Youssou N’Dour: musician, media mogul, Presidential candidate?

Soundtrack for this post: ‘7 Seconds‘ by Youssou N’Dour feat. Neneh Cherry and Medina by Youssou N’Dour.

Presidential elections will be held in Senegal on February 26.  The country’s constitutional court recently ruled that current President Abdoulaye Wade is eligible to run for a third term despite the constitution’s two-term cap.  The court judged the constitutional measure does not apply to Wade as it was introduced in 2001, after his ascension to the Presidency in 2000.

The same court ruled that musician Youssou N’Dour is not eligible to run for Presidential office due to an insufficient number of signatures (10,000 are required; 4,000 of N’Dour’s 12,000 were deemed invalid).  Last year N’Dour – a powerful figure in Senegal in his own right – started a political movement called Fekke ma ci Boole (variously translated as ‘I am a witness, so I will react’ and ‘I am involved’).  Previously a Wade supporter, N’Dour turned against the President reportedly due to locking horns with the government in his role as media mogul.

The announcement of the court’s decision two weeks ago was met with violent protests that lasted days and resulted in four deaths.

Wade’s son Karim is said to figure prominently in the President’s vision for the future leadership of Senegal.  This has angered many in Senegal, particularly young people who were not around during the jubilation of Wade’s election in 2000 and instead see him as tainted by corruption.  Yet this dissatisfaction has to date failed to coalesce around a particular leader.  N’Dour may or may not have had that rallying power, but the point is he may have – none of the 13 candidates that are competing with Wade appear to even have the potential to harness popular dissatisfaction with the status quo.

N’Dour is one of the most recognised West African musicians of the last three decades.  He is credited with pioneering mbalax music, a fusion of African beats and Western, Latin and Caribbean influences.  He and his music have long been politically engaged.  In 1988 he co-headlined the ‘Amnesty International Human Rights Now!’ tour and played at Nelson Mandela’s birthday concert.  He has explored a number of genres, including reggae and Sufi music.  Although his political activism has often been Africa-wide, his 2010 album Dakar-Kingston signaled an increased concentration on his homeland.

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