Senegalese politicians court leaders of age-old Muslim sect
Sufi brotherhoods provide key support for Senegalese presidential candidates, but fragmentation within the groups could spill over into politics, writes guest blogger Alex Thurston.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, Sahel Blog. The views expressed are the author's own.Skip to next paragraph
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Senegal's presidential elections are scheduled for Feb. 26, and politicians are courting the leaders of the country's large Sufi brotherhoods, also called "marabouts." They are one of four main Muslim communities who have contributed to shaping Senegal's democracy, reports Reuters. President Abdoulaye Wade says he has never hidden that he is a Mouride, a 129-year-old order of Islam which counts millions of devotees within the West African country.
Wade’s affiliation with the Mouridiyya is definitely salient for many Mourides, including youth. When I was in Senegal in 2006-2007 I heard several young Mourides repeat with pride a prophecy that Senegal’s first president would be Christian (this was Leopold Senghor), the second Muslim but not Mouride (this was Abdou Diouf), the third Muslim and Mouride (they saw Wade as the fulfillment of this part of the prophecy), and all of the rest Mouride.
This feeling was not, however, universal. Even before the 2007 elections, many young Mourides were already dissatisfied with Wade’s performance, particularly with regard to the economy, and a shared religious affiliation did not seem to dilute their opposition to the president.
Another wrinkle in the relationship between Wade and the Mouridiyya is the growing complexity of the marabout “field” in Senegal. The key lines for me in the Reuters article were these:
A heavily-set figure in a pristine white robe and with an earpiece connected to his Apple iPhone, Cheikh Abdoul Ahad Mbacke Gainde Fatma has seen more Dakar politicians in the last 24 hours than most Senegalese will see in a lifetime.
Ahad Mbacke is the great-grandson of revered Mouride founder Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba Mbacke and heads the organizing committee for the “Grand Magal,” the annual Mouride festival which draws millions to Touba for a week of praying, eating and revelry.