By Horace Campbell
Abdoulaye Wade is 85 years old. Or is it 86? Or 87? Who Knows? He is campaigning for a third term as the president of the Republic of Senegal. Wade won the elections to be president in 2000 and won another six-year term in 2007. There will be elections on Sunday, February 26, 2012. Under the Constitution of Senegal, Wade is not eligible to run for a third term. A questionable panel of judges tampered with the interpretation of the Constitution so that Wade could be ‘given’ permission to stand for a Third term. The people of Senegal have responded and have said that they have not given him permission and have been making daily manifestations against the potential third term presidency of Wade. It is likely that he will come through the elections on Sunday over the dead bodies of many Senegalese. For the past fifty years Wade represented himself as a Pan-African fighter for dignity and unity.
During the presidency of Leopold Senghor, the first president of Senegal after independence, Wade campaigned to form a political party and unsuccessfully ran against the next leader of the Socialist Party, Abdou Diouf. The Socialist Party of Senghor had dominated Senegalese politics for some 40 years but in the era of structural adjustment, this party started implementation of the ‘reforms’ to deepen capitalist exploitation. The ‘reforms’ of structural adjustment involved the strengthening of the local capitalist class in Senegal and included the privatisation of financially sound state-owned entities. In the process new social forces came into being while the majority became impoverished. Hundreds of young Senegalese started to leave the country with the exodus increasing daily. Abdou Diouf was defeated in the elections of 2000 because Wade campaigned on behalf of the people, calling himself the ‘Street President’.
Twelve years later the impact of the ’structural adjustment reforms’ are being felt even more and the people want a government that can respond to their needs. The opposition in Senegal is divided, but this is one of the most sophisticated countries in Africa with a long history of popular struggles. During the colonial period, it was the scene of one of the most protracted strikes for better living conditions. Wade had ridden on this history and had proclaimed himself as a progressive Pan-Africanist. For a short while, he was one of the few leaders calling for the immediate unification of the peoples of Africa and the building of the infrastructure for the United States of Africa. Today, as he turns the weapons of this state against the people, we are calling on Mr. Wade to step aside or go down in history as a fraudulent Pan Africanist. It is not too late to listen to the people.
PAN AFRICANISM AND DIGNITY: DEEP PAN AFRICAN TRADITIONS IN SENEGAL AND WEST AFRICA
The basic creed of Pan-Africanism is the dignity of human beings, especially the dignity of Africans. This concept of dignity has gone through many phases. At one moment it was the struggle against colonialism; at another moment, it was s struggle against apartheid. It was a struggle against Jim Crow and racism. In the 21st century, the Pan-African struggle combines the anti-colonial and the anti-racist history with a new thrust for dignity and renewal of the African person. Increasingly, as the poor people of Africa suffer the brunt of the capitalist crisis, it is clearer that the present state structures in Africa cannot be the basis for freedom and dignity. Africa cannot be free with the structures of the Berlinist state along with the institutions of exploitation and domination.
The peoples of Senegal understood this basic dictum of Pan-African unity and freedom and the ordinary workers, traders and cultural workers from Senegal claimed African and international spaces. They do not respect colonial borders. They do not respect the barriers to the free movement of people. This Pan-Africanism at the grassroots is most evident among the women who are the connective corridor between the Pan-African trade networks across Africa. Whether it is Angola, Zambia, South Africa, Ghana, one will find these traders, crafts persons who do not allow language, currencies or political forces to prevent them from carrying out their day to day existence.
It is this culture of freedom in Senegal that produced some of the greatest Pan-African thinkers and Cheikh Anta Diop stands heads and shoulders over many. Diop’s work and his contributions on the cultural unity of Africa remains one of the foundation documents for the building of the union of the peoples of Africa. Younger Pan-Africanists will do well to read his writings on Pan-Africanism and the need for one government in Africa. Diop was also aware of the need for a special place for women in this united Africa so he suggested a bicameral arrangement with special deliberative bodies for women. It is also Cheikh Anta Diop who wrote and spoke of the vibrant African optimism that will take Africa out of the barbarism of capitalism. Senegal also produced the top film maker and writer, Ousmane Sembène, whose Pan-African writings have lifted the hearts and spirits of peoples everywhere. Sembene wanted humans to have dignity. Then, there are the hundreds of cultural voices who use different mediums to bring across their message. Senegalese rappers are now joining the traditions of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and other Pan-African in singing songs of freedom and emancipation.
It is from this strong cultural background where Abdoulaye Wade attempted to carve out a space for himself in history. Wade wanted to represent himself at the political level to stand in the history of Pan-Africanism beside Cheikh Anta Diop and Sembene Ousmane. In the past twelve years, Wade has been one of the most forthright calling for the immediate unification of Africa. The long traditions of openness that had been claimed by the Senegalese people allowed African intellectuals the space in Dakar to debate the future architecture for the union of the peoples of Africa. Wade would turn up at these meetings and proclaim that he was not like other Francophone politicians who did not understand the real meaning of Pan-Africanism. However, after hearing Wade once, one could quickly penetrate the rhetoric to see that he was representing a state centered Pan-Africanism where the people were simply cheerleaders to facilitate his hold on to power.
At the Kwame Nkrumah conference in Ghana in May 2010, Wade exceeded himself in the promotion of sycophancy by bringing about 100 of the youth wing of his party for the conference in Accra. It was evident that these young persons were simply praise singers because of the lack of interest in any other persons who were offering statements on the future of Pan-Africanism. Wade was exposing himself as a fraud, one who is a sham Pan-Africanist, one who will attempt to deceive the Progressive Pan African constituency in his country.
FRAUDULENT PAN AFRICANIST AND DYNASTIC RULE
The level of political fraud and retrogression had deepened in Africa to the point that in comparison to the leaders of Equatorial Guinea, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, or the other horror stories of misrule, the society of Senegal stood out. The people of Senegal had removed Diouf in a peaceful manner and this society was called a model democratic country in Africa. Senegalese working people defended their society with pride and the cultural persons sought to excel on the world stage. Wade stepped into this culture and joined what he considered the radical wing of the Pan African movement. When Muammar Gaddafi was making pronouncements on the United States of Africa, Wade was at the forefront of these pronouncements. No sooner had the rebellion started in Benghazi last year than this supporter of Gaddafi broke ranks with the position of the African Union and travelled to Benghazi to offer support for the National Transitional Council. Wade was a good voice for NATO at a moment when the African Union was offering its capabilities for negotiations. Wade undermined the African Union.
This duplicity was in line with what Wade was exercising at home. After joining in the struggles against structural adjustment in the period of Abdou Diouf, Wade went overboard to carry out the ‘reform’ packages and ingratiated himself with the lords of finance by seeking a place at the annual meeting of capitalism at Davos, Switzerland. The rich and well-connected in Senegal grew richer while the divide grew sharper. Wade promoted his family and announced his intention to hark back to the days of slavery when the rich handed down power to their sons. Wade made it clear that he was grooming his son Karim Wade to be the next president of Senegal. Karim was given a number of ministries to run and his role as a ‘super minister’ offended the sensibilities of a people who prided themselves in understanding political planning of succession. The people objected to the dynastic plans of Abdoulaye Wade.
THIRD TERM OR HISTORICAL GRAVEYARD
Under the constitution, Abdoulaye Wade was not eligible to run for a third term as president. Throughout the year 2011 the peoples of Senegal organised against the increased impoverishment. Wade was identified properly as the agent of international capitalism and the widespread looting. New forms of extra-parliamentary struggles erupted with rappers, bloggers and youth leaders coming to the fore. The struggles against the capitalist crisis were consolidated around the opposition to Mr. Wade and his son Karim. In this period the world music star Youssou N’Dour offered himself up to be a candidate for the presidency of Senegal. As in Egypt, the politics had reached a new stage where groups, associations and parties agreed to come together to oppose Wade. It was the same dynamic as in the opposition to Diouf of 2000, except by 2011 there was the additional experience of seeing that there must be new vehicles for organizing and that the struggles had to be tenacious. Rappers filled the airwaves with new words of inspiration as the music of revolution deepened the ideas of struggle and spread far beyond Senegal.
Abdoulaye Wade decided to defy the history of Senegal and pressed on with his plans for dynastic succession and announced his plan for a third term. By the end of January 2012, Senegal’s constitutional council validated his candidacy and that of 13 opposition rivals. The same constitutional court turned down the presidential bid of the world music star Youssou N’Dour, saying he had not gathered the required 10,000 signatures of support. In his cynical manner, Wade has dismissed the opposition. In an interview, speaking on the constitution he said, ‘The constitution, it’s me that wrote it. All by myself,’ he said. ‘Nobody knows it better than me.’
It is the economic crisis along with the arrogance and fraud that expanded the organizational capabilities of the progressive forces and laid the basis for new demonstrations. Wade called out the police and made it clear to the world that he was going to be president regardless of how many people were killed. This was a new stage in the politics of Senegal. The coalescing of the opposition and the street demonstrations has given a new sense of purpose to the June 23 Movement (M23), an opposition umbrella group opposed to allowing Wade to seek a third term in office.
REMEMBER IVORY COAST
Abdoulaye Wade is not following the opportunism of France very closely. For decades, Ivory Coast was the jewel in the crown of the imperial French plan for Africa. When politicians in the Ivory Coast decided to militarize the contest for power, the country was thrown into a futile war that gave France even more room for intervention. France has supported Wade in the past and they will ditch him and manipulate the crisis on behalf of imperial forces who do not want Africa to unite. The African Union has sent Obasanjo to Senegal to monitor the elections. This mission of Obasanjo is making a mockery of the idea of democratic choice for the people when the system is rigged against them. The awakened Africans have their own monitors and these eyes of grassroots Pan-Africanism are plugged into the vibrant Senegalese diaspora.
The women have not yet spoken. With nearly a dozen dead, the religious institutions are being dragged in slowly. They cannot stand aloof. Wade has attempted to manipulate the differences among the religious leaders but the questions of corruption, high unemployment and mismanagement cannot be papered over by religion. Senegal’s elections will usher in a further round of pressures on the poor masses. Unemployment already stands at an all-time high. The Senegalese diaspora is watching very closely. They want a government that can defend them when they are shot in the streets of Italy. They do not want a government who will succumb to the governments who shoot them and also shoot them at home. From all corners, the Senegalese diaspora are giving support and linking differing parts of Africa to this struggle for democratic freedoms.
WADE MUST STEP ASIDE FOR THE GOOD OF SENEGAL AND AFRICA
At the 2007 conference of the African Union, Wade said, ‘If we fail to unite, we will become weak, and if we live isolated in countries that are divided, we face the risk of collapsing in the face of stronger and united economies.’
If you meant these words, step down now.
Horace Campbell is Professor of African American Studies and Political Science at Syracuse University.