Cablegate: Street Merchants Protest in Downtown Dakar

DE RUEHDK #2332 3331207
R 291207Z NOV 07





E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Street Merchants Protest in Downtown Dakar

1. (U) Summary: On November 21, protests by small-time street
vendors frustrated by a decision from Senegalese President Abdoulaye
Wade to remove their ubiquitous street stalls from the streets of
Dakar bubbled over into violent demonstrations. On Friday 23
November Wade retreated saying that the vendors would be allowed to
return to their stalls until the New Near. End Summary

2. (SBU) According to eye-witness accounts and police reports, a
wave of spontaneous protests broke out in the downtown district of
Colobane and its surrounding side streets and districts. The
protesters, described mostly as young men, were protesting the
(at-times violent) dismantling of their street stalls by the police
at a time when the rising cost of living has made life very
difficult for the average Senegalese. The protestors had planned to
march to the Ministry of Interior (right next to the Embassy) but
were thwarted by riot police, which led to a cat-and-mouse game
between the protesters and the police. The protesters moved from
district to district burning tires, tearing down street signs and
throwing rocks at the police who were chasing them. Two government
buildings including the town hall of the highly populated Medina
district and the local headquarters of the state-owned electricity
company, Senelec, were damaged by arson. The protesters were also
planning to burn down the headquarters of the government-owned media
company, RTS, but were blocked by Gendarmes who fired bullets in the

3. (SBU) Poloff went to the affected areas during the first day of
demonstrations and observed that no shops were damaged or looted,
although the next day Polcouns noted that a snack bar restaurant in
the Mermoz district was damaged by arson. However, the level of
force used by the police was clear as small stalls were smashed to
pieces. Businesses came to a standstill as shops closed; there were
very few cars on the streets. In reply to a question about what
happened, a group of young men seemed supportive of the protesters
and this, in fact, seemed to be the general mood in the street.
There was no sense of fear and, while the streets themselves were
empty, the pavements were full of people eagerly watching or waiting
for action.

Wade Steps Back

4. (SBU) Faced with his first major protest since he became
President in 2000, Wade on Friday 23 November stepped back from his
decree and stated that street vendors would be allowed to return to
their activities, at least until the New Year. On Monday, he
followed this up by sending Minister for Women and Women's
Enterprises Awa Ndiaye, to the main arteries of Dakar with a message
to female street vendors who had their stalls destroyed that they
would be compensated for their losses.


5. (SBU) These protests are not a surprise. People are angry at the
rising cost of living, and Wade's decision to displace street
sellers without offering them an alternative site affects the
pockets of people who already have very little. Meanwhile, the
protests are not limited to street vendors, as students from a small
university in Dakar took to the streets on Wednesday 28, November to
protest unfulfilled promises that the government would introduce a
Masters program at their college. Worse for Wade, is the fact that
the protestors are the very people that have perennially supported
him as he has long been seen as the champion of the poor. If he is
unable to find a means of mollifying the restive public mood, it is
unlikely that these demonstrations and disturbances will be the
last. The disconnect between the state and the people is further
evidenced by a statement made by the Minister of Finance, Abdoulaye
Diop, during a discussion on the budget when he said that he is in
the process of thinking about how Senegal can purchase a new
presidential plane, a plane which he calls a matter of sovereignty
and pride for the country. He went on to point out countries that
are poorer than Senegal have a presidential plane, overlooking the
fact that often it is these very same states that end up suffering
from civil unrest as a result of popular resentment of the political
elite. These events appear to be the latest manifestation of the
leadership's seeming estrangement from the prevailing public mood.
End comment.

© Scoop Media

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