Society in Discontent in Dakar

I arrived in the Dakar on the 28th of June, and apparently, luckily so, as the previous few days had been marred by protests against the president (Abdoulaye Wade) and power outages. It was especially bad, I was told, on the 23rd and 25th of June, when Dakar people took to the streets to protest the president’s tabling of a bill to parliament that would enable one to win an election with 25% of the votes (it was normally 60%) and that would see the installment of a vice-president, something Senegal has presently done without. People were also wary of the president’s seeming intentions to, as it were, “hand over” the presidency to his son, Karim Wade, who is the current Minister of State for International Cooperation, Regional Development, Air Transport, Infrastructure and Energy. How one person can simultaneously handle such diverse portfolios is beyond me! But I suppose they are all related, as thinking so would undoubtedly make them so. Apparently the bill was eventually not tabled on the 23rd as the president had intented. However, people are still unimpressed with the president – many are calling for the disqualification of his candidacy in next year’s elections.

Some of these protests were also against the power outages that have been occuring in Dakar for at least about a year now, outages which began last summer. I myself even attempted, for a few days, to keep a schedule of when the electricity would come on and off to prepare myself, but the schedule just seemed to have no ryhme or reason so I gave up. What I did conclude was that when there was electricity, it would remain for at least two hours, after which anything could happen. One of the issues with lack of electricity in Dakar is the rather high cost of living that removes laziness as a option. So without electricity, many can’t work, and survival becomes a challenge. It also gets rather hot and humid here in June/July so that people use fans or ACs to sleep at night. And it seems like someone has been listening to the people. Even I have noticed a difference in electricity between the past two or three days and the first few days when i arrived. Or perhaps its a honeymoon until the people take to the streets again in protest.

It’s funny when people talk to me about power outages here. I just look at them and I think, “What exactly are you all complaining about?! At least there is electricity for a few hours a day! Have you been to Lagos?!” But I think that’s probably an unfair reaction citing a) the ridiculously high cost of living in Dakar and b) the fact that people have had constant electricity until only a year ago. In Nigeria, I think people have gotten used to the lack of electricity that it has become second nature. No one expects anything to change anymore and the powers that be have seemingly, totally eradicated the agency of the people that people no longer believe in their own collective power. But I can’t even debate Nigerian “power” politics here (no pun intended) – I wouldn’t do it justice, for many better than me have tried and sadly, have failed.

The actual electricity thing, to me, is actually of little consequence. I really only want it at night when I want to sleep to ward off mosquitoes buzzing in my ear. But I plan to invest in some mosquito coils, or use headphones to fill up the vacuum that attracts them. The rest of the day, the sun is bright enough, and at night, I have a flashlight for whatever else I need to do. The stove, not that I’ve used it that much, uses gas, and the refrigerator – well, I really only put something in it yesterday evening, otherwise it’s been empty all along. I would need electricity to plug my computer for the internet, but I can’t afford internet. Besides, they have the portable internet usb keys which is what I would buy if affordability was not an issue.

I try to be conscious and use the AC and electricity (when it does come) sparingly, but apparently, it matters little for they get billed anyway! Either way, the AC makes so much noise that I think it exceeds my daily decibel allowance so I can’t sensibly have it on all the time. Ahh…the joys of Africa.