Senegal: Singer Youssou N’dour Quits Music for Politics

10.01.2012 - Human Wrongs Watch/Think Africa Press - Pressenza IPA

World-renowned Senegalese singer Youssou N’dour announced his retirement from music last month in order to enter Senegalese politics. With elections due to take place in February 2012, N’dour said that from January 2 he would be freeing himself from all artistic engagements.

With the 11-year dominance of current President Abdoulaye Wade, the 52-year-old’s entry into Senegalese politics could present the fresh change desperately desired by the country’s young population.

The key issue for many is the precise nature of N’dour’s politics. While the lyrics of his songs express a bank of opinions, he has on occasion been more specific, announcing previously his intention to work for the disenfranchised and his desire to fight for strong governance, service provision, peace, environmental justice and empowerment in Senegalese communities.

**The Political Face of Senegal**

Since the end of the Senegal Socialist Party’s 40-year rule Senegal has had two successful transferrals of power, both classed as “free and fair”. Senegal operates under a multi-party system and has been identified as “one of the most stable countries in an unstable region”.

Despite these achievements, there have been frequent calls for change. Last June saw Senegalese youth engaged in mass demonstrations against President Wade’s proposed constitutional plans, which would lower the majority needed to win an election from 50% to 25% and allow Wade to stand for presidency for a third time.

N’dour’s political presence will reignite old tensions with Wade, who has tried to shut down N’dour’s television channel TFM (Television Futurs Medias) and newspaper L’Observateur in the past.

N’dour has been a fierce critic of Wade’s leadership, as well as his proposal to stand for president for a third time. Indeed, there has been no love lost between the two. Now, N’dour’s national popularity and his international achievements could halt Wade’s plans to run for a third term in office.

**“Armchair Opponents”**

Could N’dour’s cultural popularity translate to the political sphere? It appears that the Senegalese crave an elected leader who is both sympathetic and dynamic. Current opposition parties have been called “armchair opponents” and have acknowledged the likely magnetism of N’dour:

“The political class is scrambling around to figure out his next move,” said Amadou Diop, advisor to the former prime minister Idrissa Seck. “Even if he doesn’t contest the presidency itself, his decisions are going to have a big impact. Anyone he throws his weight behind is going to claw a lot of votes.”

**The Star Effect**

N’dour is not the first person to use celebrity status as a catalyst for political popularity. Recently, he seems to be one of the many who has used their fame acquired in other fields to leverage a political aim.

George Weah, the ex-World Footballer of the Year, ran as vice-president on a ticket with Winston Tubman for the Congress of Democratic Change Party in Liberia. Despite being unsuccessful against Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in the last two presidential elections, Weah remains popular with the Liberian people and his fame alone draws support to his party.

Chelsea and Ivory Coast footballer Didier Drogba was recently one of 11 members appointed to the Ivorian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, created to investigate the deaths of 3,000 and the displacement of 500,000 Ivorians in the wake of the November 2010 elections.

Further afield, the boxer Manny Pacquaio recently won office as a congressman for the Sarangani Province in the Philippines. He aims to run for governor of the province in 2013, then senator in 2016, and president in 2022.

Notably, celebrity success does not necessarily translate to being top of the pops in the electoral stakes. In Weah’s case some of the electorate mistrusted his ability to perform as a politician, citing his inexperience as justification for why they would not to vote for him.

In another example, singer-songwriter Wyclef Jean was disqualified from running in 2010 Haitian presidential elections, having not lived in Haiti for 5 years prior to his electoral campaign.

Clearly star-shaped delusions of grandeur do not always sit happily with political reality. However, N’dour is a man loved by his people, with a perceived understanding of his nation’s needs.

As Amadour Diop went on to concede: “His [N’dour’s] political movement is going to put pressure on politicians. He’s loved by the Senegalese, by music fans, and he’s a shrewd businessman who has created jobs – this is what the people want.”

**The Music Behind the Man**

While N’dour has not expressly endorsed any political party/candidate, nor suggested under which side of the political spectrum he will fall, his music suggests he is an individual who champions freedom, Pan-Africanism and modernisation.

The haunting tones of N’Dour in 7 seconds, a collaboration with Neneh Cherry which performed well in music charts both in Africa and in the West, repeats the word “changer” (“to change”), echoing his political diatribes about stagnant Senegalese politics . Following a recent visit to the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, N’dour argued that the current focus on Libya by Western powers detracted from the necessities of “the real Africa”.

His 2002 album Nothing’s In Vain is a non-traditional mix of themes echoing freedom and Pan-Africanism. The lyrics of Africa, Dream Again encapsulate the struggles and disappointments that abound when fighting to achieve a goal; it could be considered as a reflection of the difficulties which the Senegalese have fought through for hundreds of years:

“This is what you were waiting for

There’s a story of a man

Who loved too much

He ended up in a prison cell

You’ve got to want to give to get it”

**The Man Behind the Music**

N’dour has now been a UNICEF goodwill ambassador and a talisman for humanitarian and human rights-based issues for more than 20 years. He headlined the Amnesty International “Human Rights Now!” Tour in 1988 and performed at the live 8 concerts in 2005.

N’dour’s Fekke Maci Boolé Foundation, which means “I am involved” in the Wolof dialect, is suggestive of a man whose politics will campaign for progression and civilian empowerment. Described as a space for free expression and democracy, Fekke Maci Boolé has given N’dour a platform for airing his political positions.

He has argued that the 2012 election should be composed of both male and female politicians, and that his foundation could be a way for these politicians to present their programmes to the Senegalese people.

His classification as the second most powerful celebrity in Africa could be prescriptive of success in the ballot boxes. Still playing to sell-out audiences worldwide, N’dour’s passion towards his country and his people appear genuine, heartfelt and lasting. Most importantly he has united international success with a sense of responsibility for his people:

“For me, there are two Senegals. The Senegal of the have-nots and Senegal of the haves. My concern is the Senegal of the have-nots,” he recently said in an interview.

Domestically, N’dour paves the way for charismatic leadership, premised on Pan-Africanism and increased social responsibility, by all for all:

“African nations, African figureheads and African communities, alongside other world leaders, need to prioritise lasting solutions,” said N’Dour.

“That means strengthening governance so the right investments are made in basic services, championing peace so that people are no longer forced to flee their homes and livelihoods, protecting the natural environment so that people’s way of life is sustainable, and empowering local communities, from where the process of change will emerge.”

The relationship between N’dour and politics might still remain unclear, but what is certain is that he believes he has a responsibility towards Senegal and its people, a responsibility that transcends sound waves and television screens, and is at the very heart of those who need him most.

****

This article was first published by [Think Africa Press](http://thinkafricapress.com/senegal/youssou-ndour-quit-music-politics) | 2012 [Human Wrongs Watch](http://human-wrongs-watch.net/)

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