not choose. Later when the election ends the supervising team gets together and counts out each vote.  In my friends village, the police surrounded the school with AK 40’s to prevent any protesting as all the men gathered around to hear the votes being counted. (no pictures of AK 40's, its illegal to take photos of the military.
Instructions on how to vote

During the second election there were people paying 1mille (2$) for those voting for Wade. (Paid for by Wade himself…desperation??? I think so, government funds…probably) Instead of disposing of the papers they were supposed to, people would hide them in their clothing and sneak them out to collect money. Despite all the cheating Macky still won. He was inaugurated on April 2nd, in Dakar (I actually got to see him driving down the street waving to his country-men) 56% of registered voters actually voted. (This number is higher than the States)
Election committee and woman putting her vote in the box
Candidates: take one of each and put the one you want in the envelope

The majority of my village voted for Wade, but my host family was Macky all the way. The night he won my family and some of their friend erupted in screaming and dancing. It gave me Goosebumps as it was the coolest things I have ever witnessed (close to Obama’s victory) People who I have never see dance were dancing like madmen.  The last few weeks as I have talked to my Senegalese friends, I can’t help but to catch their contagious energy.  It’s really been a monumental experience!

So who is Macky Sall?

poster my host family put up on their house

 He was born in Senegal, his father is Pulaar and his mother is Sereer.  He is a geological engineer that has lived most of his life working in the political arena. He was the former Prime Minister for Wade himself and served as the minister of petroleum and mining. I hope that he uses the opportunity to be president for the betterment of his country instead of his personal objectives like so many African presidents have fallen victim to before him. It will be an interesting time as the future unfolds and I suggest keeping an eye on this country, for it’s development has unlimited possibilities. I personally am not a big fan of politicians but if you ask the Senegalese they classify him as a real Senegalese.  They are happy, perhaps not so much for Macky himself, but the fact that they, the Senegalese people, had power to make a change. If they believe, maybe there really is hope.

A Series of fun pictures take on the road to Dakar

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