Official Election Results in Senegal

Official election results were announced yesterday.

The incumbent, Abdoulaye Wade won about 35% of the votes while the runner-up, Macky Sall, won about 27% of the vote, meaning these two are going to face off in the second round of election sometime in March. The last time this happened, in 2000, the incumbent went on to lose to the runner-up in the second round. And we all know how history often likes to repeat itself!

So the saga continues…

Election Day in Senegal

Senegalese people went to the polls yesterday in what I considered to be under very peaceful circumstances.

Most polls were conducted at schools, one of which I happened to be near my apartment. The large majority started at 8am and closed at 6pm – those that started later, i.e. at 9am closed at 7pm, etc. I suspected something extraordinary was going on as the usually quiet street across from my house was now buzzing (this I was able to see from my terrace) with cars pulling in and out and people traipsing about. I decided to satisfy my curiosity by taking a mini walk on the street just after 5pm before heading to my ex-colleague’s that lived nearby to watch tv footage of the events of the day. I noted nothing odd. The people who lived across the polling station/school had pulled up chairs in front of their homes to watch the scene. I did not go inside (and tried to be nonchalant as possible) but from outside, I noted a few people sitting on a bench inside the school compound talking and jesting. The real scene of action was a classroom just within the compound where a few people emerged from having voted. I noted nothing unscrupulous, scandalous or violent.

I was a little annoyed/bored (I had even contemplated taking my camera along for the walk although I would have been disappointed like every other time I contemplate taking my camera with me and return home not sad at all as there had been nothing camera-worthy) but I was actually relieved. I reasoned, well, my area is usually quiet anyway so no surprise there, perhaps when I go watch tv, there will be more exciting stuff going on.

When I arrived at my ex-colleague’s place, the only thing exciting was the colour of the shirt of one of the three journalists on the local channel they had been watching all day. No footage of election violence, unruly behaviour, not even in the so-called ‘popular neighbouhods’. Once again, I was bored/disappointed but IMMENSELY relieved. I am so proud of Senegalese people! True, some say that they’re weird Africans but they’re mighty peaceful ones so we’ll deal with their weirdness any day.  As the husband of my ex-colleague noted, even if some were paid to ‘shut their eyes’ to questionable behaviour, in this internet on your phone age, someone would have taken photos/videos of such things and circulated them. But there have been no such thing reported, YET. So as he further reasoned, since no one is alleging (or has alleged) fraud, and since all candidates stood for the election, it will be hard to make a case for fraud even if the incumbent wins.

But voter turnout was terrible. Prior to the elections, there had been some five million registered voters. As the results were coming in (they would start off with the number of registered voters and the number who actually turned out), it was apparent that probably less (in my estimate) than half the number of registered voters had actually turned out to vote. Eventually it was said that some 3 million people voted, some 25% of the population! Granted the entire population is not eligible to vote, it is still a very low number. So what happened? Apathy? Even the husband of my ex-colleague that I went to visit did not go to vote (I think he didn’t have time to register or something to that effect). During my couple of hours at their home, they received three visitors, all Senegalese, none of whom had gone to vote. And all four of these are really informed, educated folk. I think many people probably just felt that there was no point (they felt the president would win anyway and did not want to go waste their time) AND (perhaps more importantly, and as I alluded to some posts ago), people think most, if not all the candidates, are the same – particularly the three who previously served for the incumbent, one of whom is Macky Sall, the one most likely to face the president in the case of a runoff. In short, many people, especially the informed ones, felt they had no decent option so they decided not to exercise their right to choose.

I was reminded me of the last Canadian election. Many people were dissatisfied with Harper’s overly sophisticated ego and gradual conversion to US conservatism but he won, howbeit with one of the lowest voter turnouts in a long time (if we had runoffs in Canada, the election would have resulted in one). The opposition presented neither good enough cases for their causes nor good enough choices (as the voters saw it) – people couldn’t identify with Ignatieff, and although Quebecois turned out to vote for one of their sons, Layton in droves, it was never going to be enough to win.

Which brings me to this: it is VERY difficult to unseat the incumbent. And it has seldom been done in history. I read an article some time ago that pegged the % of times an incumbent has won an election at at least 80 (or if not higher). So Barack Obama, unless you say you hate white people and were a former black panther, you don’t have much to worry about. In fact, you shouldn’t even have to spend half of the 780 billion USD that it has been alleged was spent on your campaign in 2008.

But I digress – the results have not yet been confirmed but it looks like either the president wins (he has to win at least 51% to avoid a runoff), or he has to face the runner-up in a run off at some point later. At first when the results were coming in around 6:30pm, as polls began to close, the thing was looking sure fire for the incumbent. But later on in the night, as more results began to be announced, it was looking more like a run off would need to happen between the incumbent and a candidate named Macky Sall (and ex cabinet minister for the president), although this dude later annoyed me when one of his speakers went on the radio to proclaim his victory (while votes were still being counted!), calling him President Macky Sall.

This morning on the radio however, I heard a government official claiming victory for the President, putting him at some 53-55% of the votes (a little suspect if he needed to win 51% to avoid a runoff) and then a colleague just told me the President won some 30-something percent, while Macky Sall won some twenty-something percent.

In any case, it is once again, the constitutional council (the one that allowed the president to run) that announces the official results of these elections so we wait and see what they come up with this time.

So Mr. Incumbent, Abdoulaye Wade, if you do win another seven year term (SEVEN!), don’t get it twisted – it’s not because people chose you, it’s because they did not want to chose the others!

The Police, the Teargas, and the Mosque

My previous post was actually supposed to be about this but then I got carried away by Senegalese youth.

Basically, a police officer threw tear gas into a mosque downtown Dakar, close to the Place de l’Independence last Friday, the 17th.

He was a moron.

As the story goes, protesters were throwing things at police officers, and police were retaliating with rubber bullets and the occasional tear gas. Now, I don’t know exactly what happened to lead up to this particular event, but it was claimed that some protesters were throwing things at the police and hiding in and around the mosque, and the next thing I saw (I only saw the footage from this point on) was a police officer, standing just across the street from the mosque beside his truck, pick up a tear gas and hurl it INSIDE the mosque, sending people furiously scurrying about.

Did I mention this police officer was a moron?

So needless to say, people are pissed off, especially the Tidjane Brotherhood, as it was their mosque that was defamed.

This post is actually supposed to be in defense of the policemen during these times at Dakar so we shall exclude the above-mentioned moron from the rest of this entry.

On Sunday, when I was watching tv at a friend’s place (before I left and got into an accident, lol), the repeatedly shown footage was of a group of policemen who, visibly outnumbered, kept backing up as a crowd of protesters with stones and anything ‘hurlable’ advanced on them. Another was a footage of a group of about seven policemen who were shielding themselves, throwing tear gas and shooting rubber bullets at an advancing crowd much larger than them. They even showed one of the officers trying to shoot the rubber gun and I almost died of laughter – just the way he held the thing (or tried to hold it) was enough to cause fits! And he was a typical Senegalese man – as skinny as they come.

All that lead me to this question, is it by FORCE? Pardon the pun!

If the President or Minister or whomever tells me to take six other men to go control a crowd of two hundred young Senegalese (largely men) in some neighbourhood, I will look at  him and ask, “U dey craze (Are you crazy) ?!” If he insists, I’ll say, “ok, no problem.” I’ll get there and hit up the nearest bakery with my men to buy sandwiches and watch the action.

If people want to protest, let them protest! Why do I have to try to stop them and die? Afterall, it’s not me they’re mad at!

But what happens is that these men go and put themselves in front of a crowd of hundreds, trying to stop them from advancing down some street (and I’m not talking about the ones guarding downtown Dakar – those ones have reinforcements-it’s the ones that are sent to ‘cover’ the neighbourhoods in and around the city that suffer the most). They get scared (understandably), start shooting their rubber guns (sometimes randomly, accidentally injuring and killing people) and make other fatal mistakes.  Another footage I saw was of a police man who caught a protester and started beating him hard on the head with his baton. On the head! With the duration and force of the beating, that guy will definitely suffer some head injuries in the future – he already looked discombobulated as they put him in their car to be carried away.

So many of the deaths could have been prevented, and while I’m not saying all the police are innocent in all these (there are fools like the moron above), it is certainly a tough job out there for them!

My brush with Death…I guess!

Actually, I almost died just this past Sunday (well, a little dramatic but u know…). I went downtown to deliver some goods I brought for a Canadian whose boss had asked for some things for her son (to be honest, this boy played into my reason to return to Dakar – I couldn’t NOT deliver his goldfish crackers!). This lady lived right by the Place de l’Independence and being that I had previously cancelled a meeting with her earlier in the week due to another security warning (see what I mean by cancelling all your activities in vain?), I couldn’t cancel again. There were quite a bit of people around downtown (for a Sunday afternoon around 3pm), and a few street corners were blocked by burning debris, and except for the one or two pick up trucks filled with police men guarding the Place, there wasn’t anything remarkable going on. Afterwards, I went to visit another friend who lived a few minutes from the Canadian, and even closer to the presidential palace as I had something to deliver to him too.

I ended up staying rather late (just before eleven pm) as I was watching tv (since I don’t have one at home) and trying to get a sense of the events of the day. The main tv channels were showing some pretty rough looking scenes of protesters advancing on like ten policemen and throwing stones, while the policemen kept backing up (who wouldn’t?), shielding themselves, throwing tear gas and firing rubber bullets. Of course this was nowhere near downtown – often the roughest looking areas are the ‘banlieues’, the often over-crowded neighbourhoods just outside of the Dakar, or the ‘quartiers populaires’, the over-crowded neighbourhoods within the city. I did not even know which neighbourhood the clip had been filmed from – it wasn’t written below and the journalists were not speaking French.

Part of my frustration being here right now is that I don’t even know where to get daily, current, up to date information. I’m talking some live feeds or something. I don’t have tv, so that’s out. I have a radio but all the local channels are largely in the regional language, Wolof. I’ve asked local people about this and the only thing they’ve offered was, well, these local stations also have French programs at various points during the day (although no one could tell me when). The French station, RFI, is too French to have local information so they’re a bit useless for me. Thus, my best chances are reading the newspapers the next day (or trying to, at least) and checking out local Senegalese web sites. Anyway, this weekend, I should be camping out at my ex-colleague’s who lives nearby to watch some tv, or go descend to visit my neighbour (a Senegalese professor) who can translate the Wolof programming into French, lol. But it’s not as bad as I paint it – I do get the news, it’s just about a day old. I’m just trying to find some live info, here and I ain’t trying to get it myself, if yall catch my drift.

Ok, so how did I almost die? Well, leaving the second friend’s place, I went in search of a taxi. I found a reasonably priced one and just before I got in, the guy stated, “well, you know the road is possibly barred, right? There were protests earlier?” I nodded yes, but all the while thinking, why does that have to concern me? Even if you go to the Gambia first, you’ll get me home, will you not?

So we proceed onto the road, and the road we would take was the Corniche, the very scenic route I described some blogs ago. This was the same road the driver said would be barred so I imagined he intended to pay attention. I imagined wrong. Just before the major fish market of Dakar, you have to go through an underpass. Going through this underpass, I noticed a giant tree in the middle of the road, on our lane. I screamed for the driver to watch out, but too late! He had already hit it and was swerving uncontrollably to the left wall that split the underpass before he managed to get back onto our lane. He had been driving way too fast, this man! I was actually a little in shock – I was in the backseat so other than being roughly woken up, I was okay, thankfully.

Getting out of the underpass, there was a police pick up truck on the right side of the road – my police homies were just lounging and resting (afterall, they’d been battling crazy Senegalese youth all day and were pooped!). The driver slowed down to tell them that there was a giant tree in the middle of the road just behind us, but when it seemed the police homies had barely acknowledged him (I don’t even know if they heard him), he just moved on. About 20 or so metres afterwards, he slowed down to check the front of his car, lights, hood, etc. At this point, I even started to feel bad for the guy. What’s he gon do if he’s car is mangled? Taxi drivers here aint rich (remember the transport strike I wrote about before?) and I don’t know where he’s gon get a new car. Heck, I don’t know where or under what conditions he got the one he was driving me in.

Morale of the story – times are a bit tense in Dakar right now, although some areas are ‘hotter’ than others. I’d love to do the amateur journalist thing and take some pics or even videos of protest(er)s and things, but that suggests being present at the protests which I’m not overly interested in doing. Luckily for me, my little enclave of the neighbourhood in which I live is quite calm.  What’s more, it’s near a military training field so other than a group of Senegalese boys/men that jog and sing at 6am (an unwelcome wake up call, although I can’t hate at a group of brothers keeping fit AND they kinda be trying to harmonize like the soweto gospel choir…),  and the occasional argument or street fight by a group of kids (the last time I saw two kids fighting, an older Senegalese man was so entertained, he waved me out of the way so he could get a better view of the action), nothing much happens here.

Except for the time when people were burning stuff in the middle of the road to protest the power outages (my neighbourhood was probably the worst in the entire city). But that was (a little) different because it affected EVERYBODY so EVERYBODY was pissed off. Many people still like the president, fortunately for the president and unfortunately for the opposition candidates – another reason (according to some, the real reason) why they’re so against his candidacy.

In fact, most people can’t distinguish one thief from another. So I suppose better a thief that one’s familiar with than a new one whose style one can only anticipate, right?

Elections in Senegal

So while I was also in Canada, the Senegalese constitutional council (the country’s highest legal office) that was supposed to decide whether the incumbent President could run for another term in office decided that indeed, he could. Not that any Senegalese was surprised. As mentioned in an earlier post, rumours had it that all the men on the council had had their salaries doubled, along with gifts of new homes, cars, etc. I also foresaw their decision but I was hopeful until the very last moment that maybe, just maybe, they would put their country, their people first. But I was sorely disappointed.

They made their decision on Friday, January 27th  while I was still in Canada and what followed, as was expected were demonstrations where one policeman was killed (unintentionally) in Dakar by rioting youths and two other were killed (also by accident) in another town not too far from Dakar. However, the riots were concentrated in a few pockets of the city such that if you avoided those areas (I suppose, unless you actually lived there and just wanted to go home), you would be okay.

Demonstrations and protests have continued sporadically since then, although just after I returned on the first of February, some were worried that the opposition movement was losing steam as less people were showing up to ‘calls for protests’. But as we draw nearer to the actual election day just in a few days on the 26th of February, the movement has picked up steam again. Last week saw protests perhaps every other day – this week, every day! Protesters want to gather at the city’s ‘Place de l’Independence’ downtown which is also near the Presidential palace but are officially forbidden to do so. So what results are protesters who gather near or around the Place (although they cannot even get there for the police barricades erected around its perimeter) clash with police officers who throw tear gas and pelt them with rubber bullets.

There are two major ‘movements’ or something to that effect. One is led by a group of rappers, community activists, journalists, etc, who seized the momentum just last June 23, 2011 (the day when Dakar sizzled in anger at power cuts and the President’s proposal to erect a new Vice Presidential post and to lower the percentage needed to win the elections) to propell their movement, called ‘Fed Up’ into relevancy. Another is the M23 movement, a coalition of antagonists turned opposition candidates who started out organizing a gathering every 23rd of the month to commemorate the day Dakar sizzled and ultimately, to promote their own campaigns. These two movements often ‘work’ together and are sometimes indistinguishable, except that the rapper duo obviously resonates much more with the youth, especially all the unemployed youth (and Senegal, like many other African countries, has them in the millions) who are just ‘Fed Up’ and they claim to be apolitical, with allegiance only to their country and their people while M23 has become the movement of the opposition political parties. The main gathering spot of these two groups is the Place de l’Obelisque, a place not too far from the university, near some popular neighbourhoods, near where I used to live.

Security-wise, unfortunately, downtown is for the most part, a no-go zone if you don’t have anything urgent to do there (well, I went this past Sunday for a pseudo-urgent errand that almost killed me – more in the next post). Not that it is so dangerous, but that you really never know what’s going to happen.  UN staff (not that I am one, but we get their security warnings at the office) are forbidden from going anywhere near downtown this coming weekend (they have to cover their behinds after all), starting Friday. And every day, they issue some sort of warning after hearing about the possibility of a protest (which until this week almost always never happened or had weak turnout). People who live around downtown/Place de l’Independence with whom I’ve spoken are usually annoyed and have gotten tired of being asked to evict a certain area (meaning cancelling all their activities) only to wait for nothing to happen. So until this week when things got a little more intense around downtown (and even then, there were mere opportunitists burning things so that journalists could have something to film, except the ones who suffer are the street traders/beggars downtown who’ve seens their earnings take a nosedive), people had become ‘protest fatigued’ and were no longer bothering about security warnings.

 

This is what you can build….

When you have been the ‘mayor’ of a NEIGHBOURHOOD in Dakar and have enjoyed close ties with the president.

But wait!!!

This is only the home of your third wife and her kids! You’ve built another home for your other two wives and their children! Just so that you can spent two days at each of their homes. And I imagine  you have your OWN home where you spend the 7th day, your Sabbath day – man shall rest on the Sabbath, shall he not?! You’re actually allowed up to four wives in the Koran, but perhaps you’ve thought about the difficulty of dividing 7 (or 6 if you refuse to give up your Sabbath) by 4 and have shelved that idea for now.

This home you have also equipped with a Lexus for this third wife (the car in the pic), and a Mercedes, Cadillac and Toyota can also be seen parked outside the home – one of these for one your drivers to use to run errands, the other (imaginably the lexus) for when you come for your two-day visit and the last…I guess is an extra for when the other three break down!

When you have been the ‘mayor’ of a NEIGHBOURHOOD in Dakar and have enjoyed close ties with the president, you can also be in the process of constructing a swanky, five storied apartment building right beside this third wife’s home, one that you can potentially rent out to expats who can pay the exorbitant monthly rent, starting anywhere from $1000 USD (but perhaps you will build one apartment per floor at which point you can charge whatever suits your fancy and you know SOMEONE will pay it since the neighbourhood is a bit upscale, expat-ridden and well, secure).

When you have been the ‘mayor’ of a NEIGHBOURHOOD in Dakar and have enjoyed close ties with the president, you need not do a thing for that neighbourhood. In fact, you leave the neighbourhood in a worse shape than you found it, so much so that it becomes known as THE most dangerous neighbourhood in the city where one plays with fire trying to traverse it at night.

When you have been the ‘mayor’ of a NEIGHBOURHOOD in Dakar and have enjoyed close ties with the president, you enjoy your wealth in private and are afraid of people’s cognizance of your honestly acquired wealth.

I had to take these pictures in discretion but upon downloading them, I realized I was caught! See the curtains opening in the last picture? That’s someone looking at me taking them…oops! But I barely feel bad, this is what our leaders are doing to us in Africa. Imagine…the mayor of a NEIGHBOURHOOD (why do they even have those?) acquiring so much wealth! Only God knows what the president himself has chopped, if an ordinary mayor can become this endowed. I don’t even want to wrap my head around it…

The name of the neighbourhood is GRAND DAKAR, by the way. And most local people are afraid of even going there. I’ve taken the ‘car rapides’ through there a few times (and once at night with my laptop! Talk about innocence is bliss) and having not known, I never really cared. I would still take the bus through there (actually have to do it later today) but it just means I’m a little more aware about where I am and smarter about what I carry with me and even how I carry myself.

Anyway, this just gives you an idea of what people have access to in these our countries while most struggle to acquire the most basic things. Multiply this a few fold and you have the elite of Dakar/Senegal who have and continue to steal the country dry. And they can drive around town in their mercedes, lexes, bimas, escalades and range rovers, tinted windows up (so as not to let the odour of struggle waft in) and AC on, past people begging on the streets for loose change, past people selling oranges, random trinkets or newspapers, past regular, honest-folk hustling in the burning midday sun just to get lunch and possibly dinner, to their AC’d offices and homes without a care on their consciences.

But perhaps their consciences do gnaw at them, but they have perfected the ancient art of ignorance and can no longer see, hear or smell below their noses.

I see this home everyday, by the way. It is located right beside my office (which is why I was able to discreetly take photos of it from our kitchen window) which is located in a residential neighbourhood called Mermoz. There are various others like it around. And it’s not even the most upscale neighbourhood in Dakar!

Transport Strike in Dakar

2012 started off with a bang in Dakar, and I’m not just talking about fireworks! The taxis, buses (non-state buses ones) and the funky colored barely there mini-buses called ‘car rapides’ (that I often take by the way) all went on strike on Monday, January 2nd to protest the cost of fuel which was hovering around 825FCFA (about $1.6) per litre. Apparently, the price had gone up about 30% in only 6 months. It is said that most of this is in taxes which goes into the pocket of the president. It is also said that fuel is cheaper in Mali, despite the fact that Mali has no port and uses the Senegalese port to import its oil, meaning significantly higher transportation costs for Mali.

So the transportation people went on strike to signal their discontent. Except the people that were affected were not the ones that should have been. The president and his cronies, with their motorcades and ‘lexes’ and ‘bimas’, could not have cared less. It was the working peoples who had no other way to get around that suffered. I had left town on Sunday and was in Thies, planning to return to Dakar on Monday and was almost stranded there! I was with a colleague from a partner institution and luckily, she knew some dude who had a car and would be driving to Dakar the Monday night to be at work on Tuesday evening, like us.  According to my colleague, the dude lived just outside of Thies and would come by to pick us up after midday and we waited and waited. We didn’t leave Thies until just after 11pm! The dude probably left later than he told us (of course!) and when he got to the road, he encountered an accident-induced traffic that stopped all movement in either direction for some 3hours or so. We eventually arrived in Dakar around 2am, and to say I was tired is an understatement! I was hoping to get to work the next morning but it was not to happen. I woke up Tuesday morning and could barely move (I actually had come down with a cold – the house in Thies was COLLLDDD and I guess I didn’t dress warmly enough despite wearing all my clothes and wrapping my scarf around me for the two days I was there) AND the buses were still on strike so I messaged my boss and went back to sleep. I woke up later in the afternoon and cleaned the house for practically the rest of the day! Not only is it cold season here in Dakar, the cold comes with the Sahelian winds that lift sand, dust and everything in their paths so every exposed part of one’s home is continuously filled with dust, and since I hadn’t really cleaned in a few days, I had dust, dust, everywhere! So much for being sick and resting…

The picture below is what many  people used to get around (where they were available) during the strike days, at least in Thies….

 

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