Youssou N'Dour - the singer - takes on Senegal's long-serving president

Will Senegal's most famous Afropop artist Youssou N'Dour be able to rally young voters against President Abdoulaye Wade's effort to serve a third term, or will he just split the opposition? 

By , Contributor

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    Singer Youssou N'Dour performs at a concert called 'Africa Celebrates Democracy' that pays tribute to Tunisian youth and the revolution that inspired the Arab Spring, in Tunis, Tunisia on Nov. 11, 2011.
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Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade has repeatedly boasted that there is no politician who could possibly unseat him in February's election.

With a fractured and crowded opposition field, that may be true. But what about a musician?

Youssou N'Dour is easily Senegal's most popular recording artist (to international audiences, he is Senegal's only recording artist). And if Monday night's announcement that he plans to enter the race is any indication, it appears he hopes that he can add "president" to his resumé.

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The announcement followed one he made in late November, in which he said he would retire from music to dedicate his time to politics ahead of the controversial election. That announcement caused much speculation that would prove accurate.

The central issue in the election is a perceived constitutional assault. President Wade enacted a two term limit after his first election in 2001, and said that he would respect it after his re-election in 2007. Now the octogenarian president says that the law does not apply to him retroactively and that he is free to seek another term – a second by his count.

Wade faces massive popular opposition, but no clear political rival to challenge his hold on power – until now?

Time will tell. N'Dour may have no real political experience, but he has many things most Senegalese politicians don't: 30 years of virtually-unblemished popularity, extensive international (touring) experience, a Grammy. He even has his own television station in Senegal, on which he made his announcement.

"I am a candidate," he said on Television Futurs Media. "It is true that I do not have a university education, but the presidency is not something you go to school for."

N'Dour is now another in a baker's dozen of opposition candidates that will present themselves to voters in the first round – a fact that works heavily in the favor of Wade and his well-financed Parti Démocratique Sénégalaise.

Although Wade's June 23 attempt to reduce the number of votes needed to win outright from 50 percent to 25 percent ended in riots throughout the capital of Dakar and the removal of the referendum, the president still enjoys popularity among Senegal's rural majority.

Increasingly, however, the demographics that are shaping the election are the youth and music lovers.

An opposition movement led by popular rappers called Y'en A Marre, French for “enough is enough,” have been at work for months espousing political awareness in their songs and encouraging young voters throughout the country to register. The group was instrumental in the June 23 protests and just released an overtly anti-Wade single called “Faux Pas Forcer” or “Do Not Force,” but they have repeatedly refused to endorse any opposition politician – “politician” being the operative word.

Maybe they'll endorse a musician...

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