Senegalese keep careful eye on new president

Al-Jazeera -

Dakar, Senegal – The open gutters of this city’s Colobane market may be interpreted by some as testament to the broken promises of a 21st century African Renaissance.

Pedestrians pick at the hems of their trousers and amble through a tunnel of hawkers selling fresh vegetables and fake designer jeans on mobile wooden carts wedged between the mud and grime.

Far from the celebrated pan-African ideals of the New Partnership for African Development (Nepad) advanced by South Africa’s former president Thabo Mbeki and Abodulaye Wade, Senegal’s outgoing president, the bustling market squeezed between the narrow lanes is a somewhat representative of the daily struggle of ordinary Africans across the continent battling their leaders’ bitter rhetoric.

But many Senegalese voters are today more upbeat, ecstatic with the ousting of Wade in Sunday’s runoff, and say those days are long gone.

According to local newspapers, Macky Sall secured 67 per cent of the vote to Abdoulaye Wade’s 33 per cent, ending Wade’s 12-year rule of the West African country.

‘Just a breeze’

“Wade said that all the violence before the election was ‘just a breeze from the sea’,” Gora Ndiaye, a 54-year-old artist, told Al Jazeera. ”But what he called ‘a breeze’ swept him out of power. And he should have known that, like in Libya, Ivory Coast and Egypt, all it would take was a small breeze, from small people, to get rid of all these leaders who refused to go.”

The Colobane suburb, smaller than the Pikine, Thiaroye and Parcelles districts, is home to thousands of informal traders, mechanics, artisans and painters. Its densely populated streets make it highly influential, politically.It is on these streets that Wade is said to have lost the hearts and minds of voters, through the insistence on grand scale infrastructure projects and attempts to manipulate the constitution to his own benefit. While Wade was reported to be planning what many referred to as a “presidential dynasty” with his son, unemployment continued to hover around 48 per cent mark, while, according to the IMF [PDF], more than 63 per cent the rural population lives under the poverty line.

 Wade concedes election defeat

Dissatisfaction with Wade came to a head on June 23, 2011, when a loose band of civil society, activists and politicians formed the M23 movement that successfully prevented Wade from altering the constitution in his personal favour. Analysts say this is when the Senegalese public realised how collective power could institute real change.

‘Clean sweep’

“I think that it has been the true beginning of a long process of changing Senegal’s destiny,” said Aminata Diaw. “So June 23 came to add another heap of motivations for people’s desire to take charge of their own destiny,” added Diaw, the senior program officer at the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (Codesria).

But Diaw also said that this new empowerment would demand Sall starts to deliver on his promises – fast.

“[The] newly elected president is going to have to hurry up and be efficient, because I don’t think the Senegalese people are going to be patient,” she concluded.

Within hours of polls closing on Sunday night, tens of thousands emerged on to the streets of Dakar’s suburbs, chanting, beating drums, and waving Senegalese flags, as suggestions of a clean sweep for Macky Sall started filtering through over the radio. People paraded spontaneously, up one alley, down another, often repeating the same routes, as if trying to spread word of the historic victory. By 2130GMT, when it was announced that Wade had called Sall to concede defeat, the streets of Medina, one of the oldest suburbs of Dakar, was engulfed with celebrations.

Outside Youssour N’dour’s party headquarters, supporters gathered to celebrate with party officials and waited for the famed musician to make an appearance. N’dour, despite being banned from participating in the election, had backed Sall in the runoff, along with all twelve opposition candidates in a coalition named Benno Bokk Yakaar.

Outside Macky Sall’s headquarters, supporters danced, lit fireworks, climbed trees and sat on car rooftops, as thousands came to pay homage to their new hero. It was a far cry from the emptiness around Wade’s PDS headquarters a few streets away.

Artist Gara Ndiaye says Sall must avoid ‘making promises he cannot keep – like Wade did’

‘Zero tolerance’

“I am dreaming of a bright future, not just for myself, but also for everyone,” Cheik Wagnane, a 56-year-old mechanic, told Al Jazeera. “Things are going to change and I am sure of that.”

Seliou Gueye, a 59-year-old shoe trader, agreed: “I am optimistic because Sall even came here [to the market] and spoke to us. I am hopeful that he is going to change the organisation of these stalls because it is a real mess.”

The infectious optimism for Sall and the all-night party on Sunday notwithstanding, it was back to business in Dakar on Monday morning.

Traders in the city say they are well aware that a lot of hard work lies ahead, and voting Wade out was merely the first step towards improving the country.

“I am glad that we have showed our political maturity once again … it is an example for all of Africa,” said mechanic Wagnane. “It’s not because we have a strong constitution or great leaders, it is because of the Senegalese people’s maturity – and so even if Macky Sall does not do well, the people here have enough intelligence to push him out.”

The experts agree.

“I think and believe that that it will be zero tolerance for Sall,” said Ibrahima Thioub, a historian from Cheik Anta Diop University in Dakar.

“The question now is how is he going to tackle things – even if we concede that he needs much more time to rearrange things.

“I do think Sall is aware of what is waiting for him.”

Back at the Colobane market, traders remain buoyant at the prospect of a new leader taking over. Even Moustapha Gueye, a 38-year-old Wade supporter, acknowledged the shift of the city’s mood and said that, despite the struggle for power, “we all part of the same family”.

Euphoria aside, traders here are quick to offer some advice to President-elect Sall.

“He must try to stop himself from making promises he can’t keep – like Wade did. He should just remain honest to the people,” Ndiaye, the artist, said.

“[And] he should know that the Senegalese have shown that they capable of making their own decisions by using the ballot … This election also showed that you can fool people from time to time with bribes – but people know their responsibilities and they will act when the time comes.”

 

Posted in: Al Jazeera, Senegal

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