The Game of Politics. The Hope of Youth.

Thursday August 7 

In my last post, I laid out several challenges that I have faced during my surveying such as respondents’ lack of time, willingness, or the appropriate qualifications. After the last couple days of surveying, those negatives hold true but the positives have become more apparent. Several times, people have complimented me on the quality of the questions and asked for additional details about my project. On occasion, my research assistant and I have been treated to ice drinks and strongly urged to stick around for lunch, which I have been tempted to do but refuse to do because I never have spare time. My favorite part of the process has been playing games with the kids at each home while waiting for the more older subject to complete the survey. Every time, children initially stop whatever they are doing, walk closely up to me, and stare at me with a blank, disgruntled face. But by the end of my short stay, they are all smiles.

My research assistant, Macadou, and I in Guédiawaye

Kids love the camera

In my last couple days of fieldwork, I have surveyed Guédiawaye, the second largest neighborhood in Dakar. Like Pikine, this sprawling, neglected suburb gave birth to the youth political movement, Y’en a marre. Today in this neighborhood, I had the honor to sit down and talk with Foumalade, one of the founders of Y’en a marre and a very popular rap artist in Senegal (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DejXrTX_Frw). I visited him at his organization, GHipHop Community Center, which is located in the heart of Guédiawaye. This open, decorative art space hosts socially and politically conscious classes in hip hop music, graffiti art, and dance for youth. Walking into the headquarters, I was stunned by the beauty of the space. Multiple outdoor classes were taking place with dozens of children chanting and singing music. I could feel the mission of the organization at work: channeling young energy for a positive Senegalese future. It is the same mission that Y’en a marre pursued in the presidential elections of 2012. Y’en a marre translates to “fed up,” as young people could no longer tolerate the frequent power outages, President Wade’s attempts to change the constitution, and his failure to reform health and education. Rappers and journalists rallied together using music as a tool to communicate messages of social empowerment. They encouraged youth to think for themselves, to demand more from their elected officials, and to be accountable third-party observers of Senegal’s democracy. A void that my research project seeks to fill is to find out how young people feel about this youth-based movement and whether the movement had a tangible, long-term impact on how they feel about the formal political process in Senegal.

GHipHop Headquarters

After examining my survey responses thus far, I noticed that a significant portion of youth said that their opinion of Y’en a marre has changed for the worse since 2012. Mainly, they believe that the movement conspired with the President and other politicians, received money from Western organizations, and betrayed their original message. When I asked Foumalade about that, he said that after winning the presidential election, President Macky Sall approached them multiple times to work together but they refused because their mission was to remain a reliable third-party watchdog of politicians. They knew that if they accepted, he would find a way to co-opt them. Nonetheless, politicians like Sall have come out and publicly stated that they are working with Y’en a marre, a savvy, dirty political move that Foumalade says has unfortunately turned youth’s opinions against them. He also described how “heated” the country was in 2012 and how Y’en a marre took advantage of this agitation to successfully register 500,000 youth to vote and change the course of the election. Despite its success in 2012 and its continued efforts to fight against youth apathy and distrust, we see that those in power can find easy ways to weaken them.

Foumalade and I exchanged emails and he said he was interested in learning about the results of my survey, specifically those regarding Y’en a marre. He also said he’d like to speak and perform at Northwestern like he has done several times for NYU. I am excited to look into the possibility once I return to Evanston.

The rap artist Foumalade and I
Music class for children
Graffiti at G-HipHop

I have noticed that Senegalese and American youth share some common ground in political behavior. In general, youth tend not to be politically involved and are so distrustful of politicians that they focus their attention on other things. Some say that Senegalese youth only care about “LDM – Lutte, Danse, et Musique” or “Fitness, Music, Dance.” Yet the two population groups also share key differences mainly due to differences in wealth. Although Senegalese youth love their country, many dream to leave for Europe or the United States for a better life because there are simply not enough jobs for the bulging population. The university students here are smart, hard-working students who obtain Master’s degrees, but most cannot find a paid job after graduation. The masses who do not even make it that far in the education system often devote their lives to religion. As leaders seemingly play politics instead of working to create jobs, the youth have lost trust in them.

I recently read an article that talked about how the Internet has made American youth more prone to apathy, complacency and inactivity in the political sphere. I find this argument valid to the extent that in developing countries like Senegal, youth tend to be more aware about political and social developments since the economic stakes are dire. In addition, Senegalese culture is rooted in spending time around the company of friends and family rather than communicating through smartphones. On the streets, one always sees groups of people drinking tea outside their homes, actively engaging in fruitful discussions about their country’s affairs.

I want to end this post by displaying all the political graffiti that I have seen throughout the capital city. Senegalese youth turn to graffiti to express their political opinions because they feel that they can not be heard by politicians and the media otherwise. Similar to the way youth mobilized rap music for political activism in 2012, they hope to create accessible “spaces” for youth. You can see painted slogans and designs on almost every block of the city and most of it refers to political candidates from past and present elections. Enjoy.

“Votez Pour Khalifa Sall” or “Vote for Khalifa Sall” who just got elected Mayor of Dakar. His popularity has jumped as of late and many believe he is the favorite to be elected President in 2017.
“Liberez Karim” or “Free Karim”. Karim Wade, son of former President Abdoulaye Wade, is currently imprisoned and under trial for corruption charges. Many Senegalese believe this is just a strong-armed political move.
“Wade Rek” or “Only Wade”
“Wade Degage” or “No More Wade”
“J’aime mon pays” or “I like my country” but someone inserted “Gourgui”, which is Abdoulaye Wade’s nickname, so that it would mean “J’aime Gourgui” or “I like Wade”. Posted over these messages is a campaign flyer for this year’s local elections.
PEACE
Promotion for young-based local development group
The political party “Rewmi” promoted over a soccer team’s advertisement
More political messages

 

The political coalition, Bokk-Gis-Gis