‘Tis the season for protest in Senegal. This month alone had drivers across all of Senegal go on 2 transportation strikes spanning 5 days thanks to rising gas prices. Teacher strikes are a daily occurrence in some part of the country at any given time now thanks to delays or insufficiencies in salary payment, not to mention the growing number of rallies from both opposition parties and President Abdoulaye Wade supporters alike. Some PCVs in Ndioum witnessed police tear-gassing citizens in the main market during Thanksgiving, and disgruntled university students have had several rock-throwing skirmishes with the police in major cities over the last couple of months. With national elections occurring in less than a month, the atmosphere here has been somewhat heated, to say the least. The BBC has a good article on recent unrest here.
In most villages however, life goes on as per usual, with people’s concerns directed mainly at the outbreak of violence within the cities. In all honesty, most of my village is engulfed in football fever at the moment, with the Africa Cup currently in full sway. The Constitutional Court ruling just 2 days ago validating President Abdoulaye Wade’s candidacy in the coming election was accepted in Temeye-Thiago without much fanfare, though disgruntled smatterings from more progressive and well-informed villagers were heard. Interestingly enough, Senegal’s most famous musician, Youssou Ndour, had his bid for the presidency denied, which sparked quite a bit of street protesting on Friday night. For the most part, however, people seem resigned to the fact that Wade may well remain President till his death. His bribes don’t hurt, either. Just the other week, I found my host father, Masseck (also the village chief), collecting the names and identification details of 100 villagers on paper who said they would vote for President Wade. He said he would get 50,000 CFA (about USD 100) for the effort. Not bad for him, but I can hardly see what’s in it for those 100 individuals.
Still, I did catch a music video entitled “Mr. Wade Out” on national television last night, which featured some rather amusing images of Mr. Wade’s head superimposed on a stop sign, and blinking text taking jabs at the nouveau riche and declaring the need for soppi-soppi (change). And rightly so. A look at Senegal’s Human Development Index of 0.411 in 2010 ranks it 144 out of 169 countries with comparable data. While the list excludes the poorest and most war-torn of countries such as Somalia, the figure still places Senegal in the bottom 25. This never ceases to amaze me whenever I have to take a trip to Dakar, with the multi-million-dollar Monument to the African Renaissance looming over everyone in the distance (built with North Korean cooperation), yet the streets flood every rainy season because the government has yet to even begin building drainage infrastructure even after years of complaint from the people.
I was in Dakar just a couple of weeks ago for the West Africa Invitational Softball Tournament (WAIST), one of two annual events (the other being the All-Volunteer Conference held in Thies just before WAIST) in the Peace Corps calendar where most volunteers get to see everyone else in the country at one given place, not-to-mention interact with PCVs from neighboring countries such as Cape Verde, Mali and the Gambia. While the beer and hotdogs I could get at the softball field between games were glorious, it was the homestay with an expat family living in Dakar that made me ache for home. Carl, Laurie and Matthew hosted me and two other PCVs for much longer than I’m sure they expected, especially given our early morning returns from the various parties organized to coincide with the softball tournament. You can read more about their Senegal experience here. Still, I hope our stories of village living, of finding scorpions in rooms and rubbing elbows with goats on daily commutes to work, were at least mildly entertaining. I cannot thank them enough, and hope our costumes and antics on the field were amusing at the very least.
I leave you with that stirring image of Americana in West Africa seared into your eyeballs, and incidences of political and civil unrest aside, I am sure the February 26th elections will pass without major incident. I will try to post another update before they occur, but in the meantime, jamm rekk.