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Features

Green Thursday in the life of the nation of Senegal

The day everything changed and a ticking bomb finally exploded

Arame Tall

2011-06-29, Issue 537

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/features/74461

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The inspiring uprisings in Senegal represent ‘a ticking bomb finally exploding’, writes Arame Tall, with a highly diverse cross-section of Senegalese society out in force to protest the dearth of economic opportunities, political mismanagement and governmental scandals: ‘What has taken place in Senegal is most of all a reclaiming by a people of a voice they thought they had a lost and a dignity even they themselves had forgotten they had.’

The nation of Senegal came out in all of its flying colours to defend the republic and express its full sovereignty over its destiny.

Green for the colour of hope, green for the colour of renewal, green in opposition to the oppressing claw with which the ruling party of PDS (Parti Démocratique Sénégalais) had reigned over the country of Senegal for the past 11 years of rule – whose colour of representation was blue, once the symbol of SOPI, or change, when PDS leader Abdoulaye Wade was elected to power in 2000, toppling a 40-year regime.

Today all across the country, flags and party houses of the PDS were burnt down in the streets, along with stoned cars, government buildings and houses of deputies known to be lieutenants in the ruling party.

Thursday 23 June was indeed a historic day in the life the nation that we the youth of Senegal will never forget. The nation came out in all of its glory and fury – men and women, youth and old, poor and rich, swift politicians and lay common men and women – and took to the streets together as one. This was to contest a law proposal orchestrated by the presidency that was to change the rules of the electoral game to enable an easy re-election for Abdoulaye Wade for a third seven-year term in the upcoming February 2012 election –halving the minimum percentage of voters required to win at the first round from 50 per cent plus one vote to 25 per cent of all votes expressed, and furthermore instituting a vice-presidency without any consultations or consensus with the people, a logical pre-requisite to such a sweeping constitutional change.

However, the people of Senegal today did not just come out to contest, legitimately, the nth makeover of their constitution. They came out because this was an act too far, the drop that made the full vase tip over.

This explosion – which took the form of hundreds of thousands of Senegalese men, women and youth, marching to besiege the National Assembly and the main streets of Dakar, as well as those of all regional capitals across the country (Thies, Diourbel, Kaolack, Fatick, Saint-Louis, Ziguinchor), demanding that the law proposal under examination at the National Assembly be repealed and fighting armed policemen with their bare hands and stones screaming to the top of their lungs ‘y en a marre!’ (‘we have had enough!’) – was the explosion of a bomb that had been ticking in my senses for the past five years.

Indeed, during the five years past since the contested political re-election of Abdoulaye Wade in 2007, the 80 plus-year-old president of Senegal had been lining up politico-financial scandal after politico-financial scandal, which made his once soaring popularity scores plummet. To name but a few of these: the billions of the Muslim Summit Organisation squandered and mismanaged by his own son; the millions of the partial privatisation of the national electricity company, Senelec, and more recently of the telecommunication concession leased to a less competitive third party different from Orange, the largest telecom provider but with whom the president had struck a back-table deal; the privatisation of the national port to a private Dubai company to whom Wade’s son was connected; the ransacking of an anti-government broadcasting company’s offices by one of Wade’s lieutenants who never went to trial for it; an unpopular gargantuan statue built using public funding but with 35 per cent of the proceeds going to Wade’s personal foundation; more recently, the purchase of a multi-billion CFA home in the posh side of town by the president who paid for this in cash; destabilising financial markets with a dumping of CFAs onto the money market; multiple reported thefts of millions of CFAs in his ministers’ homes, making people raise eyebrows about how these public officials had so much money sitting in home vaults in the first place and not in public banks; the parcelling and sale of the public utility lands of the national fair, which was a prime resettlement site for victims in the advent of a humanitarian crisis; the parade of brand new luxury cars in the brand new streets of the Corniche linking the airport to the presidential palace while the majority of the population laboured for hours in a defunct public transportation system to get to work from the cheaper housing neighbourhoods of the banlieues to their workplaces in central Dakar; the housing bubble; the general air of impunity and witchhunt against anyone who dared make money outside of the president’s intimate circle; and the repeated creation and dismantling of government ministries, institutions and national agencies as needed to give ‘a piece of the cake’ to faithful followers and PDS militants. The litany of scandals stretches endlessly.

The most insufferable scandal however to the nation of Senegal – a country, it is important to note, that has had multiparty elections since 1974 when it was only 14 years of age as a country free of the colonial yoke – was the de facto grooming by Wade of his son to inherit the republic, a rumour at first which the Senegalese people could not believe, having elected Wade through the ballot only a mere seven years back but which became increasingly corroborated by the series of acts posed by president and son over the past five years. Yet the nation gave Wade and son a final warning still, clearly saying no to the personalisation of the state and Wade’s covert plan of a monarchic devolution of power during the 2009 legislative elections, when Abdoulaye Wade’s son, who does not speak even one of the national languages of Senegal as a descendent of French mother who lived all of his life in France, yet positioned as a headliner in the PDS ballot list, was defeated even in his own voting centre in Point E, a strong signal to the democratically elected president to reform his ways. But Wade did not pick up on the signals and failed to read the writings on the wall. Also he could not fight off the increasing accusations of enriching himself and his family on the backs of Senegalese people and grooming his son to inherit him.

On Thursday 23 June, after having suffered in relative silence months of intensive power outages in a country that had never know them, even under the most austere years of structural adjustment (Senegal after all is not Nigeria), five years of general gloom where Abdoulaye Wade and his parliamentary majority in the National Assembly reigned with an arrogant political fist (an error of the opposition that had boycotted the legislative rounds in 2007 over calls of electoral fraud by Wade to win his second mandate), throttling the country and brazenly appropriating all of its assets (lands, deeds, natural resources, inflowing aid) getting richer and richer, while the majority excluded from the ‘goody basket’ of the state met only shrinking opportunities, rising prices, long nights without power and ‘no, thank you’ to the limited number of jobs still available but to which hundreds of desperate job-seekers fresh out of Senegal’s first-rate universities and professional schools lined up for. That angry youth today – mostly jobless, broke, lost in its quest for values, with nowhere to turn to and hungry for change – is the one that took to the streets to state loudly that they were fed up of a regime that no longer served their interests, but its own.

The people of Senegal took to the streets today to decry the hijacking of their country by a band of self-interested politicians –from all across the spectrum – and of their freewill by the same occasion.

What has taken place in Senegal is most of all a reclaiming by a people of a voice they thought they had a lost and a dignity even they themselves had forgotten they had.

What was most touching to me today watching this day of uprising that shook the young nation jolting it awake was the diversity of the people who took to the streets – it started yesterday with a handful of determined youth from the movement ‘Y’en a Marre’ (urban rappers and disillusioned youth for the most part) and opposition leaders, of whom a few took dramatic steps to awaken the dignified spirit of the Senegalese people, such as Cheikh Bamba Dieye, mayor of Saint-Louis and minority deputy in the national assembly, who singled himself out by chaining himself to the gates of the National Assembly two days before the vote to symbolise how this new law, if passed in assembly on Thursday, would render the condition of the Senegalese man, chained forever to Wade’s dictatorial regime. However, by yesterday, the eve of the fateful National Assembly vote, men, women and youth from all walks of life were out on the streets.

This morning, the riots had reached their paroxysm. The rallying order was to all assemble at Place Soweto, in front of the gates of the National Assembly, and let the voice of the people be heard that the people of Senegal did not want this law. It was anti-democratic and would give full powers to Wade to implement his foul scheme of devolving power to his son by naming him vice-president, before taking off on a golden retirement paid by our public dimes. Given that the National Assembly deputies, from the PDS ruling party by large measure, no longer represented us, it was time to let them hear us – and loud. In the wee hours of the day, the prior-day rioters who had gone home to revive their forces posted out on Place Soweto, forming a human barrier against the deputies trying to enter the National Assembly. By 10am, a thousand university students left the University Cheikh Anta Diop on the Corniche and ran in 30 minutes the 10 kilometres separating them from Place Soweto, doubling in size on their way by picking up anyone who could join the struggle. The national board examinations for sixth graders in progress were disrupted as marching students took the examiners out of the classrooms forcefully – encouraging them to join the revolution.

I was very touched to see what happened then: the well-to-do bankers, government officials, NGO workers, back office workers, private company bosses, established colleagues and heads of households all across Dakar who had all to lose, all left their offices all at once with the outcry ‘when the day of death has arrived those who continue to live are not men!’ (translated from an old Wolof proverb sang in praise to warriors before the day of reckoning). What was most fantastic was that the women were the first on the streets. They had declared their intent the day before at a planning meeting led jointly by the opposition leaders and civil forum where one woman took the microphone and stated ‘if you the men want to stick to meeting rooms and are too afraid to take to the streets, we will’ and they formidably did in all of their anger and determination. And we know that whatever women start will not end until they prevail. It literally gave me the goosebumps as I saw the image of a veiled young woman – a symbol of obedience and passivity – who found a way through the middle of the agitated mob on Place Soweto brandishing a large stone in her hands and sent it crushing down back the head of a National Assembly deputy who was trying to enter the assembly to vote in favour of the law.

As the day of protest continued, people from everywhere – apparently buses on end sent in from Saint-Louis and Kaolack pouring in more people onto the streets of Dakar – joined in, filling the ranks of the fast-thickening mob in front of the National Assembly and all across the capital. In Medina, Sacré-Coeur, Niari Tali, Thiaroye, Pikine, Guédiawaye, all of the streets pulsed with the anger of the citizens, with the heart of the mob at Place Soweto pulsating energy and volition through the city’s main arteries in an interlinked chain of anger and determination. Pandemonium broke loose with police forces being fast overwhelmed, not knowing what front to fight off as hundreds of foyers of dissent opened simultaneously all throughout the city and the country.

But the people who did not come to Dakar also marched in their regions – in Diourbel the entire PDS party house was ransacked and burnt down to ashes. Not a single bench was even left behind for future PDS members in that impoverished town in the centre of Senegal to sit and orchestrate further lootings of the region’s resources.

Being in Senegal today was like seeing scenes from a movie one thought could have never been possible in this peaceful stable country of West Africa, once hailed as the beacon of democracy on the continent and a haven of stability amidst its warring despotic neighbours in the sub-region. All across the country, people marched on, unwavering, firing stones at the police and running back strategically when the policemen fired back with hot water hoses poured in from large towering tank onto the mob and tear gas to will. Blood of civil victims and police officers alike lined the streets, mixing with stone detritus and heavy teargas fumes fogging the air. It was a guerilla fight, one led by ordinary citizens who turned into street fighters for the day with the war cry ‘We have had enough!’

The people marched on through the day harangued by their conviction and knowledge that now that the bomb had finally erupted, there was no turning back. In unison all across the country people chanted and wore the slogan ‘y’en a marre’, and placards could be seen waved by many, written over makeshift cardboards with felt pen or quickly printed over A4 paper, stating ‘touche pas à ma constitution!’ (‘Don’t touch my constitution!’), ‘Wade degage!’ (‘Wade get out!’), or again ‘La police ne tirez pas sur le people, nous défendons la meme cause’ (‘Police officers, don’t shoot us – we’re defending the same cause’). Spontaneous citizen volunteers went to buy megaphones to direct the flow of the mob, cooked food, provided shelter, water and support to the retreating street fighters.

This was an unprecedented formidable demonstration of spontaneous popular freewill that nothing, no one, was able to hold back.

By the afternoon when the people’s mobilisation was not decelerating but rather going crescendo, Wade, advised by all of the country’s religious, military and diplomatic figures – even lieutenants in his own party sitting in the National Assembly defending the law proposal but fearful for their lives – finally commissioned one of his majority deputies to announce in assembly that he was repealing the law proposal.

The country then exploded in one outcry of joy. We the people had won! Democracy had prevailed! The voice of the people in all of its supremacy had been asserted.

Many in the mob wanted to remain on, waiting to ambush the exiting ‘deputies of the people’; others wanted to continue the march to depose the president at his palace, true to the proceedings of Tahrir Square in Tunisia. But discouraged by leaders and more concerned with freeing the arrested comrades whom the police got to lay hands on, the mob marched on to the central police station of Dakar instead.

Green was the feeling in the air of the day as people celebrated.

Green for the colour of hope, green for the colour of renewal, green in opposition to the oppressing claw of the ruling party of the PDS that has reached its ending, through the will of the people, who had elected its leader to power in the first place 11 years ago, and today demonstrated its ability to depose him from power if it so willed.

The tragedy of the end of 11 years of PDS reign represents however a new beginning for a nation that FINALLY came out of its stupor to contest its endemic atmosphere of economic morbidity, injustice and impunity, and in the end prevailed. This is a green Thursday indeed in the life of the young West African nation.

Today the People of Senegal enabled their transition to a new era for their country, and Africa’s democracy: it is the era of civil society. The small country of Senegal has demonstrated once more the grandeur of its democracy, and the maturity of its nation. I believe Senegal will never be the same after this historic day. Two dead and 145 gravely injured was the bitter price to pay. But never again is the song sung by all the hearts as people go to bed in Senegal tonight.

Arame Tall

P.s. Today more than ever I am proud to be Senegalese. We have won and prevailed over the anti-democratic forces of Wade and his despotic regime. Congratulations to the people of Senegal for your bravery! Congratulations on standing up as one person to fight for your dignity, throwing all fear away! All of you who took to the streets yesterday, and all those of you who harboured and supported the street fighters from your homes, I salute you! It is the victory of freedom over injustice today, of democracy over oligopoly, as the voice of the people was reasserted today across all the towns, cities and streets of the republic through the bare hands and sheer bravery of ordinary citizens who took to the streets to express their self-determination. Today Senegal is a different country. Gacce Ngalama to all the street fighters of yesterday! You have my deepest respect, and I am today very proud to be a citizen of Senegal, once again. I thank you for having reinstated the dignity of our nation.

BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS

* This article was first published at http://afrooptimism.wordpress.com/2011/06/24/345/
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.


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