Africa

Will Senegal be bowled over by big projects?

Senegal has witnessed a flurry of inaugurations of ambitious, big-budget projects in the last few months, including a new train line, a new bridge and the imposing Museum of Black Civilisations.

Happily snipping the ribbons has been President Macky Sall, who is seeking a second term in office, in elections on Sunday.

“I will be voting for the first time and my choice is Macky Sall,” said Mouhamad Thiam speaking to the BBC at a campaign rally in support of the president in the town of Kaolack, about 225km (140 miles) east of the capital, Dakar.

“I think his record is positive, his programme is positive, his accomplishments are positive.”

But while the 57-year-old, who has been in office since 2012, is lauded by some for pulling off these schemes, many of which were initiated by his predecessors, others are more cynical about a more general lack of development.

These frustrations, and concerns that the electoral process is flawed, mean the incumbent may be surprised to see himself voted out of office.

In a country where nearly half the population lives below the poverty line, many struggle to see how Mr Sall has improved their daily lives.

“These projects have no importance, it’s all politics,” said Mamadou Senghor, a motorbike taxi driver in Kaolack.

“What’s the point of building highways with tolls if young people don’t have work to pay for them?

“Before building highways, you have to industrialise the economy so that young people can find jobs and support their families.”

More than 6.6 million people are registered to vote in these elections, and who young people decide to support could have a significant impact, as the average age in the country is 19.

Senegal, where there have been three peaceful transitions of power since independence in 1960, has long been seen as a model of stability in the continent.

But a number of politicians and human rights groups have raised concerns ahead of this vote.

“Senegal is definitely not a model,” says Oumar Touré, also known as “Thiat”, who is a well-known rapper and activist in the country.

“Macky Sall has made our country regress democratically.”

Many have criticised the Constitutional Council’s decision to bar two main opposition candidates from running.

Both Khalifa Sall, the popular former mayor of Dakar, and Karim Wade, the son of the former president, were deemed ineligible to run because of corruption convictions. -BBC

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