The new type of Senegalese

One of the key groups that engineered the ousting of Senegalese president, Abdoulaye Wade - he wanted to change the constitution to stay in power - was a youthful grassroots social movement group founded by a collective of rappers.

All photos by Bukola.

Just in case you were busy being distracted by #Kony2012 or the rising sales of Hoodies, I am pleased to inform you that after the country’s 25 March 2012 election, the people of Senegal voted for the removal of Abdoulaye Wade as president and his son Karim Wade, a minister (better known as Wade&Wade). In a twist of fates, a former protégée of Mr. Wade, Macky Sall, who had a falling out with Mr. Wade for wanting accountability from Karim over corrupt governmental expenditures has been elected President. Some foreign correspondents (on Twitter) have suggested that Mr. Wade be awarded the Mo Ibrahim Prize (endowed by a Sudanese mobile phone billionaire to former African presidents) for accepting defeat gracefully and peacefully. One might be prone to join the bandwagon if one thought that six people being killed, multiple people being injured and arrested, the Constitution and Constitutional Court being manipulated, and supporters of opposition being intimidated can be counted as “peaceful and graceful”. That said, this is really about one of the major stakeholders that contributed to the ousting of Wade and Wade: Y’en A Marre (in English, Enough is Enough).

Y’en A Marre is a youthful grassroots social movement group founded by a small group of rappers including Thiat (Cheikh Oumar Cyrille Touré) and Kilifeu (both of the famed hip-hop band “Keur Gui of Kaolack”, Fou Malade (Malal Talla) and two journalists: Fadel Barro, Aliou Sane and Denise Sow. Its membership has soared in the years since it was formed, with multitudes of unemployed youths and artists in the country identifying it as their mouthpiece and joining the group in its rallies leading to the first round of elections in the country in February. Several members of the founding core tram and their followers were arrested, beaten, and intimated by the state’s apparatus. However, this failed to silence the group which claims it was and still is voicing the frustrations of the people including seeking fair elections which they hoped would lead to Wade’s departure, and arousing the aspirations of the people for a new way of thinking and living which they call the New Type of Senegalese (NTS). Apart from the protests and rallies, the group also utilized revolutionary laced lyrical rap and hip hop as means of spreading its message, capitalizing on its founders’ ‘street cred’. At the end of last year, the group released a compilation, self-titled “Y’en A Marre”.

The single “Faux! Pas Forcé” from the compilation was the group’s anthem in its protests and one of the more popular anthems for the ouster of Wade & Wade. Despite the group’s claim at neutrality, indicated by the support for various candidates by its members during the first round of elections, one unifying factor for it was the ouster of Wade & Wade. Nothing inspires better warfare than a common single enemy. After the first round of elections, the group in an unlikely move actually came out and threw its weight behind Macky Sall while still calling for NTS. This was followed up with release of a new Rap Single titled “Doggali” (let’s finish it)  to emphasize finishing the job of cleansing the country of Wade & Wade. It would be an interesting exercise to attempt quantifying Y’en A Marre’s impact at Wade being defeated at the polls (any PhD students reading this?), but an impact they did make.

Now that Wade&Wade have been booted out, one cannot but be tempted to ask “what next” for Y’en A Marre?

Well, that depends on who you ask. Some members of the press have begun to erase the role of this group to the point of diminishing  “Y’en A Marre” to just a rally cry by the opposition. Members and supporters of the group, including Keyti (a veteran rapper), believe the group will not disintegrate as it stood for more than just ousting Wade and can be a platform for actual social changes in Senegal. Other more established academics and political veterans, off the record, believe Y’en A Marre is as good as dead in the new political makeup of the country unless it reforms itself and joins or supports more traditional political institutions in the country.

So which point of view might be ‘more’ correct?

History and precedence might be of help here. As most followers of all things Senegal know already, the country has a history of youth, both educated and uneducated, leading revolts and social movements. In the 1990s, there was the Set/SetaZ movement for the purpose of cleansing in the sense of sanitation & hygiene and the moral sense, including the fight against corruption, prostitution, and delinquency. (Read Mamadou Diouf’s article ‘Urban Youth and Senegalese Politics: Dakar 1988-1994’.) That movement’s primary concern was to rehabilitate their local surroundings and remove garbage and filth. Then in 2000, a brilliant politician, as part of his Sopi (Change) campaign, strategically deployed rap music artists, who were generally looked down upon by previous governments and society at large, to spread his message. That politician understood very well that Rap music had grown out of youth discontent with the way society had been progressing and utilized their talent and time, which the rappers had much of, to bolster his Sopi campaign. Rappers like DJ Awadi of Positive Black Soul helped to galvanize a youthful constituency to help elect the politician as the new president. That politician was none other than Abdoulaye Wade. Of course, after he got the presidency, he disregarded the scores of youths and rap artists that supported him and pandered instead to wealthy and influential members of the business community, which included prominent Mourid (religious brotherhood) leaders.

Once bitten, by the 2007 election, the youths had grown wary of Wade’s soundbites which were not backed by implementation and hoped Senegal’s subsequent election might offer an opportunity for alternative leadership. Awadi, whose fame had risen even more by then, attempted to galvanize the youths with rap music once again and produced an internet sensational single entitled “Sunugaal” (canoe). The music was a pointed critique of the Wade government that he believed had betrayed and then encouraged Senegalese youth to “risk their lives to seek fortunes abroad.” The lyrics included the following lines:

You promised me we would have jobs,
You promised me we would have food,
You promised me we would have real work and hope, But so far—nothing.

Fast forward to where we find ourselves now. The naysayers point to this history of haphazard youth involvement in the governance of the country to validate their gloomy outlook of Y’en A Marre. To buttress their claims, it is no secret that the newly elected president has yet to really make nice with the youth or rap community of Senegal, nor has he fully acknowledged the impact they had in getting rid of Wade&Wade. In addition, it is much easier to lead a group when fighting a common enemy embodied by one, or two, corrupt bodies that all ires can be directed at with full strength. Attempting to sustain a movement like Y’en A Marre based on a program like NTS might be a tougher sell.

However, the naysayers might also be underestimating this movement. For one, Y’en A Marre was supposedly not created nor manipulated by any political operator(s). Or was it? It would be interesting to see where the core members of the group end up in the new political landscape for this answer. Either way, with the strategic and adept showcase of the utilization of technology, networking, media manipulation and street power that the rappers have learned and shown in this election, it would be a mistake for any of the old guards of politics to underestimate them at this stage. An attempt at pulling a Wade after this election might not meet the same deference expected of the rappers and youths in the past. My gut feeling is that Y’en A Marre is not out of breath yet and might still have one or 2 tricks up their sleeve.

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