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? 

Anis Mili/Reuters/File
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.

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.

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...

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.