meanwhile, away from the pomp and the parades…

No newspapers today. It’s a holiday, of course. No work for the newspaper vendors. They’re off for the day. So while they enjoy the Independence holiday,  let me tell you how you get your shot of news in Dakar.

Independence special from Walfadjri ("Dawn"), arguably the best paper in town

Method number 1. Walk down any main street and signal to a newspaper vendor who is doing his usual rounds that you want “les journeaux”. Oddly enough, even 50 years into Independence, all newspapers are in French. But they are lively, critical, well-written and not shy – even though they will pussyfoot around issues to do with Islam and upper echelon corruption.

Method number 2. Order “les journeaux” from a taxi or indeed from behind the wheel of your own vehicle, as many Dakarois are wont to do.

Method number 3. Go to a vendor who is always in the same place. On the main corner of L’Autoroute (yes, the one that leads to the airport), there’s one who holds an impossibly large pile under his arm, day in day out. He’s diminutive, wears a cap and a smile and knows exactly what every one of his many clients wants to read. (In my case, that’s everything.)

Incidentally, just try it: take a pile of up to 100 – I’ll make it easy for you: 50 – tabloids and hold them under your arm for one hour. He does this from 8am every morning. Luckily, a lot of people buy their papers with him so by noon the bulk of papers under his arm is noticeably smaller.

Method number 4: that wonderful old (admittedly French) addition to street life and still very much in evidence in Dakar: the kiosk. There is one next to my flat. Ousmane runs it. He’s a young lad, in his twenties. Every morning, he takes his papers in, opens up the wooden shutters revealing a counter. That’s where he puts today’s output, carefully. And then he takes a bunch of pegs and suspends newspapers, magazines and one-off publications off a small iron railing, that has been mounted on the inside of the shutters he’s just opened. If the newspaper you want is finished on the counter, you take the last copy (it’s basically the one for public reading) off the railing. Leave the pegs, please.

morning scene at home

Ousmane is inseparable from one of those small headphone pieces you plug your ear with but I suspect there is very little music coming out of the mobile phone it is connected to. He also has a permanently worried look on his face, which unfailingly lights up when a client passes. Yesterday, he explained his problem.

It is as simple as it is devastatingly unsolvable.

He has been the eldest in the family, ever since his father died. He works here because the family needs the money to feed, clothe and educate itself. His brother is going to school, he is not. ‘Because I must work. But this job only pays me 35,000 CFA Francs (that is 53 euros).’ Per month? Yes, per month.

So Ousmane wants a better job. How does he get one? With better education. But he left school because he had to work and he hasn’t got the money – or indeed time – to finish his school because he must work and the salary is terribly low. Conversation over, he summarizes this catch 22: ‘It will take long…’

Yes it will take long. And a bit of luck. A rich visitor. A benevolent uncle, friend, someone, anyone.

So who does exist for Ousmane and everyone like him, trapped in the Catch 22 the life has cruelly dished out?

I’ll give you a clue. Every Friday, at 2pm, he closes his kiosk for half an hour. , He calls on the powers of someone bigger than himself. It’s not the government he turns to. The government does not exist for people like Ousmane. The government is for big people, the ones that today show up on the VIP tribune today when the parade goes by. The same people who were whisked, sirens wailing, through the traffic yesterday on their way to the inauguration of the Monument for the African Renaissance.

So who does he turn to? What is the last word in almost every conversation you have here? There’s a reason this is perhaps the most deeply religious continent on the face of the earth. Talk to Ousmane.

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