Ahead of the Senegal presidential election in February, the African nation has been making headlines as President Abdoulaye Wade insists on a third term in office, despite being limited to two.
Program Officer for West Africa and BRIDGE Coordinator Kamissa Camara recently spent six weeks against this political backdrop in Senegal administering the BRIDGE program — Building Resources in Democracy, Governance and Elections — a modular professional development program which puts an emphasis on electoral processes.
Camara sat down with IFES to talk about Senegal and the impact of BRIDGE.
Question: When did you arrive in Senegal and how long did you stay?
Answer: I arrived in Senegal at the beginning of December 2011 and stayed for about a month and a half.
Q: You were doing BRIDGE. Who received the training? How many courses did you facilitate?
A: The IFES team facilitated a series of six BRIDGE trainings in Dakar, Kaolack, Thiès, Saint-Louis, Ziguinchor and Tambacounda for 178 members of the National Autonomous Electoral Commission of Senegal (CENA) and its local representations. I facilitated three workshops out of the six IFES organized.
Q: You have facilitated a number of BRIDGE trainings in different countries. How do the trainings vary according to local culture?
A: Customizing BRIDGE trainings is part of being a BRIDGE facilitator. That is why it is very important that facilitators hired for trainings are familiar with the country, culture, local language, etc. In francophone West Africa, for example, it is extremely important for facilitators to take into account the age of their audience. There are specific gestures of respect that we are expected to pay older people that we call “les sages.” This is something I always keep in mind when I train in that region.
I like to tell people that both the facilitators and the participants make the trainings.
Q: How is the political situation in Senegal?
A: I would say that the political situation in Senegal is relatively tense right now. Although the country has a long history of well-run elections, the presidential election scheduled to take place on February 26 will decide the future stability of Senegal.
When I was there, President Wade, who is currently at the end of his second term, made clear he wanted to run for a third term despite constitutional impediments and the fact that the population wanted a change. On January 29, Senegal’s highest court, the constitutional court, ruled that he can run for a third term. It remains to be seen whether public opinion can also be changed.
Youth were particularly determined to keep President Wade from running for a third term. Violent demonstrations have been taking place in Dakar and other regions since June of 2011.
Q: Senegal is known for its music scene. Many musicians use their art as a way of transmitting political messages. What has been your experience with this?
A: It is true that music plays an important role in Africa. Unfortunately, I did not have the chance to enjoy live music while I was in Senegal. All I can say is that popular musicians like Youssou Ndour are increasingly involved in politics. “You,” as he is called, actually wanted to run for president but his candidacy was unfortunately rejected by the Constitutional Court because of unpaid taxes!
Q: What was the highlight of your trip to Senegal?
A: The last BRIDGE training I facilitated in Senegal was in the town of Saint-Louis, which used to be the capital city of West Africa in the 19th century. The last day of the training was held on Christmas Eve. During the closing ceremony, participants who were members of the Saint-Louis departmental electoral commission organized a remarkable closing ceremony congratulating us on an extraordinary training. I really enjoyed that because of the particular conviviality and spirit of the participants during the training.