Young Senegalese want to vote no matter what

Many young people in Senegal, who had been due to vote for the first time, are devastated by the postponement of the presidential election (JOHN WESSELS)
Many young people in Senegal, who had been due to vote for the first time, are devastated by the postponement of the presidential election (JOHN WESSELS)
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Street vendor Mohamed Al Amine Toure, 23, is devastated over the delay of Senegal's presidential election. He had been all geared up to go out and vote.

He and his friends busy themselves around a makeshift second-hand clothes stall on the main road of the popular Colobane market in the capital Dakar.

But, said Toure, he has carefully put his polling card away -- for now.

"February 25 was an important day for us," Toure told AFP.

"Senegal is a democracy and presidential elections have never been postponed, not under the presidencies of (Leopald Sedar) Senghor, Abdou Diouf or Abdoulaye Wade," he said.

"Only Macky Sall has dared to do so."

Like many other young people AFP spoke to, he holds democracy dear and wants to be able to vote at all costs, in a region that has seen military coups in Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso and Niger since 2020.

In those countries, the next elections remain uncertain.

Toure was one of many young people set to vote for the first time on February 25 and their participation was considered vital.

More than half of Senegal's population is under the age of 19 -- they are the most vulnerable to unemployment, poverty, inflation and housing problems.

About 19 percent of Senegal's  overall population is unemployed and 28 percent is affected by poverty, according to the Statistics Agency.

Many young people had placed their hopes in jailed opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, who was disqualified from running in the election by the Constitutional Council.

"He was our only hope, the only one who could change our lives," said Mame Abdou, 19.

"He's not like other politicians, he cares about the people, young people."

In the absence of Sonko, youngsters planned to vote for the dissolved Pastef party's second candidate, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, who was also detained but still allowed to stand by the council.

The election's postponement until December 15 and the extension of Macky Sall's presidential mandate have triggered one of the most serious political crises in decades in Senegal, often praised for its stability and democracy.

"Like Diouf in 2000 and Wade in 2012, Sall's manoeuvres and the subsequent resistance could contribute despite himself to the consolidation of democracy in Senegal (which has never been achieved anywhere)," wrote West Africa expert Vincent Foucher on X, formerly Twitter.

- Coup for 'stability'? -

  

The severity of the crisis has raised fears of a new wave of violence, similar to the turmoil Senegal experienced in March 2021 and June 2023 over the fate of Sonko.

On Friday, the market in Colobane became a battleground between police and opponents of the postponement, with three people killed across the country.

All the young people interviewed in Colobane that day wanted to be able to vote.

Many shopkeepers, who live day to day, say their turnover has dropped since the tensions flared.

For 23-year-old Serigne Faye, the situation cannot go on. He wants the military to take power.

"They were born in this country, they are our brothers, our friends, our relatives. They can change the situation quickly and bring stability to the country," he argued.

"You don't know what you're saying, we don't want a coup. We've seen what happened in Mali and Guinea," retorted one of his colleagues, Ameth.

"If the military takes over, there won't be any elections for a long time," added Ameth, who hopes for a vote by the end of March because he, too, wants change.

The authorities' response to months of uncertainty, hundreds of arrests and the need for justice are now daily topics of conversation.

But discussion often turns to the tens of thousands of Senegalese risking their lives trying to reach Europe in small boats.

"We have everything here: sea, sun, oil, gas, so we should be able to succeed... that's all we want. It's the least we can do, isn't it?" Mohamed Al Amine Toure said, dressed in sportswear, ready to run in case of further demonstrations.

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