Saturday, February 24, 2007


So unless you live here, know someone who lives here or are unusually attuned to the politics of West Africa, you probably didn't know that there is a presidential election here in Senegal tomorrow. It's not your fault, really, I blame the media. Anyway, while this is probably news to you, the election has been somewhat hard to escape here. So hard to escape that it kept me awake into the wee hours of the night last night, with its loud musical accompaniment. Including the incumbent - Abdoulaye Wade, there are 15 candidates vying to lead this country so it should be interesting. Campaigning here has little in common with what I was used to in the states. There, the endless smearing tactics and ads were tiresome but at least there was rarely a threat of violence. There have already been a couple fights between supporters of the two main candidates - Wade and Idy Seck, the rumor mill says there has been at least one death and one destroyed restaurant - both in Dakar, the capital. From talking to people, it seems like the ex-pat community is nervous that isolated fighting may break out but every Senegalese person I've talked to is certain that there won't be any major problems.

From my exposure to the campaigning here, it really reminds me a lot of the Tri-County Conference Championship Swim Meet. There are a bunch of people caravanning around in long lines of cars and trucks - sometimes carrying huge speakers blasting music, hanging out the windows, cheering for their candidate. After the news every night there would be an update of sorts which really amounted to televising the rallies that each candidate held in the far corners of the country to drum up support. From these reports, the race seems to be a 4 or 5 way tie, but then again, it seems that many people will jump around screaming and cheering for anything and anyone, as long as there is a camera around.

During these rallies, when I can actually make out what the main guy (yes, they're all men, surprise surprise) is saying, I have to wonder what any one person can really do for this country. It seems that anything big that happens or is built here is basically donated by wealthier countries; these days, usually China or some rich, middle-eastern country. Is the job of president just for someone who schmoozes the big guys to try to make Senegal a little more 'developed?' The major problems that this country is seeing now include a major brain-drain of anyone with talent or education going to the US or Europe to get a job and make money; people with the same dream but less talent/education who are risking (and sometimes losing) their lives in small boats in the ocean trying to get Europe; and a fast-growing population that probably won't have enough food to eat in the near future because the farmers aren't able to produce enough. Will a schmoozer be able to fix those problems? What is a more likely outcome is that Senegal will get some of its roads fixed, some grand new buildings built, cell phone towers will go up in remote parts of the country, maybe some improvements will be made to the basic infrastructure, but will this keep people from fleeing or starving? I guess we'll see.