In January 2011 the Constitutional Court in Senegal ruled that the President Abdoulaye Wade, originally elected to power in 2000, could run for a third term in office. Wade, who on official records is 85 years old, had already changed the constitution after he came to power in 2001 to introduce a two-term limit. In 2011 Wade instigated legal process to enable him to run for a third term, arguing that the law had changed during his first year in office, with the implication that his first term should therefore not count in the two-term limit. The Senegalese people went to the streets to voice their disapproval against Wade’s efforts to retain power as well as the economic and social crises facing every day people. We raised our voices to say y’en marre! (we have had enough!). The protests on 23 June 2011 gave birth to what is now known as the M23 movement.
In the June 2011 protests the full diversity of Senegalese people took to the streets, with women active and vocal alongside men, young and old, people with disabilities and able-bodied. In response to the protests, Wade stepped back temporarily on his efforts to change the law. However he revived his efforts, and on the 27 January 2012 the Constitutional Court ruled in favour of Wade contesting another term in office. It also ruled that thirteen other candidates could run for President.
The people of Senegal have spoken up to say no to what we see as an abuse of power. From this January we returned to the streets and mobilised in the community to fight for democracy. We have faced extreme violence from the police with many women and men- including many young people, dead.
Where to now?
As events unfold in Senegal and as elections are scheduled for this weekend, many are asking, given the current political context, what is the right way forward to meet the needs of the people?
The level of violence on the streets has made it difficult for people with disabilities to participate and raise their voices as full citizens. People with disabilities have lamented the fact that they can no longer move through the streets as protestors, despite the realities of their lives as vulnerable minorities who live primarily by begging on the streets of Dakar. On Thursday 23 February, people living with disabilities had scheduled a march and press briefing with representatives of both the M23 movement and state authorities to request a need to end the violence on the streets and improve security. Unfortunately even then, violent clashes prevented people with disabilities from marching.
Protesting in the streets- demonstrating against injustice, arbitrariness, perjury and abuse of authority is a powerful means of raising our voices. However ultimately it is only through coming together that positive results can be achieved. Senegalese women and men all over the world have protested relentlessly against the decisions made by members of the Constitutional Council who, because of their bias, we feel have destabilised the Republic by refusing to enforce the law in line with the Senegalese constitution. The deaths of men and women have served to illustrate the recklessness of such a move. I feel though that the people have turned their heads, failing to engage with the claim that they are solely motivated by their individual political affiliations- a claim that has served to bolster the influence of the current powers. It seems at this point the Senegalese people are still not crying out with one big, categorical, and totally non-negotiable NO to a lack of democracy! Our campaign could have with started with requesting that the vote be put back one or two months to enable the 14 candidates to prepare and campaign, as well as demanding that the current ruling party choose a leader other than Wade to contest elections.
Given that none of this has happened, and the fact that President Wade is campaigning as if there is no contestation, it is not helpful for M23 to push on with a pointless high-speed chase with the police. Organising group meetings that become political rallies is not appropriate, because M23 is not a candidate in the 2012 Presidential election. The political leaders vying for election also need to refocus. It is high time that each of the opposition leaders started to gain people’s confidence with the programmes they propose so we are clear on what each stands for and what they are proposing for the country. All this so that, come the election on the evening of the 26th of February 2012, this regime will fall, without more blood ever flowing, without violence, and through the will of a sovereign people who use their vote to voice their choice of leader.
In support of autonomous protests and the power of voting
Why is M23 not having success in its call for change? Does Wade simply associate it with the 2012 presidential candidates who are also members? It is my view that political leaders must stand back from the M23 protests, from ‘Y’En A Marre’ (We have had enough) and other social protest movements.
It is the people that must defeat Abdoulaye Wade, not the political leaders who he sees as his primary opposition. In my opinion, political leaders have no place in the streets. If the people and only the people are in the streets, Abdoulaye Wade with no longer have an alibi to make the religious chiefs and international opinion believe that he will not cede to pressure from the opposition who simply want to occupy his seat.
This is why I feel very strongly that political leaders should go ahead and implement their programmes, and leave the sovereign people to contest Mr Abdoulaye Wade and, come polling day, to put our support behind a candidate and ask him or her to work with the other leaders and the people to reconstruct Senegal, in a spirit of solidarity and respect. Senegal must never be made to face this kind of situation again. The battle for democracy belongs to the people themselves. The battle does not belong to any individual candidate for public office- the battle belongs to us, the Senegalese people.