The latest demonstration against President Abdoulaye Wade in the Place de l’ Obelisque ended in a split opposition, chaos and death. Now it emerges that President Abdoulaye Wade paid a US law firm $150,000 to help keep him in power.
The rally seemed to get off to a promising if typically late start, but eventually several thousand people arrived along with the leaders of what is appearing to be a not-too-unified coalition. Images from the Place de l’Obelisque, which is now the focal point for the anti-Wade protests, showed a cheerful crowd, and as the video shows, the atmosphere was festive. As leaders such as Macky Sall, Moustapha Niasse, and the singer Youssou N’Dour, converged on the square they were greeted with cheers. For Ahmad Dansokho they shouted “Mandela Mandela”. Also present was human rights activist, Alioune Tine, who had been released from police custody where he’d been held for 72 hours without charge since the previous demonstration.
All was going well and with the M23 demonstrators singing “Gorgui Na Dem in Wolof (Wade Degage in French): “The old man needs to Go.” Then Malick Noël Seck suggested they go to the Presidential Palace and a group of students echoed his call. With strong disapproval from other leaders, who could probably foresee the repercussions, the youth began throwing rocks and the police steamed in with tear gas and water cannon.
Mayhem broke out with many trying to leave the square as fast as possible and reports of the air being thick with tear gas. A chase broke out between police and demonstrators in the Medina area and the police blocked the roads. In the ensuing chaos, a young man, Mamadou Diop, was killed when a police truck reversed over him.
As most fled the area running battles broke out in several locations and reports of injuries came in. A very upset Moustapha Niasse told BBC Afrique he had to run and take refuge in the house of Serigne Mbacke Sokhna. He condemned the turn of events and suggested that Wade was orchestrating provocations in order to justify the postponement of the elections. While the international press report that deaths are officially “unconfirmed”, Radio France International interviewed the doctor who attended Mamadou Diop. Thirty year old Mamadou Diop, was an MA student at the University of Dakar and was a married father of 2 small girls. Police chief Harona Sy confirmed the death, but denied that police were responsible, saying that he had checked all of their vehicles and found no traces of blood, according to Senegal’s state press agency.
Further demonstrations were reported in other towns in Senegal, including Fatick, Thies, and Ziguinchor and confrontations between the security forces and
protesters in Dakar continued into the night. By the morning, all was quiet but not for long. Images from the capital city show a considerably increased security presence on the streets The students began a small protest against the death of their friend in the Medina which later turned into full scale confrontations which then spread to the University. Protestors overturned a bus and blocked the road with burning tyres at Avenue Cheikh Anta Diop.
As Senegal faces increasing turbulence over the President’s bid to stay in power, it now emerges that he paid a US law firm, McKenna, Long & Aldridge: “to research and analyze the Senegalese Constitution and other relevant laws, and provide a legal opinion regarding the authority of the President of Senegal to seek a third term in office.” This was invoiced to the Senegal Government for $150,000 plus $50,000 dollars a month for “developing and implementing an agreed upon protocol”. The President’s office agreed to the terms on November 9th 2011 and gave it the official stamp of approval.
Many believe that Wade’s move to stay in power is designed to secure the already strong presence of his son, Karim. Karim Wade simultaneously holds several ministerial positions in his father’s government and most suspect his ambitions lie in the presidency. Sylvain Touati, from the French Institute for International Relations, told Al Jazeera: “We’ve seen a lot of political moves in recent years. Many Senegalese are reacting against Wade’s move to try to promote his son Karim, whose legitimacy is not that great at the moment. What a lot of Senegalese people I spoke to recently were very, very upset about is what this father-son relationship means about power in Senegal.” One of the current challengers, Macky Sall, a former prime minister in Wade’s government, was dismissed by Wade in 2007 after calling Karim Wade to question over the management of public funds. When the hearing was called, Wade the father tried to prevent it in order to protect Wade the son.
Abdoulaye Wade’s sidestepping of the Constitution is just the latest attempt to cling to power. Aware that his popularity has sunk in the eyes of the people, last year he tried to pass a Bill through the Parliament that would allow a presidential candidate to win elections with only 25% of the vote – rather than the current 50%.
He was forced to withdraw the Bill after popular youth protests spawned the Y’en a Marre (Enough is Enough) opposition movement. The people are angry, not only at Wade’s bid to extend his power, but also at the continuing frustrations of a daily life where bribe-paying is normal. Y’en a Marre have opened offices across Senegal and are encouraging youth to register to vote and participate in their country’s politics. They say they are not backing any particular candidate but want the youth to wake up.
The government has reacted angrily to calls from Washington that Abdoulaye Wade should bow out gracefully, with Minister of Foreign Affairs, Madike Niang saying: “No foreign government has any right to demand the President’s withdrawal.” Now France has joined the calls for Wade to give way to a new generation of leaders, with Alain Juppé, saying that they ensured Senegal heard the message. France has called on all sides to show restraint. For Senegal, which has always been a peaceful country with none of the history of coup d’etat and political oppression that blights other African nations, the current events signify a major turning point. With three more weeks to go before the elections Abdoulaye Wade could be facing a lot more pressure then he expected.