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Senegal merchants hopeful about runoff
Violent protests greeted first presidential vote, but Independence Square traders say country's democracy is strong.
Last Modified: 22 Mar 2012 13:48
The lead up to the February presidential vote was marked by violent protests against a third term for Wade [Reuters]

Dakar, Senegal - It is no myth that while formal businesses can draw their shutters on a whim, informal traders with their flimsy wooden tables must brave the elements, be they climatic or political, with equal aplomb.

Little wonder then, that when protests against President Abdoulaye Wade's candidacy for a third term in office kicked off fierce clashes with security forces in central Dakar in February, informal traders sitting on the edge of pavements, between the overhanging trees and permanent stalls, paid the biggest price.

Many stalls were burnt and goods spoiled or stolen as protesters and vandals took advantage of the chaos that ensued on the streets surrounding the historic Independence Square.

Security forces have been criticised for adopting strong-arm tactics against protesters trying to work their way to the square and merchants in the vicinity say the violence brought their lives to a virtual standstill over the weeks leading up to the election.

But Dakar has since reverted to its usual self, and traders close to the square are positive about the buildup to the runoff election on Sunday, which pits Wade against opposition politician and former Prime Minister Macky Sall.

Though they are unappreciative, even angry about the scale of vandalism that took place, traders are adamant that the country's democratic values are in a healthy state.

Al Jazeera's Azad Essa talks to merchants about the violence, Senegal's democratic values, and the candidate most likely to lead them toward a better future.

There is a big difference between the first round to this runoff. First of all, there were some candidates who were refused access to the Independence Square to hold their rallies, which made it an extremely testing and difficult time for us to be working here.

Because they were not allowed to [go to] the square, this street soon became occupied by policemen and protesters, and during that entire buildup, it was not safe for us to work here. It was a total loss for us, because even the police prevented us from working.

So we worked sometimes till 3 pm and then packed away once the police and protesters came because this usually meant some chaos, especially if tear gas was shot into the crowd. Often, some people would take advantage of the chaos by stealing our goods. So for the sake of safety, we closed shop early.

I would say that demonstrations and work cannot go together. You cannot sell goods next to people protesting.

This is [the] reason it was a real loss for us in the first round. Some of us even lost our tables - people burned them.

Explaining the current peace experienced in the country is simple. Macky Sall, who is competing in the run off, never came here or caused trouble or tension. Sall held his rallies around the country and only those who came here have been eliminated. That is why no one is coming here anymore to protest.

Indeed, by the name of God, I hope this peace that we are experiencing now will continue. I am ready to accept whatever the ballot decides and I hope the rest of the country would do the same; people outside, looking in, would be able to say that Senegal is a country of peace.

Before the first round of elections, some candidates went out of their way to disturb us and our work, instead of going and campaigning... and actually, if you think about it, those three candidates who caused so much of the trouble - Cheik Bamba Jai, Idrissa Seck and Ibrahima Fall - are the ones who are out. People here don't like violence and people who were promoting violence are lagging behind.

Of course, there is a lot of hope. And I am sure there is going to be peace after this run off. If you remember, there was so much tension just before the Sunday of the elections last month... but when the campaigning ended on the Saturday [before] the elections, people stayed at home, kept quiet and there was no trouble. Senegalese people showed enough maturity and enough responsibility not to indulge in trouble. I am sure that there will be no issues on Sunday and life will go on.

I voted for Macky Sall in the first round and will do so again. I think that if people want to change something, one has to take part and vote for the change. This is why I am voting for Macky Sall. There is some hope in him. Life is very expensive in Senegal and many of us think that if Sall takes over, things will improve. Rice, oil and electricity will be cheaper.

All of us working here have families to feed, with some of them in villages outside Dakar. They depend on us. If rice is expensive, I still have to provide, otherwise they will have problems finding something to eat. I am hoping the change will affect us, improve our lives.

I have been here since 1990. I was 20 years old when I started selling goods on the street. All I can say is that things are totally different now to what they used to be here.

When Abdoulaye Wade became president, he gave us permission to work here more freely, but these rallies have caused us a lot of problems. If I may express myself, this was the worst period for us since working here. If things were bad before, we would at least make enough to take something home. But during these rallies, I could not even make enough for a bus ride home. I had to borrow.

I will be voting because I care as a citizen and I am obviously concerned about what is going [on] in this country. I will do whatever is needed to do... and I must admit, that I am quite optimistic about what will happen on Sunday. We are used to peace in this country and this is what we know.

I have been here for many years, as I already said, and things were tough. Policemen used to pick us up for working on the streets. But things changed with Wade, and I will be voting for him because my life became easier for me under his presidency. If everyone has the right to take a position... then my position is with Wade.

I am really angry. I did not vote in the first round of these elections because of what happened here. Yes, the country is better now, but opposition leaders and their supporters should have stopped at the Obelisk Square, instead of coming here. They destroyed my goods and I am still angry at what happened.

We would come here and set up the stall and by mid-afternoon a crowd would gather and it was difficult to know what to do. All we could do was pack up and run away. It also shows that the candidates like Idrissa Seck, Ibrahima Fall and Cheik Bamba Jai were the ones causing the problems and they didn't manage to achieve anything.

The crowds who came here to protest were just instruments; they were used. All they did was come here, cause problems, burn tables and this is why I did not vote.

If I do decide to vote this time, I will vote for Abdoulaye Wade. I don't know anything about Macky Sall. The one candidate I know is Wade and so I will stick to him.

Look at the country. We have seen [former President Leopold] Senghor and nothing happened. We saw [former president Abdou] Diouf and nothing happened then as well. There are differences after Wade took over.

Just look at the city, the suburbs, the roads, the street lights. If you come to Dakar from the east of the country, it feels as if you are in Paris or in the United States.

We have a business that does quite well. But the rallies proved to be a very hard time for our business.

Before the rally, we sold about four or five pairs of shoes per day. The weeks just before the elections, we sold absolutely nothing.

We spent most of the time packing up the goods and hiding them from protesters and vandals. As soon as the crowds came, we would pack them into white plastic packets and hide them in some of the buildings around here, so that we would not lose our goods when the violence started.

In comparison with the first round, I don't see any problem emerging now. I think people are going to vote in peace and there will be no problems.

Of course, we need the change and we all want the country to change. I, personally, want Wade to leave and a new president to be voted in. We need this change. Obviously, this means that I did not vote for Wade in the first round... but I also did not vote for Macky Sall in the first round. I voted for Mustapha Niasse... but we need change so I will vote for Macky Sall on Sunday.

I am voting for him because I am hoping that he will make the changes we need. We need the price of basics to decrease, young people need jobs, education issues need to be solved, among other problems. I am voting for him because I hope he is the right the person for the job.

I also voted for Abdoulaye Wade in 2000 and 2007 and refuse to do so again. He has made the same promises over and over and has not delivered and has not respected his promises.

I would say that for every person who says they will vote for Wade, there are probably two who will tell you they are not going to vote for him.

I feel a lot of hope about what is going to happen. Of course, only God can grant victory, but I am optimistic that Sall will beat Wade at this election on Sunday.

Follow @azadessa on Twitter.

Source:
Al Jazeera
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