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With 190 Presidential Candidates, Senegalese Democracy Is Vibrant — And Messy

Nearly 200 people are running to be the president of Senegal in the 2024 elections. What does this say about the state of Senegalese democracy? Financial Afrik takes a closer look.

DAKAR — Senegal faces an exceptional influx of candidates vying for the presidential office in the February 2024 elections.

With 190 people having obtained the necessary endorsements from the Directorate General of Elections, Senegalese citizens will have an abundance of choices.

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From former prime ministers to activists, trade unionists, social media influencers, and even figures like Anta Babacar Ngom from the Sedima Group, Senegal's "king of chicken," as well as singer Queen Biz — the political landscape of Senegal appears saturated with contenders. Each carries with them hopes, ambitions, pretensions, frustrations, and, it must be said, the advanced symptoms of the political landscape’s impoverishment.

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“How Do The French Feel?" — Director Alice Diop's Vision Of A Nation Torn In Two

The death of Nahel, a 17-year-old killed by a police officer in Nanterre, France, and subsequent riots shocked the world. It's familiar territory for acclaimed film director Alice Diop, whose latest project, “Saint Omer,” was France’s nominee for the best foreign language film at the Oscars, examining what it means to be an immigrant, or the child of immigrants, in France.

PARIS — The RER B is a “blue line” of the Paris regional high-speed rail network. Anyone who has been to Paris has sat on this train on their way from Charles de Gaulle Airport to Châtelet-Les Halles, or, one stop further, to Notre Dame, near the center of the city. The train, known by some commuters as the Ligne Bleue, stretches for 80 kilometers, connecting the city’s Northern suburbs with its Southern surroundings.

The railway connects majority white neighborhoods full of single-family homes to the historical, tourist-heavy center, and to the immigrant communities of the Parisian banlieues. Every day, 1 million passengers use it to make their daily commute. Those who enter represent Paris in a nutshell, or even the whole of France. As the train makes its way from North to South, the color of its stations changes, but so does the landscape: faces, color, style, clothes and even sound.

Tourists from central Paris, intimidated by the historic city, take the train together, fatigue in their eyes, their postures slumped. They are surrounded by a mélange of parents with children, wide-eyed newlyweds staring at each other, laughing friends. On this journey through the French capital, fragments of Spanish sentences mix with German words, overlapping with conversations in Chinese. Half of the passengers eventually step off, spreading out between hotels and shopping malls. Their backpacks are slowly substituted by West African boubous and colorful headscarves. The faces grow more tired.

For these passengers, squeezing themselves through Paris at rush hour is not an adventure, but an everyday reality, necessary for their return home. Today, at least, the train is running properly. Yesterday, the delays — and the surrounding crowds— were unbearable. An accident on the train tracks caused traffic to stop entirely for an hour and a half.

Alice Diop knows the compartments of the RER B very well. The French film director grew up not far from the Aulnay-sous-Bois station. This is the infamous département 93, which is often described as one of the least safe in the entire country.

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Senegal's Democratic Unrest And The Ghosts Of French Colonialism

The violence that erupted following the sentencing of opposition politician Ousmane Sonko to two years in prison left 16 people dead and 500 arrested. This reveals deep fractures in Senegalese democracy that has traces to France's colonial past.


PARIS — For a long time, Senegal had the glowing image of one of Africa's rare democracies. The reality was more complicated than that, even in the days of the poet-president Léopold Sedar Senghor, who also had his dark side.

But for years, the country has been moving down what Senegalese intellectual Felwine Sarr describes as the "gentle slope of... the weakening and corrosion of the gains of Senegalese democracy."

This has been demonstrated once again over the last few days, with a wave of violence that has left 16 people dead, 500 arrested, the internet censored, and a tense situation with troubling consequences. The trigger? The sentencing last Thursday of opposition politician Ousmane Sonko to two years in prison, which could exclude him from the 2024 presidential elections.

Young people took to the streets when the verdict was announced, accusing the justice system of having become a political tool. Ousmane Sonko had been accused of rape but was convicted of "corruption of youth," a change that rendered the decision incomprehensible.

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Big Prizes For African Writers Don't Change Balance Of Power In Literary World

Novelists from Africa have been receiving some of the most prestigious literary prizes. But there are still questions around who are the world’s literary gatekeepers and what role writers from the Global South can play, writes Mauritian poet and photographer Umar Timol.


PORT LOUIS, MAURITIUS — In the arena of prestigious literary awards, 2021 was the year for Africa: Senegal's Mohamed Mbougar Sarr won France’s Goncourt Prize, the Tanzanian Abdulrazak Gurnah won the Nobel Prize in Literature and the South African Damon Galgut won the Booker Prize (for English-language novels). All are well-deserved recognitions for the continent, but is the success limited by the expectations of Western critics?

Mohamed Mbougar Sarr won France’s top literary prize for his novel La plus secrète mémoire des hommes (“The Most Secret Memory of Men”) and even he recognized how it expanded who could receive the Goncourt: “It is a strong signal [...], a way, also, to show that France is sometimes much larger and much nobler — in any case much more open — than what we can, what we want to reduce it to."

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Marième Soumaré

"She Asked For It" — Rape Culture In Spotlight At Miss Senegal Beauty Contest

A top executive of the Miss Senegal beauty pageant dismissed accusations made by last year's winner that she'd been raped, igniting furious debate across the West African nation about the treatment of women and the retrograde attitudes across society.

DAKAR — As a defense mechanism, Amina Badiane could not have done worse. It was last Thursday, Nov. 18, when the chairwoman of the Miss Senegal organizing committee spoke with Dakarbuzz, a website based in the capital.

The interview was an opportunity to respond to the revelations of Ndèye Fatima Dione, Miss Senegal 2020, who had revealed publicly the violence she'd suffered during her time as the nation's No. 1 beauty queen. Her mother had also revealed that Dione's pregnancy was the consequence of rape, committed during a trip organized by the committee.

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Matteo Maillard

In Senegal, An App To Tackle Violence Against Women

Femicide is a major problem in the West African country. A French entrepreneur of Senegalese origin is hoping her invention — App-Elles — can help end it.

DAKAR — In the Place de la Nation, in the heart of Dakar, hundreds of Senegalese chant the words "doyna, doyna!" — "stop" in the local Wolof language. What the protestors want is an end to femicide and violence against women.

For many here, the murder of Bineta Camara, 23, in May, was the final straw. The young woman was strangled in the family house after refusing the sexual advances of a friend of her father. Since then, protesters have been demanding the criminalization of rape and more severe sentences for assault, sexual harassment, and forced marriages.

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Matteo Maillard

A Boxing Gym As Bridge Between France And Senegal

After earning fame and fortune in France, fighter Souleymane Mbaye made good on a promise to open a professional-level boxing club in Dakar.

DAKAR — The blows come fast and furious. The leather of the punching bag pops. The chains holding it in place grind and groan as Idrissa Gueye, 24, unleashes his fists — along with cries of exhaustion mixed with rage. "Go again, no time out!" yells Souleymane Mbaye, his coach.

Both men are dripping in sweat. It is the middle of the rainy season in Senegal, and the sultry, late-September air makes every move difficult.

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Emeraude Monnier

Spain To Senegal To Brazil, 'Other' 1968 Movements To Remember

PARIS — Political conflict and social movements around the world in 1968 made it a year for the history books. The 50th anniversary of several signature episodes are being marked throughout this year, from the Prague Spring and monthlong French student uprising of May "68, to the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy in the U.S. and black power salutes at the Mexico City Olympics.

But the upheaval that year spread beyond just a handful of internationally iconic events. Among the other notable moments and movements of 1968 are four chapters that may not have made it into your high school history textbook:

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Lucia Benavides

The Female Factor In Senegal's Fishing Crisis

On the coast of Senegal, fish stocks have fallen 80% in the past year alone. The women fish processors of the region have been hit hardest, with consequences across society.

SAINT-LOUIS — Fatou Binetou Sarr sits, arms crossed and lips pursed, looking on as fishermen bring in the day's catch. She's with a group of women, all wearing long, colorful dresses with matching headscarves and bright gold earrings. They're quick to point out that today they're not working — because there is not enough fish coming in off the boats.

"Why do you think we're dressed so nicely?" Sarr asks. On the days they work, she implies, they don't wear anything so fine.

All around them is a bustling scene. The Senegalese beach is full of people talking, children chasing each other and goats bleating. There are about a dozen colorful wooden boats, called pirogues, docked close to shore; some women stand waist-deep in the water, negotiating with the fishermen. They'll be selling fresh fish at the market later that afternoon. Men in waterproof gear carry buckets of fish on their heads up to refrigerated trucks waiting to hoard off the catch to various destinations.

But Sarr and the other women in her group have to wait. They are the town's fish processors who descale, boil, dry and salt the fish. The result, a stiff and brownish version of what was once a flailing fish, is used to spice up meals or provide an important backup when fresh fish is not available. Processed fish can keep for months and is five times cheaper than fresh, though with a lower nutritional value.

The processors aren't able to buy their share of fish until the evening, when it's less fresh and the price is cheaper — if there's enough left. Yet it's these women who are fighting hardest to save the life-blood of Saint-Louis. Through women's associations, they are demanding more investment from NGOs and the Senegalese government, and sharing funds to help each other buy the increasingly expensive fish.

17% of Senegal's population suffers from food insecurity.

Big catches are becoming increasingly rare in Saint-Louis. Stocks in this major fishing hub on the border of Senegal and Mauritania had been dwindling in the past 10 years, but 2017 was a disaster. Stocks collapsed by 82% in that year alone.

While it's not clear what caused the precipitous drop last year, a combination of climate change, increased competition, fishing territory disputes with Mauritania and industrial foreign fleets illegally fishing off the coast have led to the overall decline. Rising sea levels and warmer water temperatures have caused fish to either fall in number or migrate north. As a result, malnutrition is rampant in many parts of the country — the World Food Program estimates 17% of Senegal's population suffers from food insecurity.

Because fresh fish doesn't keep long, processed fish is being consumed more and more — it can keep for up to six months. That's extremely important for interior villages, which are themselves struggling with the effects of climate change on growing crops and raising livestock. Sarr says 70% of the fish processed in Saint-Louis is shipped to landlocked communities.

"If women don't work, people don't eat," Sarr says. "The interior communities and countries rely on the fish that's caught and processed here."

A History of Solidarity

Like most other fish processors, Sarr learned the trade from her mother. She was 7 years old when she started helping around the processing plant. Today, she is the president of the Female Processors Association in Saint-Louis, a position her mother also held.

The women pool their money together to buy fish by the crate, process it together and split the profit — money that, when it doesn't go toward their children's education and healthcare, is used to buy the next load of fish. Sarr says that today, they pay about 15,000 CFA francs ($28) for a crate. A couple of years ago, the same crate cost just $5.

Declining fish stocks in Senegal have led to increased food insecurity, malnutrition and job loss, especially for women Photo: Ania Freindorf/ZUMA

A visit to the processing plant lays bare the damage done to the women's livelihoods by the declining stocks. What was once a crowded place full of women working side by side now looks more like a graveyard. The outdoor roofed area is full of hollow pots of clay, empty sacks of salt and rusty drying racks. Only one woman is seen rummaging through the pots, looking for processed fish to buy and take back to her hometown. She says she traveled 95 miles this morning and will return in the evening, probably empty-handed.

When Women Are Left Behind

Khady Sané Diouf works with female fish processors through COMFISH (Collaborative Management for a Sustainable Fisheries Future), a project funded by USAID. "Women are very vulnerable because of climate change, and also because of bad living conditions, which all makes them have less revenue than they did before," she says. "If the fishermen bring in less fish, that impacts our food security. That's certain. The women who depended on those fish will sell less, and they'll process less too, or not at all."

COMFISH organizes workshops with women across Senegal to educate them on how to generate the highest profit with the fish they have available. There, the women learn to read and write, integrate technology into their work and find new ways to sell their product. The organization also helps women work on alternative projects to earn money on the side, like gardening and making artisanal jewelry.

I'm very proud of my work.

She says the Senegalese government isn't doing enough to support the women. While COMFISH has built processing plants with modern equipment — their goal is to have more hygienic workspaces — the organization's work isn't enough to sustain the entire population. Among the women's list of needs is increased state funding to put into their workspaces. Diouf says the state sometimes turns to them for guidance on how to better serve the women, but the money coming in isn't nearly enough.

Sarr believes that investing in the women's work will help boost the local economy for everyone, not just those in the fishing industry.

"I'm very proud of my work. If we can add value to it, the men will come back, and we'll bring back the jobs," she says, referring to the large numbers of Senegalese men who have migrated to Europe in search of better job opportunities.

"If we had fish, if we had resources, they would have never left."

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Cartoon Of Muslim Leader Wearing 'Dress' Sparks Uproar In Senegal

DAKAR — A cartoon of an early 20th-century Senegalese Muslim leader has sparked a nationwide uproar, with the vignette criticized by civilians and political leaders alike. The Paris-based African news magazine Jeune Afrique published a cartoon of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba, founder of the Mouride Brotherhood, last week in which a passing Westerner asks why the traditionally robed leader is "wearing a dress." The magazine formally apologized for the caricature over the weekend and removed it from the website, although it is still visible on the cartoonist's Twitter profile.

The caricature poked fun at ongoing controversy in Senegal over men carrying handbags, a new fashion trend pioneered by the young singer Wally Seck. Religious leaders — including representatives of the Sufi Muslim Mouride Brotherhood, whose adherents make up around 40% of Senegal's population — harshly criticized his fashion choice and called it "effeminate," with newspapers publishing homophobic insults. Homosexuality is outlawed in Senegal and many other African countries.

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