1988: I wish I had kept the full page picture of me standing near a burned out car on the principal street in downtown Dakar which appeared on page one of a daily newspaper in April, 1988. It was my first return to Senegal after my Peace Corps service which ended in 1964. I returned to visit friends and to attend festivities at Thies for the twenty-fifth anniversary of Peace Corps in Senegal. (I hope to return for the "fiftieth.") The cause of the riots was the treatment that the presidential hopeful Abdoulaye Wade received. Just two months after the New York Times spoke of Senegal's democratic processes and showed Mr. Wade making a speech in Kaolack, he was jailed for some supposed criminal insubordination. Not a good sign. When I returned to Dakar from Sedhiou, tensions were very high, the lights were off at night; it was, maybe, a close call.
Many have believed in the democracy of Senegal and in Mr. Wade as an agent of change when finally he ascended to Senegal's highest office. He spoke eloquently of Senegal's democratic institutions in a speech at the J.F.K. School of Government at Harvard in 2008. I hope that he can still dream the progressive dreams he had in '88 and thereafter.
2011: Janet and I are conducting our 21st Intercultural Dimension program in Senegal. As we set off for Dakar and the countryside of central and southern Senegal, we read that tear gas is once again clouding the street as demonstrations take place in Dakar. This time they are in protest of the policies of Mr. Wade and conditions of life in present-day Senegal.
So, where do we stand today? We are fast approaching the fiftieth anniversary of Peace Corps in Senegal. Before that occurs, there will be another presidential election in Senegal. Let us hope that it will be a peaceful and productive continuation of Senegal's democracy.
- Posted from my iPad