Senegal: Democracy in Dakar – Doc pic goes below surface of 2007 presidential election


The documentary project, "Democracy in Dakar" highlights the impact hip hop artists have had on the democratic process in Senegal, shedding light on the politics of one of francophone Africa's more stable democracies and showing the contradictions that lie just below the surface, writes’s Msia Kibona Clark. The project is an online multi-media documentary that consists of eight mini-documentary video shorts broadcast through the African Underground website.

In the series of shorts, the artists featured first reflect on the 2000 elections in Senegal in which Abdulaye Wade took power from then President Abdou Diouf. This was supposed to be the dawn of a new era in Senegal's history, and it was also a time in which many of Senegal's hip hop artists were coming into their own for the first time.

As in other parts of Africa, hip hop in Senegal emerged in the late 1980s and was immediately embraced by the country's youth. The scene in Senegal evolved into one of the largest and most well known in francophone Africa south of the Sahara. The artists often blend local sounds and rap either entirely in Wolof or a blend of French and Wolof.

The project's website suggests that Senegalese hip hop is divided into two categories: a hardcore, more underground rap and mainstream, mbalax rap, which mixes traditional mbalax music with rap. But according to the site, both types have always been very political in content and as rap artists matured many of them also became some of the most vocal commentators on politics in Senegal.

In 2000, many of the artists were supportive of Abdoulaye Wade's campaign, and in the films they express the hope many of them had for the new president. But after the elections, they were also critical of what they perceived to be promises broken by the Wade regime. The increase in poverty and unemployment, as well as the desperation of many Senegalese people trying to illegally immigrate to Europe and the Comoros, was seen by many to be related to his economic policies.

When the project moves its focus forward in time, it covers the lead-up to, and then the aftermath of this year's presidential elections, held on February 25. The days leading up the election are filled with calls for change as the documentary shows us the myriad of parties challenging Abdoulaye Wade. In total 15 candidates ran for office in the hotly-contested vote.

The certainty of change was felt strongly among the rap artists featured in the film. However, Wade captured 56 percent of the vote, the shock of which is vividly portrayed in the footage of the period immediately after the election results were announced.

While there were complaints of fraud, the results have been internationally accepted and the film reflects a conclusion that they were more a testament to the lack of desirable candidates than evidence of support for Wade's regime.

The documentary is the result of a collaboration between Ben Herson, founder and director of the Nomadic Wax record label, and Magee McIlvaine, co-founder and director of the film company Sol Productions.