Friday, August 5, 2011

Dark Days in Dakar

At the end of June, someone flicked a switch in Dakar and the city turned into a riot zone. Hundreds, and then thousands, of people turned up downtown on the morning on June 23 to protest a scheduled vote in parliament that would have altered the constitution -- a vote many believed would have paved the way to President Abdoulaye Wade's reelection in February and his eventual replacement by his son Karim. Within an hour, the protest escalated -- fueled in part by facebook and twitter updates that lured even more youths into the streets. Demonstrators hurled rocks at police, who in turn fired tear gas and water cannons back. Cars were set on fire, roads were blocked, buildings were ransacked. A high-profile human rights activist was brutally beaten by Wade loyalists, and one of Wade's staunchest allies was evacuated from his home before hordes of angry youths broke in. Residents of the downtown area were shocked later that evening by the sea of broken concrete and burnt out vehicles left in the riot's wake.

This was a massive wake up call for Wade's government. Senegal's greatest asset since independence, some believe, has been its relative security in a part of the world that is otherwise rife with violence and turmoil. Basically, its not as bad as everywhere else in the neighbourhood. Many of the companies, aid groups and world bodies that had fledIvory Coast during its first civil war in 2002 set up shop in Dakar, using the seaside city as a regional base.
Against the backdrop of the Arab uprisings, and with additional pressure from Senegal's Muslim brotherhoods, Wade withdrew his planned constitutional rejigs before parliament could finish its session that day. The question now is whether this concession will be enough to pull Senegal back from the brink. After two terms in office, Wade still plans to run in February, dismissing a rising chorus from his opponents that he rennounce his candidacy. Power outages also remain a worry -- the lights are staying on slightly more reliably since the protests in late June, but routine blackouts continue -- a problem that has become deeply political. Can Senegal preserve its cherished reputation as West Africa's most stable and democratic state?

The above photo is credited to BBC News. For more photos from the BBC, please click here:

No comments:

Post a Comment