The Senegalese music star Youssou N’Dour has said he will stand in next month’s presidential elections, mounting a high-profile challenge to the west African state’s veteran leader, Abdoulaye Wade.
N’Dour is a vocal critic of Wade, who is hoping to extend his 11-year rule by getting re-elected in February against a field of about a dozen rivals.
“I am a candidate. I will engage in the presidential race,” N’Dour said in a broadcast on his own TFM (Television Futurs Medias) radio and television station.
N’Dour has widely criticised what he calls the profligate spending of the Wade leadership in a country where formal employment is scarce and average income per head is $3 (£1.90) a day.
N’Dour enjoys huge popularity in Senegal for his music, which helped expose the country’s unique mbalax drumming and singing styles to the mainstream, but it remains unclear whether he will be able to translate his fame into votes.
“For a long time, men and women have demonstrated their optimism, dreaming of a new Senegal,” he said on Monday. “They have, in various ways, called for my candidacy in the February presidential race. I listened. I heard.
“It is true that I do not have a university education – but the presidency is not something you go to school for.”
N’Dour, who collaborated with Neneh Cherry on the international hit 7 Seconds, announced in November he was cancelling concert dates to focus on politics.
The election, on 26 February, has been dominated by a noisy constitutional row over whether Wade, 85, has the right to stand for a third term in a country that prides itself on a record of peaceful leadership changes.
The revised Senegalese constitution limits presidential terms to two, but Wade argues that this should not apply to his first term, which started in 2000, as this pre-dated the amendment.
Resentment over Wade’s leadership boiled over in June when Wade proposed new electoral rules, which his critics said would have made it easier for him to win the poll and eventually hand power over to his son.
Also enraged by chronic power cuts, protesters clashed with riot police in the capital, Dakar, leaving more than 100 wounded and forcing the president to back down.
An opponent of Wade’s was detained last week on suspicion of involvement in a fatal shooting, underlining tensions ahead of the poll.
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