What? You didn't hear about the Dakar protests on ABC/CBS/NBC world news? That's because there is no oil here. And no tourism. And no jobs. And no one was killed. What Senegal needs is a good old fashioned riot, but it will likely not happen for reasons that will become clear.
I have written previously about my thoughts on whether or not we'll see reform in this country (my analysis is "no"), but it was interesting that Senegal was the first country outside North Africa (read: first black nation) to have a protest. This isn't as sexy as North Africa (read: Arab) protests because there was no secret cabal of texting, and twittering and Facebooking. In fact, I learned of the protests from a tersely worded message from the U.S. Embassy advising me to stay away from the area. I stayed away, but only because I was on spring break and already out of the country...
Therefore, you are getting only second hand knowledge of the protests. But, first a little background...
Two people have thus far set themselves on fire and a third was going to attempt it, but was foiled before he could be successful. The first person who succeeded was a military veteran who needed medical assistance and was unhappy with the help he had been receiving. By all accounts, he was a troubled man. The second person was a mystery. He was a young man who wasn't particulary politically active; newspaper reports gave quotes from friends and family saying they really couldn't figure out why he did it. Nothing to report on the third man (other than "foiled attempt").
So, the seeds of discontent are here, but how could they not be? The President is widely reported as being 85 years old. Many think this is an understatement of his true age. The reason for the protests are pretty simple: after 11 years of rule, the President is running for a 3rd term (lasting 5 years).
There is no strong opposition, so he will likely win (more on that in next week's post, by the way). Actually, in Senegal, the major opposition party is paid to oppose the party in power. Come to think of it, that's a pretty sweet occupation: paid curmudgeon ("Hey Larry, what'd you do at work today?" "I opposed things. Of course, everything I opposed was approved, but that's my job...").
And, once the President wins re-election, he will likely do as all great African leaders do: try to turn the government over to his son. The voters of Dakar already rejected his son's candidacy for mayor, but that certainly won't stop this politcal dynasty. Meanwhile, unemployment remains at about 49% and power outages are the daily norm - often for more than half the day - and prices for consumer staples have doubled under the current administration.
Even though Dakar is a pretty peaceful place (for example, our protestors chant "He should go" and "Vote him out"), President Wade is a pre-emptive type of guy. Upon hearing news of the upcoming protest, he did what all great African leaders would have done: he arrested the organizers BEFORE the event started and charged them with an attempted coup-d'etat. So, when all the protestors got together to listen to rabble rousing speeches... there was no one to give the speeches. Reuters reports there were more on-lookers than demonstrators.
Elections next year should be very interesting.