World-music icon Youssou N’dour says he plans to run in Senegal’s presidential election next month, challenging an 85-year-old incumbent whose plans to seek a third term have sparked violent protests. N’dour, who made the announcement late Monday on his private radio and TV stations, joins some 20 other candidates already running against President Abdoulaye Wade.
While the Grammy-winning artist sells out concert venues worldwide and is the West African country’s most famous cultural export, his prospects with Senegalese voters remain unclear. The election is less than two months away, and the incumbent president has been in power for more than a decade. “For a very long time, many Senegalese of different backgrounds have called for my candidacy for the presidency next February,” N’dour said. “I’ve listened, I’ve heard and I am responding favorably to their request. I am a candidate. It’s a supreme patriotic duty, the best I can give of myself. I am the alternative to the current leadership in place in the country.”
N’dour, 52, is well known in Senegal for his scathing critique of the country’s ruling party. He already owns a hugely popular private radio station that holds regular debates featuring government critics. And he has a newspaper that routinely highlights corruption allegations involving the country’s ruling elite, including the president’s family.
Residents of Senegal’s capital expressed doubt that the musician would fare well at the polls — or in office. “It’s good enough that he makes good music,” said Abdou Ngom, 26. “Politics is made of treason and low blows. I’m sure that real politicians will not help him.”
But retiree Moussa Diop, 70, said he admired the musician. “N’dour is a good example of courage. Because he shows that it’s possible to start with nothing and to succeed,” Diop said.
But political analyst Cheikh Yerim Seck said N’dour is taking a risk by running. “He risks first of all the credibility of his media holdings,” he said, adding that N’dour’s newspaper, radio station, and TV station could be seen as complicit in his bid.
Wade’s plans to run, as well as frequent power cuts and the spiraling cost of living, sparked violent protests last year in what has historically been one of West Africa’s most stable democracies. Once a symbol of the opposition, Wade became president in a landmark election hailed for being one of the first peaceful transfers of power on the continent. He set off a wave of criticism though when he announced he planned to run for a third term, using a loophole in the electoral law to circumvent the two-term maximum set out in the constitution. And massive street protests hit Senegal’s capital last year following a proposed constitutional change that would have paved the way for Wade’s son to succeed him. Wade later agreed to cancel it, but the unrest marked the biggest challenge to his 11-year rule.