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Wade's Re-Election Bid Rocks Senegal's Stability


This is Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

Senegal, on the coast of West Africa, has been something of a model of stability for a region known for its volatility. But this past week has brought protests and violence to Senegal after demonstrations over a presidential election this coming weekend led to clashes with riot police. We've got NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton on the line from the capital Dakar to tell us what is going on there.

Good morning, Ofeibea.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Greetings, Renee. Greetings from Dakar, usually calm, the busy and active Dakar, but a Dakar that has seen a lot of damage and a lot of violence in the past week.

MONTAGNE: Well, bring us up to date. I mean, give us a thumbnail of what exactly that violence is about and those protests.

QUIST-ARCTON: Well, you know, Senegal, as you've said, has been stable and democratic for many years and is unusual in West Africa, that's often turbulent and volatile. But President Abdoulaye Wade, who's officially 85 - many people say much older - is seeking a third term in office after 12 years in power. The opposition says, no, that is unconstitutional. And then the Wade side saying, no, the amendment to that constitution came after I came to office, so I am entitled.

Now, what should be a political battle has turned into violence onto the streets because especially the young people who helped propel Wade to power in 2000 have now turned against him and are saying, you're taking us for a ride. Instead of dealing with the real problems in this country - education and health - you are just trying to cling to power for your small clique and your son, who you want to come after you.

MONTAGNE: So what does this president at 85 or possibly older, looking for yet another term, what is his response?

QUIST-ARCTON: You know, Abdoulaye Wade, he is a political fox. And he's a real political survivor. And he's dismissing these opposition protests as nothing more than a light breeze that's ruffling the leaves of the tree but won't gather steam and become a hurricane. But that's exactly what we're seeing on the streets of Dakar.

The fact that people are rioting, pelting the riot police with chunks of concrete, rocks, whatever they can find, shows that there is a crisis. And what people are saying is we've had enough of you. You came in 12 years ago. You promised change. You promised development. Well done, Wade, for what you've done, but now it's time for a younger generation.

So President Wade can't just blow off the opposition. And we're not just talking about the political opponents, but the youth and civil society who are saying enough is enough.

MONTAGNE: Well, tell us more about those young people that you say have had a central role in these disturbances.

QUIST-ARCTON: Now, they were the ones that have helped Wade in his political career to come to power. Now they're saying what you promised us - good jobs, a stable life, education, opportunities, prospects - that hasn't come. What your government has done is to accumulate wealth for yourselves and forget about the people. But we're not going to stand for that. And that's why many of them are now on the streets.

And it's not just Dakar. These protests are spreading to outlying areas, to other parts of the country. So although President Wade seems - not oblivious, because obviously he's seeing what's going on, but is insisting that he is going to go to elections on Sunday, questions are now being asked is Senegal going to be calm enough. Will these elections happen? And will they be free and fair?

MONTAGNE: What then do you think is going to happen before Sunday's elections?

QUIST-ARCTON: Big question mark. The violence that I have seen, witnessed here in Dakar this past week, shows the anger, the fury of people, especially young people, especially young men.

But generally I've talked to women of all ages, I've talked to older people, elderly people in a continent where elderly people are respected, and they're saying, no, the president is wrong. The president must go. The only thing that we want is his departure and his departure now. We'll see whether President Wade will listen.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton on the line from the Senegalese capital, Dakar.

Thank you very much, Ofeibea.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is an award-winning broadcaster from Ghana and is NPR's Africa Correspondent. She describes herself as a "jobbing journalist"—who's often on the hoof, reporting from somewhere.