Senegal’s presidential election: what the headlines missed.

27 February 2012

The dance party began as soon as the Sopi truck drove into town.

Breaking it down.

The view of the election from outside of Dakar was much different than the news reports I heard from my family and the BBC.  I’d seen hide nor hair of a highly controversial presidential election from where I sat on the cement bed shaded by woven bamboo in front of my brother’s hut.  I’d asked a few questions and gotten a few non-comital answers, the kind people give when they don’t want to see hide nor hair of controversy.  Not to say this attitude changed–people in Fode Bayo much prefer to argue over issues that affect them day to day, who stole whose watering can, whose kid would just not listen–but when I got back from IST the campaign had started.  The campaign officially started a week before election day.  On my travels back home I passed trucks packed with men standing in the bed, music blasting.  A Mande school teacher I was crammed near on the last bus ride confirmed that these were politicos.

I found some of the politicos in my compound a night later.  These were representing Moustapha Ness.  Needless to say, Ness was not there.  Candidates send out local party members or popular supporters to villages like mine to sway local opinions in a twenty minute town hall conversations.  The next day I found out that the majority of Fode Bayo supported Wade as the woke up singing chants for his Sopi party, which was stopping through that afternoon.  My father paid particular care that I greeted these politicos and when he saw that I’d retreated to the back of the crowd with my younger siblings he had me squeeze on the bench amidst these strangers.  This did allow me to see that the women who greeted the men after me were handed coins and during the open forum the man I sat next to, the youngest in the bunch, was noting the citizen’s requests with the furious determination of any political intern on his first campaign trail.  Wednesday followed, with only four days until voting, the Sopi crew came back with huge speakers powered by a car battery, food for lunch and the promise of someone who was apparently   more important.  Everyone dressed up, people came

Celebrating the extra jingle in her pagne.

from neighboring villages, danced, rearranged the school desks which had been brought out as seats, left to eat their own lunch at home, returned and danced until it seemed too boring.  By the time 5:30 came around and we had neither been fed nor heard anyone talk, I decided to sneak off to water my plots in the community garden.  A few other refugees were there but on my walk home I heard that everyone else had waited around for no one to show up.  The other guys spoke again and my counterparts saved me some oily ceeb.  People seemed disappointed and Binta Toure told off the proud young man who shouted “Toubacco” at me as they tore out of village.  However, my informal poll remained consistent, the majority was still for Wade.

Haminta making stating facts, making requests.

The cuties I was pulled away from to sit with the big men.

Apparently more of the men supported other candidates but I only heard from two of my brothers who were split between Ness and Tenor, but agreed that Wade was too old.  I will quickly mention that these two brothers habitually listen to the radio and are more literate than most in village.  Old man Konjira said he’s an old man so he’s voting for the old man and young people can vote for the young people.  My sisters, too young to vote, impressed that people were just trying to kick Wade out and that’s no good, a view easily justified when seeing my dad, our chief, who will hold his position until he dies and he will be held in the utmost respect for the duration.  Seyni, my male counterpart, admitted over lunch that Wade would probably win because he’s been doing this a long time and has a lot of money.

Election morning (my camera battery died at this point so sorry for the lack of evidence) I woke up groggy with an extreme tiredness that I’ve now learned is often how the common cold presents in PCVs here.  Nevertheless, I head out to the garden, where all the women were returning from, having left home before dark to prepare for the big day.  After watering, I went over to the school and saw one of the classrooms turned into a polling station.

And this is how an election works in Senegal:

A side of the room is lined with election officials chosen from the surrounding communities and more official people from a big city somewhere.  Voters enter the classroom where they give their ID and voter registration card to the two local school teachers sitting beneath their blackboard with last week’s history lesson still written on it.  Voters then proceed to a line of desks in the middle of the room where they pick up doctor’s office pamphlet-sized slips of glossy paper for each of the fourteen candidates and an empty white envelope.  They are pointed behind a black screen where a trash can welcomes the candidates voters will discard.  Their vote is folded up in the envelop and carried to a clear rubbermaid container with the Senegalese government seal imprinted on the side.  Before leaving, voters ink a finger to leave their print next to a list of registered voters and sign their mark.  And if inclined, voters could go down the way to our one-time-only bean sandwich shop complete with bread and coffee.

I didn’t get out much more that day due to the exhaustion, but around 8:30 PM when I was nearly committed to sleep I heard the cry of “Sopi! Sopi! Abdulaye Wade!” come marching through my compound, declaring the local winner.  When BBC news told me that Wade did not have a large enough percentage to win Senegal.  Around the village, it seemed I was the first to know.  I’m the only one that listens to the radio with breakfast (everyone else likes to wait until I’m trying to fall asleep).  It was fun to deliver the news throughout the day and everyone likes to get me involved in the campaign.  Their favorite question is “who are you voting for?” and when I say Obama it always wins a hearty laugh.

I’ll be back for round two on this one when the F.B. votes again at the end March.

Love and hope for Senegal’s future,



2 thoughts on “Senegal’s presidential election: what the headlines missed.

    • Senegalese use “Toubab” in the North and “Toubacco” down here to mean foreigner. It’s not necessarily an offensive term. It is annoying when every child on the street yells it out at you or you are singled out of a crowd because you’re the one person who looks different. My friend and I met a young woman from Kolda who now lives in Italy in a sept-place recently, who said that people it mean it positively to say “you are not from here,” but I have a hard time finding that positive. The assumption that we are not from here is also often followed by the assumption that we have money. So I am a toubab, but I am not a toubab.

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