In DepthThe QuestionSenegal: Out of touch ?and in the dark


Posted on Wednesday, 09 March 2011 14:58

Senegal: Out of touch ?and in the dark

By Rose Skelton in Dakar

Power cuts and a high cost of living have prompted repeated protests that could complicate President Abdoulaye Wade’s bid for a third term in elections in February 2012

In mid-January, a group of young men went to the house of some relatives of Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade, blocking the streets by burning tyres and wooden pyres. The police broke up the protest with tear gas, while the protesters retaliated with stones. The youths were protesting about another night of blackouts, an issue which could determine Wade’s chances for a third term in the February 2012 presidential elections. ?

The government is showing itself out of touch and incapable of fixing the problems that bear on the daily lives of people in Senegal. While hosting the World Social Forum in February, President Wade falsely claimed that under his leadership the country had become self-sufficient in food production. Senegal still imports much of the rice its population consumes and the high cost of living has been a perennial target of opposition politicians.?

While the energy problem has been dragging on for some years, it has become particularly acute in recent months. Dakar suffers daily power outages that can last 12 hours at a time. As a result, sporadic popular protests have become commonplace. On particularly restless nights, the haze of tear gas hangs over certain neighbourhoods of the city while youths vent their anger.?

Had Wade fixed the problem, the run for the third term he so desperately desires would have been much easier. Though it is by no means the only problem in Senegal today – and largely confined to the capital – it reinforces the sense of resentment brewing over the president’s attempt to stay in power. In October last year, Wade placed his son Karim at the head of the energy ministry. Karim has failed to win over the Senegalese people, in part because his opponents call him a “foreigner”. His mother is French.

?But more irritating to those affected by the power shortage is the fact that Karim is already in charge of many other key ministries. By failing to fix the chronic energy problem, he is fuelling popular resentment. ?

Last year, an imam and leader of a community group, Youssoupha Sarr, encouraged people to stop paying their electricity bills, causing financial harm to the Société Nationale d’Éléctricité du Sénégal and suggesting that the usually loyal religious brotherhoods might not always support the president in times of trouble.?

Today, the mothers of these protesting young people can be heard saying that they support the demonstrations: it is the only way to make the government listen, they say. While this is not the first time the country has witnessed popular protests, it is perhaps the first time that law-abiding working mothers can be heard condoning them.?

The opposition coalition, Benno Siggil Senegal (“United to Boost Senegal”), has so far failed to unite behind a single candidate who could challenge Wade in the upcoming elections and has been quiet on the subject of Dakar’s energy crisis. If the power cuts continue as elections approach in 2012, the opposition will have plenty of time to look for an effective strategy. 

This article was first published in the March 2011 edition of The Africa Report

Last Updated on Wednesday, 09 March 2011 15:12

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