Heather in Senegal

Friday, March 16, 2007

February 6

Abdoulaye Wade came to Kolda today. He is Senegal's current president and, in Kolda at least, far and away the most popular of the fifteen presidential candidates. Many streets surrounding the tent where he would be speaking were blocked to cars and for hours ahead of time were covered with people wearing Wade shirts, coming from near and far to show their support.

Although I do not understand French well enough to want to hear a speach in French, I was curious about what the political rally would be like, so I came early and found myself a shady spot a bit up hill from where Wade would be speaking. At first everything was friendly and festive. A little girl placed herself beside me as a guide and told me what we were seeing. People wearing the purple shirts are from this school. Those drummers are from that neighborhood, while that set of drummers is from such other neighborhood. The man dressed in fringed costume and face paint is representing some character. That huge truck full of people wearing Wade shirts got through the barricade because they are coming from such village. My favorite group was the ten person orchestra of extremely old women, each hitting a metal rod against another metal rod in a bouncy rhythm.

Shortly before Wade was scheduled to arrive, Jenny and her boyfriend, Dave, came out and met me. The three of us ventured deep into the crowd. When Wade's car rolled down the street we were close enough for him to wave right at us. As soon as his car passed, people who were jogging alongside him began to pushing by us, creating a strong current in the crowd. A bit downstream a man struggled with the police creating another surge in the crowd. When he came into view he was being held by two police men and his face was splattered with blood from an open lump near his eye. It was hard to stay balanced with people pushing every which way. After the pushing stopped we walked around undisturbed.

For a long time after Wade's car passed us nothing at all happened. I don't know why he waited so long to begin his speach. We were beginning to talk about leaving when we saw a large crowd running towards us. Looking past and above them we saw fist and head sized rocks soaring through the air in high, graceful arcs. There were fine pitching arms on those protesters. We ran with the crowd into a family's compound. A few hundred of us stayed in there for a bit, and then as people filtered back out to wait for Wade, Jenny, Dave, and I hopped over the back fence and left.


It is now two weeks after the elections. In order to win, Wade had to get more than 50% of the vote. To the absolute delight of my neighborhood, he is reported to have received 55%.


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