Dakar, March 19 – a day at the demo

Couple of thousand people on the big Independence Square, downtown Dakar. Many speeches.

Photo: Seneweb News

‘Asalaam aleikoum Dakar!’

 

‘We want electricity!’ (and indeed, after a short break the power cuts are back with a vengeange)

‘The regime must go!’

Na dem! ‘He must Go!’

Comparisons with Tunis, Egypt even Libya.

Music. Mbalax – what else? Well, rap of course,  and very good rap by the way – from the likes of Kër gui (The House), an excellent new outfit from Dakar’s poor suburbs.

‘Libérez les otages!’ – reference to the fact that three people were arrested for planning a “coup d’état”, a factoid that was announced by the Minister of Justice the night before the demonstration – to general amusement, even more so when he revealed the details of the “coup” – consisting mostly of public disruptions in various parts of town. These happen anyway.

As far as “coups” are concerned, it may have come to the minister’s notice that we don’t do those in Senegal, although eleven years of your lot in power have pissed of a sufficient number of people to turn this from a complete impossibility into something that may have entered some heads. Carry on, minister.

(Here’s a link to a Facebook page – photos from the demo taken by my good colleague Sheriff Bojang Jr.)

Senegal does demonstrations  – and then goes home. On March 19, people waved the national flag, politicians spouted, slogans poured. It was festive and good-natured. And all about the daily grind, made worse by the rapacious behaviour of the clan in power.

A few very minor skirmishes at the end – and then it was over.

‘Diërediëf Dakar!’ Thank you Dakar for coming!

Followed by the reassuring calls to prayer and the obedient march to the mosque. And then, the city centre was mostly quiet.

The one who has been nicknamed "Sa Majesté", among others

At the presidential palace, a short walk from the Square, the party in power was readying itself for its festivities. After all, this was March 19th, the day Abdoulaye Wade’s rule began, eleven years ago. More political noise – and mbalax, of course. But wandering about the centre, what struck me was the speed with which business retook its normal course. Guys walking around with phone cards, the coffee men plying their trade, taxis BEEP!ing, pickpockets working their routine…

I met a newspaper vendor, in a seriously foul mood because this whole demo business had cost him six hours of real business. ‘Didn’t care about it. I’m just glad I can get on with my work now. All those politicians talking, let me tell you – the minute they get power they will be the same. Ah – you’re 300 francs short. Never mind, come and see me when you are around next time…’

‘Bonjour Monsieur, give me a thousand francs…’ I wish I could solve everyone’s problems. Yes, hubris is my middle name…

...speaking of cash...

I walked out of the now almost deserted centre, along the seaside road called La Corniche, done up to the tune of billions of CFAFrancs, unaccounted for, by the Eldest Son of the Royal Family, now also the minister of electricity cuts and a huge number of things besides, including the new airport. At Soumbedioune, the only tunnel in the city, I saw dozens of minibuses emerging from below. And I heard the response coming from the people on the pavements, their balconies, the shops on the side of the road.

‘Boooooh!’ they said. They shouted and whistled. The buses were full of people coming back from a demo in another part of town.

‘Did you see that? They are given a few thousand francs to shout for Wade. They have no idea – they just get hired and now they are brought back home.’ If anything, the onlookers felt pity for the poor folk bussed in and out of Dakar like that. But they were scathing in their assessment of the regime that had hired the buses and their occupants in the first place.

And then I took a taxi and went home. Driver: ‘Me? Didn’t go anywhere near that thing. I was afraid for my vehicle. So where do you want to go – Yoff? That will be =some ridiculous amount=.’

‘Mon frère, seer na lol.’

You know the rest.

Conversation on the way home. ‘So you’re a correspondent? Looking for trouble, were you not? If you know Senegal just a little bit, you’ll be aware that we don’t do trouble here. It’s peaceful. We prefer it like that.’

 

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