By Guest Writer
Pleiad from Senegal is a guest column by former Pleiad editor-in-chief Nicholas Diamond. Nick is abroad in Senegal, studying public health, French and Wolof. He’ll be reporting about health challenges and cultural experiences while in Dakar.
On Sept. 18, protesters assembled in Dakar’s Mermoz and Sacre-Coeur 3 neighborhoods on the Voie de dégagement nord [VDM], a major highway. Morning commuters protected their faces from tear gas by wrapping cloth around their faces as trees and tires burned in the streets. As locals started sprinting in the opposite direction of the manifestations, the protestors began throwing concrete blocks. Most pedestrians at the scene did not know what had happened or why the protesters assembled.
When the gendarmerie [Ed.—the gendarmerie are the Senegalese military police. In France and its former colonies, the gendarmerie serve a similar role to the National Guard in the U.S.] arrived, they quickly organized and fired shots. The police forces attempted to direct traffic, clear the VDM, and drive through the crowd. Once they left, the roads remained blocked with burning materials.
While walking to school, Tiana Miller-Leonard, University of California – Santa Barbara junior, first noticed smoke and people running.
“A police officer told me not to walk that way, but then he told me a few minutes later that it was OK because the rest of the police had arrived,” Miller-Leonard said. “I kept walking, and as I got closer I saw a bunch of huge boulders in the road and piles of things burning and cars honking and general chaos.”
Esmé Valette, Middlebury College junior, avoided the VDM after hearing about the protests while walking to her internship in Dakar.
“I was less nervous and more excited to see what this was all about,” Valette said.
Though Senegalese filled the streets during the protest, it was quiet. Buses and taxis continued to move people up and down the VDM. Some vehicles headed north by driving through the burning trees and tires.
“I was trying to figure out what was going on and it was just not something I had ever seen before,” Miller-Leonard said. “I had no idea why people would just burn tires or trees in the road.”
Moutarou Diallo, Dakar native, believes that the protests were most likely political because they occurred near the former president’s headquarters. President Wade’s son is currently in jail and on trial on corruption charges.
“Now, [President Wade’s son] is in jail because they think he stole money because he used to live in London and he was a bank employee,” Diallo said. “When he was here in the Ministry, he was very rich and was a billionaire, and people couldn’t understand how someone who is just a bank worker can become a billionaire within 10 years.”
Photo by Nick Diamond