Senegal’s Elections: 2012 – Back in Dakar
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Greetings from Dakar, Senegal, where the Nomadic Wax team has returned to bear witness to the 2012 presidential election through the eyes of our friends and partners in Senegal’s youth and hip-hop movement. Five years ago, we released Democracy in Dakar, in which we documented Senegal’s vibrant hip-hop scene and the 2007 election, which saw President Abdoulaye Wade returned to office for a second term. Now, Wade—who was once seen as the country’s great progressive hope—is up for a controversial third term; the opposition is mobilized but also splintered; and music, and hip-hop in particular, remains at the center of youth activism and expression. With the election taking place February 26th, we knew we had to be here.
Back in 2007, the notion of creating a ‘webisode’ series like Democracy in Dakar, produced and edited on location and immediately released on the Web, was a revolutionary idea. MySpace was new, Facebook was barely used, and Youtube was a social media space that the world was only just discovering.
In 2012, the landscape of global media and communications has changed dramatically. The Internet, digital technology and social media have penetrated deeper into the lives of people worldwide. Coverage and awareness of the Arab Spring, protests in Europe, and even Occupy Wall Street has spurred the growth of transformative movements led by youth and artists everywhere. Here in Senegal, Y’En A Marre (“Enough is Enough” in French), a grassroots movement led by rappers and journalists, has been gaining traction for a year. Y’En A Marre is attempting to galvanize the Senegalese population to vote in the upcoming presidential elections.
For the past week, Nomadic Wax has been back in Dakar attending protests and interviewing rappers, journalists, youth and people on the street. We’ve been hearing and seeing people air their voices of political discontent. We’ve sat down to talk to some of the characters from the Democracy in Dakar series whom you’ll likely remember, such as Keyti, Matador and Sen Kumpa. We’ve also interviewed some of the new players from Y’En A Marre who have emerged on the musical activism scene, such as Thiat, Simon and Djily Bagdad from 5Kiem Underground.
When we started the Democracy in Dakar series, we had only one objective: to create a substantive body of work that would document the unique and innovative roles of music and young people in Senegal’s electoral process. The results of our work in 2007 were a series of documentary short films, a feature-length movie, educational curriculum and a tour of colleges, universities and film festivals in the US, Europe and Africa.
Now, five years later, with our current project in Dakar, our mission has not changed, but the landscape of music, media and politics understandably has. Our goal with this project is to build on the body of work that we started and continue to document the story of Senegal’s democracy and the role musicians have in its outcomes.
Background Prior to my arrival in Dakar, team members Kalen, Elias, and Samiha sent me updates on the political and social atmosphere in Senegal’s capital city. Kalen’s stay in Dakar dated back to January, when it had not yet been determined whether Wade was eligible for re-election. The question was whether the two-term limit on presidential tenure—put into law in 2001—applied to Wade, given that the start of his first term preceded the law’s implementation. Many found Wade’s insistence on his right to run again hypocritical, as passing the two-term limit was one of Wade’s first initiatives as President in 2000, in reaction to the fact that both of his predecessors had 20-year tenures. The night of the Constitutional Council’s decision, thousands gathered in the Place de l’Obelisque, awaiting the announcement. The high court validated Wade’s candidacy, and the gathering at the Place de l’Obelisque heated quickly, with members of the opposition movement M23 and grassroots youth movement Y’En A Marre rejecting the decision. The court also invalidated the candidacy of world music star Youssou N’Dour. Protests continued through the night, leaving one police man dead.
In demonstrations that ensued in the following weeks, an elderly woman, a teenage boy, and a university student also lost their lives. People were deeply and genuinely saddened by the loss of these lives in a country that prides itself on peaceful public life.