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Senegal: Democracy or Gerontocracy?

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Feb 23, 2012 (120223)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

A divided opposition and support from rural areas may yet enable aging and intransigent President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal to win a third term, with a majority in the first round of presidential elections on February 26. But whether this happens or whether the election goes into a second round, urban and youth protests are likely to continue, with uncertain outcomes for Senegal and its reputation as a regional leader in democratic institutions.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains (1) a Feb. 18 press release from the International Federation for Human Rights and three Senegalese human rights group, reporting on repression of pre-electoral protests in Senegal; and excerpts from (2) a response to repression of the January 31 demonstrations by Senegalese commentator Arame Tall, in Pambazuka News, and (3) a longer historical background analysis as well as first-hand reports from demonstrations against constitutional amendments in June 2011, by historian James Genova, just published in the Ohio State University publication Origins.

Since the last two selections are shortened for reason of length, and, in the case of the article by Genova, for reason of copyright as well, AfricaFocus readers are strongly encouraged to go to the original full-length articles at and, respectively.

For regular updates on Senegal from the African press, see (English) and

The site of the Senegalese Press Agency is at

The website for Y'En A Marre is

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Senegal, visit

For updates on Senegal from the AfricaFocus twitter feed, go to

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Senegal: The Campaign Turned Into Repression, Like the 'Human Rights' Balance Sheet of President Wade

18 February 2012

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
Rencontre africaine de défense des droits de l'Homme (RADDHO)
Organisation nationale des droits de l'Homme (ONDH)
Ligue sénégalaise des droits de l'Homme (LSDH)

press release

The FIDH and its member organizations and partners in Senegal, RADDHO, ONDH and LSDH, strongly condemn the systematic repression of all peaceful demonstration in central Dakar and dozens of and arrests of opposition demonstrators since the last 72 hours.

Our organizations urge Senegalese authorities to immediately stop the ongoing repression, to release those arbitrarily arrested and comply with Senegalese legislation authorizing the conduct of peaceful demonstrations.

For nearly three days, all the events in downtown Dakar are systematically dispersed by force and dozens of demonstrators were arrested. Wednesday, February 15, the manifestation of citizens' movement M23 was been roughly dispersed. On 16 February, it was the turn of the collective 'Y En a Marre' to undergo a particularly ferocious repression: dispersion by violence, arrest of twenty members including several of their leaders and their mistreatment of detainees. On 16 and 17 February, it was the presidential candidates and their supporters who were the target of this repression. Cheikh Bamba Dieye, candidate of the Front for Socialism and Democracy / Benno Jubel (FSD / BJ) was arrested during few hours on Feb. 17 when he demonstrated to the Obelisk Place, as Ibrahima Sene, head of the Party independence and Work (PIT). Idrissa Seck, Rewmi party candidate ("the State"), was also under fire tear gas canister while the manifestation of Ibrahima Fall, independent candidate, was banned by the prefect of Dakar despite the authorization and instructions of the National Autonomous Electoral Commission (CENA).

"The Senegalese authorities can not go against the Senegalese law" said Ms Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President. "We need the authorities come to their senses and allow the public and political expression of opponents and citizens under penalty of being treated as an authoritarian regime gagging democracy" she added.

Indeed, the government justifies the repression of demonstrations by an order issued by the prefect of Dakar in July 2011 banning all public demonstrations since then in the center of the capital. Besides the fact that withholding the public and individual freedoms contrary to constitutional provisions, this ban is clearly illegal under Article 61 of The Election Code which provides that "all candidates and all voters can freely organize meetings and demonstrations on throughout the territory under the conditions prescribed by law" i.e a statement 24 hours prior to the administrative authority. These conditions have been met by all organizations who want demonstrate these days. The Supreme Court of Senegal itself had already considered in a decision dated October 13, 2011 that the ban of a similar Radhho's demonstration in December 2010 by order of the prefect of Dakar was an "abuse of power" and constituted an "attack on freedom of assembly."

The situation deteriorated further yesterday when a tear gas canister was thrown into the great mosque El Hadji Malick Sy Plateau neighborhood, near downtown, to the anger of hundreds of faithful and recalling the attack on the cathedral of Dakar the past year. More worryingly a reporter of Agence France Press (AFP) saw during the incident, a policeman out his gun and open fire. He then retrieved a 9 mm bullett and an other unfired bullet. This raising fears of escalating repression and use of means contrary to United Nations principles on the use of force.

"On the eve of a such important deadline for Senegal, the highest authorities must demonstrate accountability and healing, allowing democracy to speak freely as required by law" said Me Sidiki KABA, President honor of the FIDH.

Similarly, it was reported civilians men armed with shotguns riding on unmarked 4X4 purchasing demonstrators. Reportedly, some had their faces covered with a black hood, as could also confirm the correspondents of AFP and Reuters on site.

Also a policeman wounded in the head, the violence of the day on Friday were a dozen wounded, including two Western journalists. The balance of the repression of demonstrations and popular protest since the end of January is 5 dead, including one policeman, injuring dozens and dozens of arrests.

Our organizations are also concerned about the fate of many protesters arrested for having defied the ban on demonstrations. In addition to the abuse found during their arrest, it is feared they are currently tortured as is often the case during detention in police stations and gendarmerie brigades.

The last presidential term of Wade marked by regression in human rights

Approaching the first round of presidential elections scheduled for 26 February 2012, our organizations take a grim picture of the five year period ending in terms of respect for human rights. Among the many violations of civil and political rights, economic, social and cultural documented by our organizations, the presidential election is an opportunity to take stock of too many violations of democratic principles, civil liberties and judicial independence in Senegal in recent years.

One of the most flagrant violations of these principles was the failed attempt by the Head of State to amend the constitution to his advantage to change the rules of the presidential election less than a year before the elections to finally give up face to popular protest June 23, 2011. "The tampering of the Fundamental Law would seriously attempt to the principles of democratic change. The approach of President Wade, although stopped, showed his lack of commitment to democratic principles in contradiction with the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance which binds Senegal "said Ms Souhayr Belhassen, president of the FIDH.

Civil liberties were also affected by restrictions. Demonstrations were illegally banned - like the one willing to hold Raddho in December 2010 and again last February 15, 2012 - and sometimes repressed - such as the M23's one in June 23, 2011 and that of the Y en a marre movement on February 16, 2012 - by a disproportionate use of force by security forces, arbitrary arrests and mistreatment.

"Violence against the M23 and Y en a Marre demonstrators by thugs of the regime and supporters of the ruling party have never been subject to investigation" said Me Dioma Assane Ndiaye, President of LSDH. "To the inverse, the investigation on the assault against Alioune Tine, on June 23, 2011, stalled when all the evidence of the involvement of government thugs are in the hands of the Senegalese justice" added his lawyer, Me Dioma Assane Ndiaye.

Our organizations have also condemned the repeated attacks against human rights defenders by the authorities: public statements from government officials assimilating human rights defenders to political opponents, attacks on freedom of expression of representatives of civil society ; arbitrary arrests, like the one of the President of the RADDHO, Alioune Tine, in January 2012 finally released without charge after 48 hours of detention in harsh conditions and without access to his lawyer; expulsion of the Secretary General of the FIDH; and customs confiscation copies of the Annual Report of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights (FIDH/OMCT).

"These repeated violations of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders converge on the expression of an authoritarian power that rejects any criticism of its governance" lamented Me Sidiki Kaba, Honorary President of FIDH.

The practice of torture remains unfortunately still topical in Senegal, the LSDH has documented numerous cases of torture by state agents and grabbed the Committee against Torture UN. In recent years about thirty cases have been recorded and at least ten of which have died of mistreatment in detention estimated LSDH.

The independence of the judiciary was also challenged in the Hissene Habré Case, former president of Chad, exiled in Senegal, allegedly responsible for grave and massive violations of human rights in his country. While our organizations had welcomed the adoption of a legal framework conducive to the opening of a trial and that financial support from the international community had been granted for this purpose, the trial of Habré is still not on the headlines. Violating the international obligation to prosecute or extradite Habré, Wade attempted to expel him in July 2011 to Chad and later retracted at the last moment before the opposition of the UN and human rights organizations. Under the pretext of a procedural defect, the Indictment Division of the Court of Appeal of Dakar forced Belgium - a country where proceedings are initiated against Habré - to formulate a fourth extradition request. "These delaying tactics are unacceptable in a Rule of State. Victims of Habré regime have been waiting more than 20 years for justice"said Alassane Seck, Vice President of RADDHO.

Faced with this unflattering assessment, our organizations call on the future Senegalese authorities to stop these violations and strictly respect the commitments of Senegal for the protection of human rights.

President Wade vs. the people: Senegal is in danger

Arame Tall

Pambazuka News, 2012-02-02, Issue 568

[Excerpts. For full article see]

* Arame Tall is a consultant, Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction (CCA-DRR) in Africa, SAIS-The Johns Hopkins University.


The events going on in Senegal are defying the most basic assumptions held about Senegal's democracy: Senegalese police officers firing on Senegalese citizens with live ammunition, and killing a young masters student, wounding at least ten others.

Police officers bitterly fighting with protesters across all the neighbourhoods of the capital until the wee hours of the night (in Khar Yalla, Baobab, Niary Talli, Ouakam, Colobane, the list goes on...)

All the neighbourhoods of Dakar ablaze... Overwhelmed police forces struggling to put out the multiple simultaneous hearths across the city, but barely succeeding..

At the heart of all this violence, a peaceful protest convened by the M23, and joined by hundreds of men, women, old and young, students and ordinary citizens of all faiths and political affiliations at The Place de l'Obélisque, which has become the symbol and seat of anti-Wade popular resistance, responded to with police tear gas...

In the middle of the protest, a police hot water hose tank runs into the crowd, crushing a young woman dead. An ambulance 'in operation', carrying a victim severely wounded, fired with teargas by police forces. Red Cross volunteers everywhere carrying wounded protesters and providing first aid.

All these images seem surreal even to the most seasoned analysts of Senegal's political evolution. One does not believe this is really taking place in Senegal.

Pre-electoral violence in Senegal, brewing since the announcement of President Wade's bid for a third term, exploded when Wade received the green light from Senegal's Constitutional Court on Friday, 27 January, confirming him on the list of valid candidates for the next election to be held on 26 February, 2012.

Brewing Popular Discontent

A multi-party competitive democracy since 1974, when many other African states were still reeling under the iron fist of dictators and bloody military coups, Senegal hoisted itself up to the level of a firm beacon of democracy in the region in 2000, when former president Abdou Diouf, head of a regime in power for 40 years, peacefully handed power over to Abdoulaye Wade, a close winner of the 2000 presidential election, and to his opposition coalition.

Much water has gone under the bridge since 2000, and Wade today is the most contested figure in the nation.

Following the 23 June 2011 popular uprising, which saw the historic unleashing of a sea of protesters in front the National Assembly to contest a constitutional makeover that would have instituted a vice-presidency (thought to have been created for Wade's son, Karim Wade) and secured an easy victory for Wade at the 2012 presidential election (see Green Thursday in the Life of the Nation by same author), contestation has not died down.

Firm popular demands for the invalidation of Wade's candidacy for the next election were stepped up in the runup to 2012 presidential electoral campaign. On the grounds that the new constitution adopted in 2001 – drafted by President Wade himself one year following his rise to power – limited the number of terms of any president to a maximum of two, protesters took the streets multiple times to denounce what they saw as a constitutional coup d'état.


Led by the 'Y'en A Marre' group and the M23, a popular citizen movement composed of all opposition parties, civil society groups and ordinary citizens, created to keep alive the spirit of the 23 June uprising, the protesters took the streets every 23rd day of the month between June and December 2011.

Wade showed no sign of retreat from his resolution to run for a third presidential bid, however. Changing the administrative partitioning of the country to downsize the districts where his party, the PDS, did not have a lead, ransacking public coffers to fund his campaign, publicly announcing his retraction of his previous statement where that he would not run again in 2012, Wade appeared determined as ever to extend his stay in power for a third term. ...

As a bitter constitutional debate took hold over the country, with the majority of Senegalese constitutionalists who took part in the writing of the 2001 constitution stating that Wade's third bid was unconstitutional, while a minority, affiliated with Wade's camp, maintained that Wade was exempt from the immediate application of the 2001 Constitution's provisions, having been elected one year prior to its adoption, the final word on the constitutional validity or not of Wade's third presidential bid was left to Senegal's Constitutional Court.

Composed of the 'five wise' judges appointed by the president and copiously treated in the days preceding their decision with gifts of a limousine each and 5million CFA bonuses from the president, serious doubts were cast regarding the impartiality of the court's decision.

Constitutional Court Allows Wade to Run

On 27 January 2012, 29 days prior to election day, the Senegalese Constitutional Court's 'Five Wise' published the final list of validated candidates for the 2012 presidential election. This list included Abdoulaye Wade, and excluded the notorious popular singer Youssou N'Dour who had announced his bid for the presidential seat at the 11th hour in a contested context.


The January 31 Protest

Faced with the tenacity of Wade's decision to take part in the upcoming elections, the M23 in a final act called on all the forces of the nation to embark on a resistance against what they labelled as Senegal's constitutional coup d'état, and called a peaceful protest on Tuesday, January 31 at 3pm, at the now infamous Place de l'Obélisque, Senegal's Tahrir Square.

The Ministry of the Interior forbade the protest, boding of potential tensions and renewed clashes between national security forces and the mobilized youth.

From 3pm the protest ensued peacefully. At 6pm, however, tanks began to roll on the tight crowd assembled at the Place de l'Obélisque, as police officers targeted political opponents such as Moustapha Niasse, Youssou Ndour and others.


One of the two killed on January 31 was a masters student at the University Cheikh Anta Diop of Dakar (UCAD), Mamadou Diop, 30. He was allegedly run over by the police tank and smashed to death as the tank ran into the crowd assembled at the Place de l'Obélisque.

The bleak voice of Mamadou's father can be heard through the wavelengths of Dakar's mainstream radio station Walfadjri: 'In the name of peace, I am begging Abdoulaye Wade to relinquish power. I am not wishing any other parent, any other human being, to go through what I am going through right now', his voice squeaks.


Mamadou Diop was an ordinary citizen who wanted to defend his constitution, informs one of his classmates at the Department of Classics. A group of Mamadou Diop's classmates is assembled at SUMA-Assistance, sharing in the grief. Retribution from UCAD students, the historically fieriest social force to reckon with, is to be expected in the days ahead.


"Y'En A Marre!" (We're Fed Up!): Senegal in the Season of Discontent

by James E. Genova

Origins volume 5 issue 6

[Brief excerpts only. For full article, with extensive background information, visit:]

Origins Editor's Note:

In the summer of 2011, the streets of Dakar, Senegal filled with a mass of demonstrators "fed up" with the political machinations of President Abdoulaye Wade. Led by popular rappers, the oppositional collective "Y'En A Marre" became spokespeople for a generation at the end of their rope. As Senegal approaches critical elections in February 2012, historian James Genova offers an eyewitness account of these political upheavals, placing the current turmoil in its broader historical and African context.


On June 23, 2011, I arrived for a morning of research in Senegal's national archives, in the coastal African country's capital of Dakar. The archives reside in an administrative building in the heart of the government district on Avenue du Président Léopold Sédar Senghor, across the street from the presidential palace and around the corner from the National Assembly.


Since my arrival in Senegal almost two weeks before, I had learned that President Abdoulaye Wade, estimated to be at least 85 years old and already in office for 11 years, had asked the National Assembly to approve two major revisions to the constitution. This was an atypical event in Senegal, a country noted for political stability and constitutional order.

One amendment would create the post of vice president, who would succeed the president in the event of incapacitation or death. This would imitate the U.S. system but depart from Senegalese political tradition, which follows the French pattern of a presidential republic, wherein the president of the senate takes charge but must hold elections within 30 days.

The second amendment would lower the requirement for victory in the first round of presidential elections from 50% plus one to 25% of the popular vote. This would ensure that Wade could avoid a run-off in 2012 and return for a third term.

He was expected to nominate his son, Karim, as his running mate. To many Senegalese in opposition parties, this smelled like a monarchy in the making.

The morning of June 23, demonstrators gathered legally outside the National Assembly as I settled down to work. Soon the person in charge of the archive reading room announced, "There is a general strike and we are closing."


Upon arriving at the Place de l'Indépendance, I realized that I was caught up in something unprecedented in Senegalese history. A few thousand protesters faced off against the security forces, chanting, "Touche pas ma constitution! (Don't touch my constitution!)" and "Non à la monarchie! (No to monarchy!)." They also pumped their fists in the air and shouted, "Y'En A Marre! (We're Fed Up!)". Some wore black t-shirts with "Y'En A Marre" emblazoned across the front.

Y'En A Marre is a mass oppositional movement that, according to a New York Times interview, formed in a casual conversation between a local reporter and some popular rap artists in a Dakar apartment in January 2011.

The journalist, Fadel Barro, recalls telling Senegalese rappers Fou Malade and Thiat, "Guys, everyone knows you. But you're not doing anything to change the country." They decided then and there to form a collective aimed at mobilizing young people's interest in Senegalese politics.

Frequent and worsening power outages sharpened their displeasure with Senegal's ongoing economic problems. Senegal imports all of its energy and is thus acutely impacted by the fluctuations of world market prices for oil. Its currency, the CFA Franc, is pegged at a fixed rate to the Euro, leaving Senegal's economy vulnerable to events beyond its control.

The nation's food supply is mostly imported too—a result of colonial-era policies that shifted Senegalese agriculture from a variety of staple crops to a small number of cash crops, particularly peanuts. Thus, changes in international prices for basic foodstuffs like rice, wheat, and corn directly affect the Senegalese people's ability to eat.


Senegal Fifty Years After Independence

Y'En A Marre is the product of decades of economic stagnation and neo-liberal reforms imposed from outside and embraced by corrupt beneficiaries. Political nepotism has turned the Senegalese state into a private family business.

Wade came to the presidency after 40 years of government by the Socialist Party under two presidents (Léopold Senghor, 1960-1980, and Abdou Diouf, 1981-2000). The longtime opposition leader, Wade was elected President at the head of a broad coalition called Sopi, or Change. He promised a renaissance for Senegal through construction, economic diversification, and political openness.

In the 1990s, international lending agencies pressured Senegal to liberalize its economy. The government privatized its assets, loosened price and wage controls, and lifted protections for domestic industries. Although the changes were hailed as positive by the outside world, the Senegalese themselves experienced increased unemployment, shortages, and a rapidly widening gap between the very few haves and the many have-nots.

Following this first round of "reforms," the country's economy contracted by more than 2%. What counted for the International Monetary Fund (IMF), European banks, and the World Bank was that Senegal's inflation rate dropped to around 5% annually from 1995 to 2007.

That was great news for those with money, but terrible for the millions who had little income or lost their jobs as a result of the reforms.

It was partly in reaction to these programs that Wade secured election and bounced the Socialist Party from power. His coalition brought most of the opposition together simply to oust those who had held power since Senegal's independence from France.


Wade easily defeated Diouf in the 2000 elections and the incumbent stepped down, handing power to Wade without incident. Once in office, however, the differences among Wade's coalition partners quickly surfaced.

Wade pursued neo-liberal reforms even more aggressively than his predecessor while depending increasingly on international loans and gifts.

His administration eliminated price controls for food and energy, causing their costs to spike. Senegal's economy is highly dependent on the export of groundnuts, but the formation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995 effectively meant that Senegal could no longer protect its domestic production from outside competitors.

The end of the Cold War and France's economic difficulties also meant that international aid to countries such as Senegal began to plummet in the 1990s.

The vacuum in international lending was filled by new sources such as Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and China. Those countries had different economic and political agendas. Notably, Morocco and Saudi Arabia put money into Islamic schools while China invested in land, potential energy resources, and payoffs to the government to secure construction and development contracts.

Wade directed much of this new money into private hands or into self-aggrandizing building programs.


The 2008 Economic Collapse

When the global economic crisis hit in 2008, dramatically escalating food and energy prices devastated Senegal's economy.

Senegal confronted an unprecedented crisis with an impotent and corrupt government. Evidence of corruption came in 2009 when Wade gave a departing IMF official a goodbye present that turned out to be a bag of money equivalent to about 200,000 U.S. dollars.

The numbers starkly illustrate Senegal's economic predicament.

Per capita GDP is estimated at $1,900, which is 190th in the world. Even that figure doesn't tell the real story as most of Senegal's wealth is concentrated in the hands of the top ten percent of the population. Much of the population of 12 million lives on meager incomes or international aid.


By 2009, political disturbances were common. The power cuts got worse, food prices rose, and unemployment reached an official rate of 50%, though widely believed much higher.


A Rap Revolution

Then there was the chance encounter among popular rap artists and the journalist Fadel Barro in January 2011.

The rappers Thiat, Fou Malade, and others in Y'En A Marre became the spokespeople for a generation at the end of their rope. Song lyrics directly targeted the source of the people's discontent. In one rap Fou Malade sings plainly, "In politics, nothing but hypocrites, robbers of cash. Government, why do you always lie, always?"

By then the Arab Spring was in full swing. Western media offered 24-hour broadcasts of gatherings in Cairo's Tahrir Square, confrontations in Yemen, Libya, and Syria, and protests in Jordan, Iraq, and Morocco.

The rappers in the Y'En A Marre collective called for a peaceful protest in Dakar's Place de l'Obélisque on March 19, 2011. They announced this would be a non-partisan gathering aimed at promoting political involvement among the country's young people.

In their call to action Y'En A Marre states, "The time has passed for moaning in your living room or futile complaining about the power cuts. We refuse to accept the systematic rationing imposed in our homes to supply electricity. We're sick and tired of it. Enough is enough." Hundreds turned up to voice their disgruntlement at a peaceful event, along with a rather outsized detail of security forces.

In the weeks that followed Y'En A Marre launched a voter registration drive in anticipation of the 2012 elections. They asked people not to pledge allegiance to any of the established political parties. Their goal was to sign up over 1 million new, mostly young voters who simply wanted change and could act as an independent voting bloc holding all the parties' feet to the fire.


Senegal and the Global Season of Discontent

Regardless of the outcome of Senegal's current political crisis, the underlying economic and global structural elements that fuel the discontent of the Senegalese (and other people around the world) remain unchanged.


Senegal is significant because it is a bellwether for the region. As a model of stability—the only country in West Africa to never have had a coup or violent takeover of power—it is looked to by others in the region as an example. Endowed with one of the most educated and relatively welloff populations in West Africa, Senegal's descent into political chaos could well destabilize the entire region. Ripples could be felt all the way to Europe in the form of an increasing tide of refugees.

Senegal's opposition movement is also part of a global expression of discontent at a world that had been profoundly remade in the past 30 years to the benefit of the super-rich and multinational corporations. Widening economic disparity, declining prospects for economic development, and the remoteness of power from everyday people's grasp has spawned an array of oppositional politics around the world.


Each of them is unique in their specific forms and immediate demands. However, what all of these movements have in common is best summed up by the Senegalese rappers: "Y'En A Marre!" "We're Fed Up!"

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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