I’m in Dakar, Senegal this week for a meeting of Open Society Foundation’s Global Board, along with the boards of our four African foundations (East Africa, West Africa, Southern Africa, South Africa). The formal meetings begin today, but for the past two days, we’ve been visiting grantees and projects in Senegal, including an ambitious election-monitoring project called “The Situation Room” and a set of projects underway across the country.
Yesterday, I visited a group called Y’en a Marre, a truly impressive collective of rappers and journalists who have turned their frustration with Senegal’s development and politics into mobilization of the nation’s youth. They claim responsibility for mobilizing 300,000 young voters, a massive number in a country of fewer than 13 million citizens. We heard from three of the group’s founders both about their work to register and turn out young voters, and their efforts to hold the new Senegalese government accountable to their campaign promises.
After their formal presentation, I got the chance to talk with Thiat, one of the most influential rappers on Senegal’s music scene. (I’d been told by fans of Senegalese hiphop to look for tracks by “Junior”. I asked Thiat and his friends about whether they recorded with this guy, Junior, and one of Thiat’s crew just pointed a finger towards him. “Thiat” means “Junior” in Wolof, and he explained – bluntly, if immodestly – that he would draw at least twice as many youth to a concert as Senegalese stars known in the west like Darra J.) I’d been impressed by Thiat’s passion about social issues, and I learned that his musical impact may be as impressive – Y’en a Marre is planning collaborations with M1 of Dead Prez, Talib Kweli and, possibly, Mos Def. Thiat hopes that Kweli and M1 will be willing to offer verses in Wolof, while Thiat and his crew will offer English verses.
There’s some information on Y’en a Marre’s musical and social impact online in English – a good story in the New York Times, and an excellent, in-depth piece in Africa is a Country. I was happy to see an article on the French-language Wikipedia, but sad that there wasn’t one in English. So I banged one out, and the text I posted last night follows below. Please feel free to fix it up if you have a chance.
“Y’en a Marre” (“Fed Up”) is a group of Senegalese rappers and journalists, created in January 2011, to protest ineffective government and register youth to vote. They are credited with helping to mobilize Senegal’s youth vote and oust incumbent President Abdoulaye Wade, though the group claims no affiliation with Macky Sall, Senegal’s current president, or with any political party.
The group was founded by rappers Fou Malade (“Crazy Sick Guy”, real name: Malal Talla), Thiat (“Junior”, real name: Cheikh Oumar Cyrille Touré), Kilifeu (real name: Mbess Seck. Both Thiat and Kilifeu are from celebrated rap crew “Keur Gui of Kaolack”) and journalists Sheikh Fadel Barro, Aliou Sane and Denise Sow. The movement was originally started in reaction to Dakar’s frequent power cuts, but the group quickly concluded that they were “fed up” with an array of problems in Senegalese society.
Through recordings, rallies and a network of hundreds of regional affiliates, called “the spirit of Y’en a Marre”, the group advocates for youth to embrace a new type of thinking and living termed “The New Type of Senegalese” or NTS. In late 2011, the collective released a compilation titled “Y’en A Marre”, from which the single “Faux! Pas Forcé” emerged as a rallying cry for youth frustrated with President Wade and his son and presumed successor. They followed with a single, “Doggali” (“Let’s finish”), which advocated for cleansing the coutry of Wade and son.
The group and their members campaigned door to door to register young Senegalese to vote and claim that more than 300,000 voters were registered with Y’en a Marre’s assistance and urging. On February 16, 2012, three of the group’s founders were arrested for helping to organize a sit-in at Dakar’s Obelisk Square. Despite arrests, the group continued to organize protests up until the election that unseated Wade.
Despite reaching the goal of ousting Wade, Y’en a Marre remains active, hosting meetings and shows, urging the new government to implement promised reforms, including reforms of land ownership, a key issue for Senegal’s rural poor.
Y’en a Marre is particularly significant in Senegalese politics, because in his 2000 campaign, Abdoulaye Wade prominently featured the support of Senegalese rappers as a way of connecting with young voters. 12 years later, Y’en a Marre demonstrated that Senegal’s youth were not unquestioningly loyal to Wade and were searching for a leader who could credibly promise reform.