Senegal: Anti-Wade protests small but determined

DAKAR, Senegal — Weekend protests in the area have failed to attract large crowds against Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade and his candidacy for a third term in elections later this month.

"The elite cannot be the majority. Valor cannot be a quantity," said organizer Fadel Barro to a crowd of no more than 2,000 on Sunday. "I am proud to be among you, because we are the real ones."

It was the smallest in a series of protests at the capital city's Obelisk Square that have failed to produce a critical mass. Wade has been quick to use the lack of big numbers of protesters as a justification for his continued bid for a third term, although Senegal's constitution has a limit of two presidential terms.

"A breeze is a light wind that rustles the leaves of a tree, but which never becomes a hurricane," said the 85-year-old president, in a poetic dismissal of the various opposition protests that have led to five deaths since his candidacy was approved by the country's Constitutional Council on Jan. 27.

Most of the 13 opposition candidates have seemingly abandoned their efforts to revoke Wade's candidacy and have joined him on the campaign trail. Much of Senegal is preparing for the Feb. 26th vote.

The weekend opposition rally was planned by Y'en A Marre (Enough is enough), a non-partisan political movement led by a cadre of rappers and journalists. Despite their calling for a "massive gathering," the crowd was relatively small. 

However, the predominantly young crowd appeared more dedicated and serious than those who had filled Obelisk Square at previous protests and ignited tires and threw rocks at police. The weekend demonstrators responded to the call for a peaceful protest, and many also responded to the open invitation to take the stage and make themselves heard.

"We will not resort to violence. In these times you see violence, but that's not the youth of Y'en A Marre," said Saliou Seck, 30, after he took the stage. "Every conscious Senegalese person knows that we cannot organize an election with someone who doesn't respect the rules."

More from GlobalPost: Senegal frees activist Alioune Tine, braces for fresh protests

It's not just Wade they are upset with. They are disappointed because there does not appear to be a viable opposition candidate who appeals to Senegal's youthful population. An estimated 80 percent of Senegal's 12.5 million people are under 35.

"The political class is disconnected from the reality in Senegal," said Omar Touré, AKA "Thiat" of Y'en A Marre and the hip-hop duo Keur Gui de Kaolack. "They are guys in suits with big cars who live in Europe most of the time. Their families are there, and they're only here for an electoral agenda. They only come for the campaign a week before the election, and they don't know how the Senegalese live."

Shortly after the decision of the Constitutional Council to allow Wade to stand for a third term, eight of 13 candidates joined the M23 movement.

The backing came from the June 23 protests that forced the president to abandon a constitutional amendment that would enable the president to win the election in the first round with as little as 25 percent of the vote, instead of the 50 percent requirement that remains today.

Under that banner, they pledged to hold off on campaigning until the president's candidacy is repealed — a popular cause among opposition voters.

"The failures in education, in health, in tourism, in the environment, the failures everywhere certainly justify the falling out between the Senegalese people and the regime of Abdoulaye Wade," said Ibrahima Fall, one of the eight who remains committed to that cause and who came to the protest to support Y'en A Marre. Although it might be considered a campaign stop, he is not one of the candidates who may be able to force a second round run-off with the "Old Man."

Those candidates, three of whom are former prime ministers under the 12-year incumbent, left billboard representatives in Dakar as they follow Wade's trail through the hinterlands. The backcountry hold the last vestiges of his former popularity.

They are relying on Senegal's reputation as Africa's democratic bastion to unseat the president, as are many voters of their generation.

Related: Amid protests, Senegal President Abdoulaye Wade leads his own rally in Dakar

"I don't doubt that the Senegalese people will go out and vote," Henriette Kandé said. Yet, she said she shares some of the same concerns as the young people she came to support.

"Which results will come out, how they will come out remains a question. It's always after the election that poses a problem."

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