Recently, because of upcoming elections, there have been riots and demonstrations throughout Senegal. A Senegalese Zidisha borrower, Alassane Diop, posted about the unfolding drama on his Zidisha page. Here are his comments since January:

With the consent of the director I would like to talk about the uniqueness of my region. You should know that Ziguinchor is the victim of a rebellion called MFDC (Movement of Democratic Forces in the Casamance). This rebellion has been around for almost 30 years and now people criticize and denounce it but it is still there. They are mostly in remote areas and attack people traveling—they rob cars and make all the passengers get out to steal their goods. The unfortunate ones are killed in cold blood. After these actions the rebellion returns to the bush. It is in this atmosphere that I still live. I’ve seen a lot of people killed, houses burned, women raped, and people who are taken away and never return…I’m not afraid to say that this is a way for me to denounce the rebellion that has made us endure suffering and losses, a way for me to share my troubles with anyone who wants to hear it. When I was a student, I wrote to the President to let him know that we need peace, not to destroy this beautiful natural region. There are clashes between the army and the MFDC (Movement of Democratic Forces in the Casamance). There are talks and plans to stop the conflict, but the MFDC remains. 

Because of the presence of rebels on the road, everyone wanted to travel by boat to Dakar and that is why a boat called the Diola overloaded and capsized on September 26, 2002. I don’t know if you heard on the news, but there were more than 2000 deaths and only around 60 survivors. As you can see, it is awful. Traveling by airplane is best but it is also the most expensive.
Have you heard about Senegalese people who take canoes to go to Spain? Hundreds of thousands of young people have lost their lives at sea. All of this has a direct impact on my work, because as you all know, everywhere I go, I am a witness to all of this awfulness. 

I am a young person who believes in myself. I am not tempted by foolishness; I make a living by the sweat of my brow. This comment is like a drop of water in the ocean.

Thank you for sharing with me this moment from my heart.

Regarding my previous comments, the situation here at home has not changed, and in this moment we are living in a very tense situation. I am doing my batik in between students throwing stones who have been on strike since October and police with teargas. 

In fact, it is a fierce battle between students and government forces, to the point where a student was killed by a bullet. It is because the presidential elections are in a few months so nothing works. All sectors have been on a strike against the government because of the cost of living, imagine that today there is not transportation, no bread, no fish—everyone is on strike because the cost of gasoline is too expensive, the professors are also on a strike for months because they have not been paid.

I am writing all of this quickly because I am doing many things at once. I will take the time to tell you all about the tranquility, also the sides that are not negative. Ziguinchor is a beautiful region full of live, it is paradise on earth. I am telling you all, I am showing you all, and now you all know.

In my place, it has been very tense for a few weeks because of the presidential elections that will happen within a few weeks. This caused demonstrations during whose houses have been burnt, cars have been destroyed and some people has passed away. To face this situation, I don’t want to take risks for now. Then, everything will be back to normal and I will transfer the money quietly. It’s not my first loan and I know I will have to pay even more.

I am talking about the situation in my country, you can also ask others borrowers who are from Senegal.

At my place, it is very tense, especially at Ziguinchor where I live.

Regarding the presidential elections, the whole population is rebelling against a third term of president Abdoulaye Wade who is 86 years old. Can you imagine? He is the oldest president in the world.

He had written on the constitution that his term would have stopped in 2012 but, a few months before the elections, he says he is candidate. So, he is breaking the constitution of Senegal.
However, his candidacy has been accepted by the constitutional council that he elected himself, so, because they are all friends of him, they could only accept his candidacy. They are 5 magistrates to whom he offered 5 millions and cars: This is pure bribery.

That is why there has been an uprising of the population. The USA, France and the EU have all said that he must let the country move on to the next generation, but he is still stubborn
Senegal is mismanaged, life is too expensive and people do not eat enough–that’s leading to the loss of our values, and that encourages young people to take a boat to Spain, which is practically a suicide.

Things that costed 10F a few years ago, now costs 250F. The old women who sells peanuts in front of her home, she needs 500 F to feed her children and she pays 200F per day for taxes, when are her children going to starve?

No sector is functional. For example, the education’s budget represents 40 % of the total country budget but, let me say to you all, there are empty schools this year. Indeed, since October, the pupils have not studied fully during a month; there are strikes every time. Teachers goes on strike because they don’t get their salaries, the new graduated students (from high school) are not orientated to universities. However, our aging president says 40% of the budget goes to this sector.
Besides, in my region in the South, it’s even more complex, because there are rebel infiltrations during riots of the people. That explains why people are dying–the police are shooting with real bullets. That’s why, madam Zidisha director, I can’t go out every time I want. The only way to contact you is with my phone so, I don’t want to lose it.

The particularity of the southern regions is geographical and cultural. You must know this region is bordered by Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, the Republic of Guinea, and the atlantic ocean at west. Every ethnic group from the subregion and from west Africa is present. So, the cultural diversity is very strong. It is a wild and green area. The nature gives us all. But, today the conflict made its own enclosure: every zinguinchorois on the same line is fighting for a definitive peace in order to give back the smile and the real identity to the Casamance, to make people stop starving, to make justice be done, to stop the sacrifices of youth, to create jobs, no more mines, that everyone can do their activities quietly.

PS: The entire Senegal says thanks to the USA and to the EU to have dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s with our president who is soon to be 100 years old.

Thank you for sharing with me the troubles of my place.
EDIT: Another update from Mr. Diop, 02/16/2012The electoral campaign started a week ago. The candidates are going everywhere with their thousand supporters but their arrival in Ziguinchor is a major problem because of the rebels presence around here. This past Saturday, the President came in the south of our region but in a helicopter. I never saw in my whole life so much military and law enforcement personnel. The scene in front of me was just like a country at war. The phone lines were down, nobody could dial out or receive any calls and I could not take any picture for fear of being taken. The President ‘campaign lasted few hours only.

On the other side, there was shooting amongst the rebel’s army. Cases of fraud make the front page with the military vote that is going to occur this Saturday and Sunday. There will be no vote counting as the ballots will be kept until the night of February 26th. The military vote has been imposed by the President Wade but the Senegalese army has always been neutral. Their priority is to protect the population.

The president injected more money in the military budget. The military is sent in different missions in the countries at wars and after each mission they received approximately 3 million dollars.
The school year is invalid. Since the beginning of school year the students did not have any grades or test or evaluations. It’s been four months that they are not in school.

Everywhere tires are being burned, the traffic is intense and impossible to beat. We are constantly breathing the smoke of bursting grenades. The army does not hesitate to shoot in the crowd.

To come back on the subject of “Daniel” Youssou Ndour has not been validated by the constitutional council. They are saying that he did not pay his taxes and did not present 12 000 signatures which is totally false. He is definitely a menace to the president popularity. He is on the movement side and he is sick and tired of the M23 movement.

The first movement is consisting on a citizen who is patriotic and wants a system change agreeing on freedom and democracy. The second movement is to march against the law to elect 25% of the suffrage. In the entire country we usually elect at 51%

I hear some noise outside, it is getting dangerous. I need to leave it is safer. Talk to you later.
“Viva la democracy”

To read more about Alassane’s experience and his batik business, check out his profile here 
To learn more about Senegal’s current situation, check out this BBC news report or this CNN article.

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