Monday, March 19, 2012

Senegal music star Youssou Ndour hits campaign trail

Senegalese superstar Youssou Ndour, who has lent his golden voice to politics, hit the campaign trail a week before run-off polls to rally support for presidential challenger Macky Sall.

Ndour, along with all 12 presidential candidates who fell out of the country's electoral race in a first round of voting, are campaigning hard for Sall, to block a controversial third term bid by 85-year-old incumbent Abdoulaye Wade.

The Grammy-award winning artist has been at the forefront of this campaign since his own attempt to run for office was thwarted by the constitutional court which said he did not have enough signatures supporting his candidacy.

In the troubled southern Casamance province, gripped by a low-level separatist conflict for the past three decades, Ndour whipped up a crowd of thousands in the regional capital Ziguinchor on Saturday night.

Taking to the stage, his fists raised in a victory sign, Ndour sang the phrase "We have won, we have won" before an old song of his on good governance called "Alalu Mbolo" played back over the speakers.

"We are holding an electoral show. In one week Wade will leave power," said Ndour to loud cheers. He was dressed in flowing traditional robes, topped off with scarf and cap bearing the image of the 50-year-old ex-prime minister Sall.

Sophie Diedhou, 32, was in the crowd. "I want Wade to leave, we have no hope of finding a job, I am a domestic worker despite being trained as a seamstress."

Wade is facing a stiff battle to retain power at the March 25 poll after a strong opposition showing crushed his hopes of overall victory in the first round and forced him into a run-off.

The election in a country known as a haven of stability is being closely watched by foreign allies, after a month of violent protests against Wade's candidacy in the run-up to the election left six dead and over 150 injured.

All the runners-up, who together totalled 60 percent of first round votes to Wade's 34.8 percent, have come out in support of Sall going into the run-off.

Sall, who polled 26.5 percent in the first round, is favourite to win.

A few dozen youths from the ruling party later tried to stop Ndour from arriving at the headquarters of the Women's Platform for Peace in Casamance, throwing stones and erecting a barricade of tyres before being swiftly removed.

"When people in power begin throwing stones, it is because they can already see themselves in the opposition. Normally it is they who throw stones, this shows they have accepted their fate," the singer said.

Ndour was invited by the women's group to speak on the conflict between the state and the rebel Casamance Movement of Democratic Forces, which has left thousands dead and displaced over the years.

It has also left the tropical province, separated from the rest of the country by Gambia and blessed with beautiful white sandy beaches, in limbo and deeply poor.

"It is possible to make Casamance the breadbasket of Senegal. But first we need peace. For that to arrive we need Wade to get out," said Ndour, telling the women they could count on Sall.

When former opposition leader Wade arrived in power in 2000 he promised to solve the crisis in 100 days, but peace talks have stalled due to splits in the rebel MFDC.

In 2007 he won in a first round vote with 55 percent, but his popularity has plunged in recent years amid rising food prices and power cuts which crippled activity in 2011, but have disappeared around the election campaign.

Growing social anger has combined with fury over Wade's perceived efforts to line up his unpopular son Karim to succeed him.

This erupted in four weeks of riots from January 27 when the country's highest court upheld Wade's case that a 2008 constitutional amendment altering the term lengths from five to seven years, allowed him another term.

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