Tabaski

Today is the most important national holiday in Senegal, Tabaski, the Wolof word for the Festival of the Sheep, known elsewhere in the Muslim world as Aïd-el-Kebir. It is a celebration of an event that is also important to Jews and Christians, that is, the sacrifice by Abraham (Ibrahim in Arabic) of his eldest son. If you recall the story, Abraham, aged 80, was still childless, and so promised God/Allah that he would sacrifice his firstborn if He would grant him a child.

(Don’t interrupt. I know it doesn’t make sense.)

A single child is born, Ismael. Years later, God reminds Abraham of his promise. Abraham is a man of his word and so prepares to sacrifice his son to God. At the moment Abraham’s knifeblade touches Ismael’s throat, the Angel Gabriel does a quick switcheroo and in the place of the child, puts a ram, whose throat is promptly slit.

As a reminder of Abraham’s act of faith, Muslims reenact the sacrifice of the sheep each year. Every head of the family (male, of course), is obliged to provide a sheep for his family. The obligation is not enshrined in the Koran, rather it is a social pressure to “keep up with the Jones'”, or the Dioufs, perhaps, here in Senegal.

Sheep envyWith the cheapest, scrawniest sheep costing about 2 weeks’ pay for many people (50,000 FCFA or 75 euros), I asked an acquaintance of modest means why he didn’t just buy a leg.

“Ah,” he sighed. “It’s not for us, the adults. It’s for the children. They can’t show their face at school if their father didn’t have a sheep for Tabaski.”


So 2000 years after the sacrifice of the son by the father over a point of honour, today’s fathers have to sacrifice themselves, often running themselves into debt for the rest of the year, in order to preserve their children’s honour. Sweet irony.

Of course, such subtleties are lost on the sheep. For him the story ends the same way.

Le mouton qui pleure

Whiteout

The reaction anticipated in my previous post was swift and effective … actually it was glossy.

I had expected a different reaction — crude spray scribble, as had been done (by the PPK sprayers?) to the “NOUVEAU PARTI” graffiti, perhaps, or a riposte in words — but this whiteout is so … thorough and professional.

Whiteout_01

I wonder who did it.

I wonder too why the only PPK graffiti to be covered up, out of the dozens, if not hundreds, of examples around the city, are those I photographed and posted yesterday.

Is there a link?

Sssh! Do you think someone out there is actually reading what I write?

The son still rises

On the same day that the leader of the National Assembly, Macky Sall, was voted out of office, a rash of graffiti appeared around Dakar — just three cryptic letters: PPK.

Fortunately, one sprayer had had the time, or the couilles, to write out the meaning: Pourquoi pas Karim (why not Karim).

The son always rises 01

The Karim is President Wade’s son, currently head of the planning organization of the Islamic Conference (ANOCI) held in Dakar last March, and reckoned by many to be the heir to his father’s position as president. Of course, this being a democracy, the president cannot simply drop his son into his shoes. No, it isn’t simple … it requires Machiavellian cunning of the highest degree.

Take the case of Macky Sall: number 2 in the president’s party, loyal promoter of presidential projects, leader of the National Assembly … and one of the best placed persons to stand at the next presidential election. Thus he became to be seen primarily as a threat to the dynastic ambitions of the Wades. When Sall dared to call Karim Wade to the National Assembly to clarify the finances of ANOCI, he triggered a chain reaction lasting 12 months that led finally to his eviction as leader of the Assembly. The ANOCI finances remain as opaque as they ever were. In contrast, the law has been changed regarding the duration of the post of leader of the Assembly from five years to one year, with retroactive force. The result was that Sall was out of office as soon as the vote was passed last Sunday.

Get that — the national law has been changed in order to put the fix on one of your most faithful party members, and merely to advance the career of your son. But yes it was done democratically, voted by the party of both Wade and Sall, the party that dominates the Assembly as a result of the boycott of the legislative elections by opposition parties last year …

I can’t help marvelling at the mix of cunning and tragedy in this affair: for cunning, Wade could write a new chapter in Machiavelli’s The Prince; tragedy in that there is a sense of an inevitable convergence of chickens coming home to roost, some time soon.

The son always rises 02

P.S. As an editor, I was struck by the lack of a question mark after, “Pourquoi pas Karim”. Then I realized that it was not a question, but rather a defiant assertion. I’m curious to see if there will be a reaction in graffiti.

Let them eat stats

Back in April, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade announced his latest new plan to revitalize the country’s agricultural sector, the largest sector of activity in terms of employment and production. It was the third plan in as many years. Previous plans, Jaxaay and Reva, were announced with similar fanfare yet failed to materialize into any actual activity, as if their existence was purely rhetorical.

Wade imagines this surplus of ideas to be a quality others admire — in his recent autobiography, he claims that French President Chirac “used to tell everyone that Abdoulaye has a new idea every minute”. Some might see such behaviour as a symptom of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, whose other symptoms seem familiar chez Me Wade:

  • Impulsiveness: a person who acts quickly without thinking things through.
  • Hyperactivity: a person who is unable to sit still.
  • Inattention: a person who daydreams or seems to be in another world.

(Source: Wikipedia)

The problem is that the ideas are not followed through in any coherent or consistent manner. Their motivation is that of an enthusiastic do-gooder who has neither the capacity nor the will to carry the ideas to fruition. The ideas therefore remain in a virtual world of presidentially declared wonders, immune to rot or verification.

The latest new wonder plan was called the Great Agricultural Offensive for Food and Abundance (Grande offensive agricole pour la nourriture et l’abondance), or GOANA, proved immediately fruitful in associations in my mind: GOANA/GUANO, an effective fertilizer from bat droppings. Also the choice of words echoed Mao’s Great Leap Forward of the 1950s, whose effect on improving agricultural efficiency in China led to an estimated 30 million dead. Not the most inspiring association.

Shortly after the announcement of the GOANA, huge billboards appeared, showing a crude photomontage of yams, green fields over which floats a runaway tractor and a plane from Air GOANA releasing shots of blue (=rain) on ready-to-harvest cereals, all blessed by the outstretched arm of the benevolent leader.

GOANA poster

In the following months, the GOANA seemed destined to be another stillborn, existing only in glorious speeches by the President. At FAO in June, during discussions to resolve the burgeoning food security crisis, Wade announced that Senegal would be self-sufficient in food within four months; to the UN General Assembly, he declared that, “The GOANA is a great success. I invite you to fly over Senegal: everything is green!” Indeed, the rains were good this year; nothing more can be attributed to the verdure; certainly not government investment in sustainable irrigation, improved market access and the like. Just good rains.

When worlds collide
But what happens when the wonder world of Wade’s ideas is forced to fit the real world where people have to eat? What happens if the actual production figures don’t match the objectives? Here’s the trick: hold a big party, pay your friends to come, and present forecasted production figures as if they are the actual results, i.e. before the crops have actually been harvested. It’s a tough one to pull off, but, as I witnessed last Monday, the thousands of supporters thronging to the presidential palace were happy enough to go along with the Celebration of Virtual Success, as Naomed described it in his hilarious post (in French): Happy with their free T-shirt bearing slogans such as, “The Godsend of GOANA”, and other inanities; happy with a free ride to the capital and a free lunch; happy with the banknote to pay for their applause. And in a rare example of superior female earning power, women actually get paid more than men at these spontaneously orchestrated events because they can make more noise and dance better in front of the state-owned TV cameras. There was no other news that day, by the way.

The final results of GOANA, miraculously produced before the harvests, were mind-bogglingly impressive, surpassing the objectives on the billboard. Further still, production figures for crops not included in the GOANA were presented as if they too had benefited from the plan (e.g. peanuts); and crops whose cycle extends longer than that of the plan, and therefore could not draw benefit from it, also found their way into the celebration (e.g. manioc and bananas).

So what? Who cares? Wade celebrates in a big tent when the news is good, and when you make up the news and manage to beat the real world with your virtual world, everyone is invited to the party.

The way that reality is manipulated with such carefree arrogance reminds me of Soviet-style propaganda and, more amusingly, of the jokes that it spawned. Here are some choice examples that I have adapted to present-day Senegal:

The seven miracles of Wade’s World:
1. There is no unemployment, yet nobody works.
2. Nobody works, yet the Grand Scheme is carried out.
3. The Grand Scheme is carried out, yet there is nothing to buy.
4. There is nothing to buy, yet there are queues everywhere.
5. There are queues everywhere, yet everyone has everything.
6. Everyone has everything yet everyone is dissatisfied.
7. Everyone is dissatisfied, yet everyone votes ‘Yes’.

:-)

“My people!” – Wade addressed the people by radio. “I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that for the next seven years we shall eat only shit! The good news is that it will be plentiful!”

:-)

There was an international competition for the best book about polar bears.

France submitted a lavishly illustrated volume titled, “Love triangles in polar bear families”.
England presented a treatise entitled, “Polar Bears and World Trade”.
Germany submitted 24-volume set under the title, “Brief Introduction to Ursus maritimus”.
The USA distributed one million copies of a leaflet announcing a sweepstakes, “Win a polar bear. No purchase necessary”.

Senegal sent three volumes, with the following titles,

Vol. 1. The Role of Polar Bears in the Great Offensive on Food and Abundance.

Vol. 2. The Happy Life of Polar Bears under the Sun of the Most Progressive Leadership in the World.

Vol. 3. Senegal – Motherland of Polar Bears.

To the barricades, James, and don’t spare the Porsches!

A few days after my previous post, residents of Dakar suburbs, Castors, Derklé and Liberté 06, took to the streets to protest against the prolonged and repeated electricity cuts. Actually, what pushed them over the edge was the distribution of double invoices from the electricity company, SENELEC. Yes, we give you no power and charge you twice for the privilege!

The next day, October 9, the riots hit Parcelles Assainies, Médina and Grand Yoff, where streets were barricaded with burning tyres and SENELEC offices were smashed to pieces. The general opinion among residents was sympathetic:

It serves them right. SENELEC has made us suffer too much. All our food has rotted away.
(Source: Sud Online)

The well-to-do neighbourhoods on the western coastline of the city have not yet taken to the streets — “Chauffeur, take me to the barricades … then pick me up at 11:30 for my pedicure.”

Nevertheless, the images of organized rioters was enough to provoke a reaction within the upper echelons of power, with the result today of a huge donation to SENELEC by the French Government and the World Bank.

Completely unsustainable, yet maybe just enough to keep the rioters off the streets until the weather cools down and the need for air conditioning declines, and in time for the start of the tourist season. After that, who knows?

For the record: electricity cut every day the last ten days from around 8 am till 4 pm. It came back on early today, at 13:30, so all in all it was a good day

… and I dint even hafta use ma AK *grin*

Update: power cut just before posting at midnight and is still off now at 11 am.