Students divided over Senegal vote

Young voters share concerns for future, with some calling on president to go, while others say Wade is misunderstood.

    Senegalese youth are frustrated with a political system that is corrupt and unstable [Al Jazeera/Azad Essa]

    Many political rallies and demonstrations in Senegal over the past year have been driven by a younger generation, growing increasingly frustrated with the high cost of living, lack of income opportunities and a leadership seen by critics as self-obsessed, self-serving and out of touch.

    But while a new generation seeks a better life, many are anxious that political upheaval, prompted by this Sunday's presidential and parliamentary elections, could threaten the traditional stability of the West African country.

    Incumbent President Abdoulaye Wade's bid, approved by the country's top court, for a third term in office despite a two-term constitutional limit, has prompted days of street protests against his rule.

    Meanwhile, strikes by teachers and other disruptions have crippled the education system for the past five months. With the current impasse set to continue, students could lose an entire academic year. 

    While the risk of instability and violence has prompts caution for some, others say they are desperate for the country to return to its democratic traditions.

    Al Jazeera's Azad Essa visits Dakar University and seeks the opinions of students on the vote and the country's future.

    Mamadou Diop, 23, Biology

    The situation is extremely complicated for us students. First of all, we haven't been able to attend class for the past three months because of the instability. Secondly, the instability of the election campaign and demonstrations have also been difficult to swallow ... I am pessimistic because I don't think it is going to be easy to find a solution.  

    I am troubled, upset by what has been going on because nothing seems certain. There is nothing to suggest that things will calm down once the elections take place on Sunday.

    There will be chaos and multi-dimensional consequences for us. As a student, I fear for what tomorrow might bring for us.

    Either way, if President Wade wins or loses, there will be trouble.

    There have been strikes at the university since October, and I fear that this academic year will go to waste; if we get a new president or not, will he be able to save the year for thousands of students like me or will it be invalidated? That would be a disaster.

    Yacine Diop, 19, Economics

    There is only one solution to this crisis. Outgoing president Wade must withdraw his candidacy. This is the only way out.

    But I have not participated in the demonstrations or protests; I am not that type of student to throw stones or protest. All I can do is to wait for D-Day to cast my ballot and hope that this will bring change.

    And I definitely will not be voting for Wade.

    As a student, I think about voting for Cheikh Bamba Dieye. He is young and accessible and he is open. He is also positive. I look at what he has done as mayor of Saint Louis (the former capital) and the work he is doing there makes me believe that he could do the same things for Senegal.

    As a student, the situation concerns me because as leaders for tomorrow, we are not able to attend class and make progress towards our future.

    Awa Diaeck, 19, Economics

    I don't think demonstrations should be happening. Yes, the situation is complex, but these demonstrations are causing more harm than good for the country.

    We are all citizens of this country, and this is a democracy and that means our population is meant to respect the Constitutional Council's decision to allow President Wade to participate in these elections. He does not need to withdraw his candidacy as people are asking him to.

    Today's tension in the streets of Senegal was not created by President Wade. This is the creation of the opposition. They are manipulating the masses, so that they can show that the population is angry. The population is not demonstrating. Just a few groups of people are assembling.  

    And what they are destroying belongs to this country and not Abdoulaye Wade. Instead of destroying property, they should be preserving the country, because it belongs to all of us.

    The solution to this crisis is simple. People should respect the Council and Wade's candidacy and opposition parties should stop paying people to protest. Wade was voted in democratically and this means that his removal from office should be a result of a democratic process - through voting [him out].

    Mamadou Balde, 23, English

    When I came to university, a movement of students who support President Wade welcomed me to this campus. They included me and I joined their group. I do not agree with all of their ideas but I certainly support Wade; I will be voting for him. 

    I think that he is the only one capable of managing this country. As you know, managing a country is not an obvious thing, and Wade has shown that he is the most capable as compared to the other candidates who are leading demonstrations that are destroying public goods. He is the most educated candidate and is the only one able to develop this country.

    Wade is misunderstood. To me what Wade wants is clear, but people do not understand what he means. When he modified the constitution in 2001 regarding reducing the terms of a president, he was not taking his term at the time into account. Therefore, his first term was in 2007. And people obviously are demonstrating because they think this will be his third term, when it would only be his second term. In other words, his first term does not count with regards to the new constitutional law.

    The changes that Wade has instituted in this country are plain to see. It is all around us. People are just denying what he has done. If he is fighting for his position, it is not for this sake. He does not need Senegal's money, neither does his son. He is just trying to build the country.

    Cheik Ansou Danfa, 24, student leader

    This is an unprecedented situation in Senegal. This is something we used to see in other countries in the region. This is really something regrettable and it is really a pity for the population of Senegal.

    Seeing people dying the streets; the protests, the bloody protests. This is not something we are used to. It is an unknown. And this should not be happening.

    The old man, I mean, President Wade, once said as the leader of the opposition years ago, that "I will not gain access to the presidential palace by walking through corpses". He meant that he was not willing to kill people to become president. That was in 1988. He should have had the honesty to say "I will not also leave the palace without walking or sitting on corpses".

    The only way out of this mess is that President Wade retires.

    If he does not withdraw his candidacy, God help us. But even Wade supporters say that if he steps down, they will protest and demonstrate. 

    Follow @azadessa

    SOURCE: Al Jazeeera



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