03 July 2011

IL CHAUFFE DE! (Things are heating up)

June 16: President Wade (in power since 2001) announced his intentions to amend the constitution to include a vice-presidency as part of the executive branch of the Senegalese government. This VP would be chosen by the presidential candidate, who could equally fire the VP at will once elected. The fear has been that Wade, 86,  is trying to manipulate the government to allow his son to succeed him, thereby creating a sort of inherited monarchy within a democracy. Needless to say, the people of Senegal, a country known for its lack of coups d'├ętat, did not support this decision. Moreover, Senegalese hold Wade's son, the minister of energy (among others), responsible for the constant electricity cuts that plague the entire country.Wade called the National Assembly to Dakar to vote on the constitutional amendment on June 26.

June 24: In outrage at Wade's blatant anti-democratic attempts at nepotism, Senegalese swarmed the centre ville of Dakar, establishing barricades of burning tires, cars, and rocks. Clashing with riot police, their tear gas and batons, the rioters remained fairly organized and succeeded in blocking access to the National Assembly. One rioter was killed, hundreds were wounded, and a two houses were burned, to which my political science teacher, who participated in the demonstrations, said, "This the the price of democracy." In fact, the rioters were so successful that Wade withdrew the entire amendment and, it seems, secured his end of term. 2012 will be as interesting here as in the US, I think.

June 27: Coming off the heals of a successful– and mostly peaceful– protest and after 24 hours of power outages, Senegalese once again went out into the streets to protest. This time, the protests were sporadic throughout the city, including my relatively sleepy neighborhood of Mermoz. My friend Tessa and I were sitting outside when we noticed throngs of people tiding in and out from the nearby thoroughfare, the VDN.  Upon inspection, we saw that people were barricading the VDN with burning tires and large cement chunks. The people were running to and from in tandem with the flying canisters of smoke and tear gas, which only sparked my interest. Tessa's house was right on the VDN so we stood outside with her family and we watched the rioters and police play their game of cat and mouse. I don't think anyone felt at risk, even with the canisters screaming a few feet in front of us: families let little children come out of the courtyards to see what was going on. At the same time, Tessa's house did receive a few barrages of gas and smoke. The VDN is relatively spread out so I can't imagine what tear gas would be like in narrow streets and crowded squares. Not to mention occasions of serious aggression and violence, which this was not. The protest continued for most the night until the power returned, if only for a few hours.

All very exciting stuff. I realize that my position– to be excited by such examples of participative democracy (I know this isn't what it looks like in textbooks)– is still one of privilege. When I leave in three and a half weeks, the plight of the Senegalese will still be theirs to carry and defy whereas I will return to American comfort and consistency. But, as I am here, I am here and I can be thankful to see and participate.

And don't worry, I am safe.

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