wading in: presidential elections in senegal

if the number of youtube views from senegalese musicians could predict the outcome of the senegalese presidential elections, the 26 february contest would be a foregone conclusion. youssou n’dour—whose biggest hit “7 seconds” has 2 million + views (more than the number of senegalese who voted for wade in the 2007 campagin)—would easily beat abdoulaye wade, who has enlisted senegalese pop star demba dia to campaign on his behalf.

unfortunately, the surprise decision by the senegalese constitutional court on 27 january banning n’dour’s candidacy has, for many analysts, confirmed a wade victory. nevertheless, many have failed to explain the importance of the interim period between the constitutional court’s ruling and the actual presidential election, especially for holders of the ’21 eurbond. yields for the ’21 have been as high as 9.162%, and social unrest in the interim could send them quickly creeping up again, as investors sell off their holdings as they react to headline risk that is certain to emerge from the country over the next few weeks. markets seem to think that senegal’s eurobond “overstates” senegal’s credit risk, short-term electioneering weigh heavily on the country, which could ultimately affect the country’s ability to repay its debts in the medium-term. i think investors are slowly realizing the risk in senegal, as demand for the bond (see below yield history) has slowly declined since mid-january.

although it is common for spending to increase during election season across sub-saharan africa, as incumbent governments draw from government funds to finance their elections, senegal will face the dual pressure of keeping the lights on in the run-up to voting and after to maintain political stability. chronic power cuts across dakar and other urban areas framed the june 2011 riots, and wade is keen not to repeat that scenario. karim wade, who serves as energy minister, introduced the billion dollar plus plan takkal, or “let there be light” in wolof, scheme to create more power. this plan—whose namesake eponymously mirrors the wildly inflated ego of the wade administration—is an emergency attempt to correct the projected 256mw production deficit the country will face in 2013 and senelec’s mounting debt. in the past days, karim has desperately looked for more sources of finance to ensure 35 days worth of supply and an 80mw power surplus, instead of working with a 64mw deficit it is currently running, during this month’s voting. the cost for wade to remain in power is much higher than that of his peers in côte d’ivoire, as buying off senegalese urban voters with promises of infrastructure investment (power, roads, highways, etc.) is much more expensive than buying seeds, trees, fertilizers, and bags for cocoa and coffee farmers.

if the lights stay on for voting and the politically-important marabouts do not come out stronger against the president, wade will win ugly in late february. he remains strong in the face of a divided opposition because of many challengers’ big egos and historical baggage of serving in wade’s administration. on 1 december, benno siggil senegaal or “united to boost senegal” formed an electoral alliance to fight wade’s parti démocratique sénégalais. they nominated moustapha niasse to the anger of ousmane dieng, the leader of the parti socialiste which ruled senegal between 1960 and 2000. further, younger opposition figures, such as idrissa seck and macky sall were former prime ministers and close to wade. yet both sall and seck both fell out of favor with wade. sall confronted his karim wade over shading accounting for the organization of the islamic conference in 2008, while seck has been accused of embezzling $34 million dollars from the thiès road project.

wade has been extremely shrewd in projecting divisions among the opposition to the wider senegalese populace, particularly among the y’en a marre opposition movement that is made up of local rappers that broadly appeal to the youth population. much has been made of an n’dour victory because of his broad appeal, but this argument ignores the fact that many senegalese youth find the style of n’dour’s music—mbalax—as antiquated and are more connected to hip-hop. recognizing this social trend, the state security services (divisions des investigations criminelles) will probably move forward in arresting one of the leading rappers (fou malade) of y’en a marre for attacking another rapper (gaston), an action that will surely expose weaknesses among the group that many think could significantly affect political change. these high-profile, politically-charged arrests will likely continue, as wade strategically sees the benefit in muzzling opposition figures that have the possibility of uniting the dissonant opposition voices.