DAKAR (Reuters) - Senegalese music star Youssou N‘dour said he will stand in next month’s presidential election, mounting a high-profile challenge to the West African state’s veteran leader Abdoulaye Wade.
N‘dour is hugely popular among Senegal’s youth and has been a vocal critic of Wade, who is hoping to extend his 11-year rule by winning the February 26 election 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 late on Monday on his own TFM (Television Futurs Medias) radio and television station.
“For a long time, men and women have demonstrated their optimism, dreaming of a new Senegal. They have, in various ways, called for my candidacy in the February presidential race. I listened. I heard,” he said.
N‘dour has criticised what he calls the profligate spending of the Wade leadership in a country where formal employment is scarce, average income is $3 a day and frustration is high over power cuts.
He enjoys widespread popularity in Senegal for his music, which helped expose the country’s ‘Mbalax’ drumming and singing styles to the mainstream, but it remains unclear whether he will be able to translate his fame into votes.
N‘dour, who has also broken into the North American and European charts and collaborated with Neneh Cherry on the international hit 7 Seconds, announced in November he was cancelling concert dates to focus on politics.
Analysts said his candidacy would likely drain some votes from Wade but could also help Wade by further fragmenting the opposition, which has failed to unify behind a single candidate.
“In Senegal, up to now, we’ve had presidents who are academics or high-level intellectuals like Abdou Diouf or Abdoulaye Wade. Now there’s a musical icon (...) who stands a chance of taking much of the youth vote,” said analyst Babacar Justin Ndiaye.
The run-up to the poll has been dominated by a 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 the amendment occurred after he had begun his first term.
A spokesman for Wade, Amadou Sall, dismissed N‘dour’s challenge. “We’re waiting for all the candidates, including Youssou N‘dour, to detail their policy ideas (...) and not just list a string of wishes,” he said.
Simmering resentment over Wade’s leadership boiled over in June when he proposed new electoral rules that his critics said would have made it easier for him to win the poll and eventually hand power over to his son.
Protesters, also enraged by chronic power cuts, clashed with riot police in the capital Dakar leaving more than 100 wounded and forcing the president to back down.
An opponent of Wade was detained last week on suspicion of involvement in a fatal shooting, underlining tensions ahead of the poll.