Senegal music star Youssou Ndour enters presidential race

2012-01-03 12:55

World-renowned Senegalese singer Youssou Ndour has announced he is running for president in a bid to unseat incumbent Abdoulaye Wade, whose plans for a third term have stoked tensions in one of Africa’s most stable countries.

“I am a candidate” in the February 26 election, Senegal’s most famous export declared late yesterday on his privately-owned television station after weeks of speculation about his plans.

Ndour has emerged as an outspoken critic of Wade, whose bid for a controversial third term in office has opposition and civil society groups fuming, and tensions have led to violent clashes in recent months.

“I have listened, I have heard, and I am responding favourably,” Ndour said, referring to numerous requests that he throw his hat into the political ring.

“It is a supreme patriotic duty,” he added of the race in which he hopes to use his massive star power to overthrow the 85-year-old Wade.

Clashes between the ruling party and opposition last week left one person dead and three injured, pointing to heightened tensions in the run-up to the poll.

Ndour (52) announced at a concert in November that he had put performing on hold and formed his own political movement, Fekke ma ci bolle (“I am involved” in the Wolof language).

“It’s true, I haven’t pursued higher education, but the presidency is a function and not a job. I have proved my competence, commitment, rigour and efficiency time and time again.

“I have studied at the school of the world. Travel teaches as much as books.”

Hailed by the New York Times as “one of the world’s greatest singers”, Ndour has achieved huge international success with his mixture of Senegal’s popular Mbalax music style with samba, hip-hop, jazz and soul.

He was born in October 1959 in Dakar’s populous Medina suburb to a modest family and is an icon in his home country.

Abroad he has collaborated with Peter Gabriel, Sting, Wyclef Jean, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen and many other famous names.

In his declaration yesterday, Ndour said his campaign would include initiatives for peace in the troubled southern Casamance region, good governance, as well as agricultural and social development projects.

“My life is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration,” he said.

The singer has been heavily involved in social and political issues while carving out his musical career.

In 1985 Ndour organised a concert for the release of then-apartheid prisoner Nelson Mandela who went on to become the country’s first black president. He has been involved in scores of benefit concerts.

He owns private media group Future Medias which includes a radio station RFM, a television station TFM and daily newspaper L’Observateur which are often critical towards Wade’s government.

Wade was first elected president in 2000 for a seven-year term, and re-elected in 2007 for five years after a constitutional reform shortened presidential terms.

In 2008, the seven-year term was re-introduced, raising confusion over whether Wade had exhausted his two-term limit.

The opposition says yes, he says no, and the constitutional court will rule on the issue later this month.

Some 20 candidates will be taking part in the election.

Wade said in an New Year’s address that he envisaged a government of national unity if he won next month.

Former colonial power France is reportedly against the elderly Wade’s candidacy but, while trying to shake off its reputation for interfering in African affairs, is remaining publicly neutral.

“It’s for the Senegalese to decide, democratically,” Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Tuesday, when pressed on Ndour’s candidacy,

“France has no candidate. It’s for the Senegalese themselves to decide, in elections that we hope will be as transparent as possible,” he told the i-Tele news network.

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