Sunday, 10 February 2013

Senegal: Religiosity versus Superstition and Travel experience

One thing that struck you when you arrived in Senegal is the open and public display of religiosity and Godliness. Islamic identity in the Africanised adaptation is the inherent identity of the middle to older men in Senegal. Islam is a universal religion which is practiced by over 1.5billion people in the world.
The Senegalese takes their Sufi Islam seriously and they are public about it. It is very attractive overall the way the Mourids Africanise Islam. They take pride in being Muslim and Black.
The powers vested in the Sufi Tariqas is enormous. The different sects of the religious houses has their own domain of control. There are problematic angst to the religious brotherhood, the fact that, some of them allow very young children to beg for them. This was a sight i detest very much. Upon enquiringly as to why, such thing is allowed amidst the smooth running of the state, it is mention, the powerful 'Serign' revolted and the ban on 'Almudous' didn't last long.
What troubled me as a Muslim was the fact that, pictures of Saints acts as decorations and reminders everywhere. In shops, in offices, in taxis, private cars, in Taylor workshops, carpentry workshop, in gardens, hanging on people's necks, just everywhere. Amean, vast amount of people know more about the 'Serigns' Saints than, about Muhammad' the prophet of Islam.
My observation on the photos of holy men is that, these 'Serigns' saints provide very photogenic postures for the photographers who sell this images to the ardent followers.

The Mourids are said to be very powerful in Senegal, so powerful that, some attribute them to be having a union that boast of having very influential Senegalese as members. This 'Mourid' club is said to be behind many big businesses, powerful politicians and successful people in Senegal. I visited Professor Khadim Mbacke on the dominance and influence of the Mourids, but sadly he wasn't keen on discussing them. I sensed, the fear of offending the powerful brotherhood could be the reason. I attempted to create conversation about them, but not many want to talk about them realistically.
I happen to record some backgrounds on the brotherhood, which will serve my research interest. Man selling Chicken

The followers of Malick Sey, Bai Nyassi, Buu Kunta, Amadou Taal etc all belong the wider club of Talibes who follow them diligently.
The competition in the call to morning prayers is fascinating experience. Even though Fajr (early morning) Muslim prayers happen round about 06:45am, the Muashim (callers to prayer) commence the call at 04.30am. I learnt that, this is all because some people give offering to those who make the call to prayer sooner that the others.
The superstition seen in Senegal is extra-ordinary. There're birds held in cages, young men travel around selling this birds to people who frees them. If you free a bird from a cage, you release it but not before mention your wishes on the bird. I have never seen such superstition anywhere.
The believe in Marabouts ( spiritual doctors) is at higher level in Senegal than the Gambia. And Senegalese are willing to pay huge amounts for the work of the marabouts. The wrestling tradition is very rich, but also filled with superstition at an unprecedented level. This trend doesn't show any sign diminishing.
My passionate journey to Senegal also involves getting to comprehend the legacy of the Mbaay Faals...A subject I will deal with later.
As a cultural enthusiast and commentator, Senegal is a fertile ground for studying the contrasting existence of traditional values and modernity.
I have been to Senegal in the past, but mostly to the Cassamance region. Dakar as a capital is dominated with French style of building and habitat. The developments and advancement happening in Senegal is rapid for those living there. The tenure of Abdoulie Wade is said to have witness many infrastructural development.
However, what generates the growth of foreign industries in Senegal is the mature level of democracy. Dakar can boast of having a high concentration of NGO's, foreign embassies, head quarters of private companies, the U.N agencies etc.
The modern side to Senegals advancement is also the growth of private Senegalese own medical institutions. Health is big business in Africa. Since I'm making simple observations, I will not attached any figures to the opinions here.
Gambians are arriving in Dakar in droves for private medical treatment. The Gambia, it is said lack modern medical equipment needed for vigorous testing for illnesses. I came across very rich Gambians attending rehabilitation and therapy after strokes and other serious illnesses.
This Gambians complain that, they don't trust the Doctors in the Gambia. They claim that, the clinics and private health centres are very far behind in modern treatment. On the other hand, if you can afford the expensive medical bill, Senegal can provide facilities and expertise to cure the ailments.

The ordinary man and woman in Senegal is mostly engaged in some form of petty trade. The vehicles for commercial passenger commerce are usually very old,  dilapidated, but effective in taking people from one place to the other. Corree
I visited Coree, a former slave Island and was struck with intense feeling of anger at what has happen there by the European slave traders. The suffering those people encountered cannot be describe. It most have been horrendous  The dungeon  created for keeping captives who refuse to be enslaved is beyond description. The inhumane minds of those Europeans is beyond animalistic. Even today, the memory of Corree will live with me forever.

Travelling across Senegal was also enjoyable..Some roads are bad, but far better than the Gambia. i find people very helpful in general although the tendency to attempt to cheat is high.
Senegal in short is a paradise for Tourist. Very rich in culture, the people are friendly and open and the food is delicious as well.
There are great views, music and cultural heritage highly unexplored by the wider world. Senegal is a cocktail of many cultures inter-woven producing a hybrid of something beautiful. I will in future relay my Senegal experience. I will go back again for more research and enjoyment.

Senegal Is Working Whilst the Gambia is At A Standstill

Suntou Touray (A Recent trip to Senegal In Januray)

Politics is working in Senegal, and the Gambia, power struggles and empty penmanship leads the way..
After a 3 years absent from the shores of Africa. I took a plunge last month for a near three weeks holiday and fact finding in Senegambia. The trip I will admit brought to light the realisation of how globally inter-connected we are now. In Senegal where I spend a considerable time, things are working, people are always on the move. Whilst the Gambia, the stark reality of dictatorship and fear infect the elites much more than the ordinary people.

There's hardly anything to compare the Gambia with Senegal with in 2013, nearly nothing can be liken to the other. To understand Africa, as an African living nearly permanently in Europe or America, you have to be one of the people as soon you land in Africa. Sadly, through my observations, you encounter, Americanised Gambians and Europeanised Senegalise and Gambians likewise. They cannot just put the fa├žade away and be one the people.

The Gambia is commercially dying, I mean dying. Consumers don't have disposable income and the means to generating wealth is all strangled by either state regulations or high cost of basic food and necessities. The ferry crossing into Barra is danger zone waiting to erupt. The Ferry it is said is old and should be disuse. It took from 7 hours for a car to cross from Banjul to Barra in a Sunday normal crossing. Vehicles wait at the Ferry terminal from 6am in the morning, just to cross in 5 hours time.
The Ferry regularly encounter breakdown in the middle of the sea. It is unbelievable the impact such disruption has on business and passengers. The Gambia is a disaster politically, economically and socially.

Gambians have learn the best they could how to survive in the very hostile environment. People now demands payments for things we all use take for granted as either family members or friends. People will hardly offer kindnesses for free this days. A young man who spent eight months holiday in the Gambia made this phenomenon glaringly clear when I meet him in Casablanca Muhammed the IV Airport. At the Moroccan Airport, the young man explain to how educated he has become in the Gambia for the eight months he spent there.

The joblessness in Spain is driving many Gambians to return home. These young men have risked it all at high cost to journey to Europe, and now Europe is jobless, they are returning home with the little they have save to farm and be with their wives. However, on their return, these young men are struck with demands and disappointments.

The young man explain how much people want things without working for it. Anyway, the quirk-mere that ensues in the country is reaching melting point. The positive appearance we can garner is the fact that, people are losing the fear that once gripped the nation.
Gambians are now bored of their own self-inflicted fear. They have realised that, Europe neither America will hoist Yahya Jammeh and his criminal gang out of power. People have commence open discussion of issues happening. They have started saying, he cannot jail all of us. Let us hope that, spirit continues.

Senegal: I am very impress with the level of political maturity in Senegal. I visited many places and spoke to different people with my basic Wollof. The impression overall is that, the people cannot be politically enslaved by anyone. Even the Maky Sall government is ongoing some intense scrutiny during his first year in office. From Taxi drivers to grey old men, politics, the economy etc is the bread and butter discussion.

People in Senegal in general are self-dependent and trade oriented than Gambians. I attended the Radho sponsored media conference in Dakar, where Sedat Jobe spoke eloquently in French. The even was well attended by Gambian dissidents. I was told, political meetings like that in the past would have been less well attended.
The views of Senegalese politicians is simply that “Gambians cannot keep talking on the media and writing on the newspapers without wanting to confront Yahya Jammeh on the street”. One politicians further made it clear that, 'Senegal don't see the Gambian problem as a priority'. They are in effect saying, we Gambians want to 'eat our cake and still have it'.

I was sadden by the opinions of the Senegalese about Gambians. In fact, Senegalese are baffled at our cowardice and lack of courage in tackling a little man who pumped himself to be what he is not.

A lady street vendor selling beans and bread opined to us whilst we were speaking about Yahya Jammeh. She blunlt told us, 'you Gambians are very funny', in peach sleek Wollof. She went further to say, can Yahya Jammeh kill the whole country if you stand together? We looked at each other and said no. She said, then what have Gambians been waiting for in uniting against the sadistic regime?

We couldn't answer, because Senegalese embrace each other not that, they don't have underlying tension in either religious sectarianism or ethnic power struggles, but they understood one thing. A divided nation cannot take charge over the direction of a nation.
The opposition against Abdoulie Wade brought that to light. The politicians never hesitate to back Maky Sall since his party got the larger vote share in the contest against Wade. Yet, 200 kilometre to the border, the Gambians opposition don't want to embrace such a system. What could be the causes of this phenomenon?
Senegalese political culture is working because the elite's hatred of each other is at a controllable level whilst that of the peanuts colony Gambia, the reality is different. Smaller political parties in Senegal have no qualms in recognising the strengths of rival parties. A young activist told me “we backed Maky Sall because, all we want is for Wade to leave”(Gaye)
The activist further mention that, the demonstrations against Abdoulie Wade left some lasting causalities  some died and other badly injured.
Abdoulie Wade have left and Senegal is a steady course of change. Yet Abdoulie Wade has transform Senegal with multiple new roads, opening up and connecting the country between Dakar and Cassamance and other regions. Wade has built new suburbs in Dakar, solving the housing crisis. Wade has brought some equality between the religious brotherhoods in Senegal. Where the previous governments left the major Tariqas (Mourids, Nyassens, Sey, Kunta, Taal) to benefit from state sponsorship and patronage, Abdoulie Wade reached out to the Janhanka, Mandinka and Fula religious brotherhoods in Cassamance region, thus elevating those religious households, creating some pride in those regions. The economy wasn't doing badly either under Wade. Above all, Abdoulie Wade wasn't a serial human right abuser. He allowed the law to takes it course and due process seen to be leading the way. Yet, the opposition against him became unanimous and solid.

In essence, with all of Abdoulie Wade's achievements, the Senegalese people wanted change more than one man at the helm of their country for over ten years. The opposition united against Wade, because they understood that, change is always positive, no matter it chaotic nature sometimes.

Gambian oppositions all refused to rally behind the bigger opposition party in the last elections, to the Senegalese, nothing can be enough excuse for such a behavior  If there are other reasons more compelling than, seeing the back of Yahya Jammeh and his oppression, then the lesser opposition parties in the Gambia don't come to that realisation yet.
How many cruel things have happen since the re-election of Yahya Jammeh in November 2011? For starters, 9 people were executed, Imam Bakwsu Fofana tortured and exiled, Imam Baba Leigh still in detention, many more people still remain in prison, many unlawful murders remain unanswered, the land seizure and usurpation of private properties continues, three media outlets closed, the cost of living sky rocketing, now what could be the reason why, the smaller opposition parties refused to rally and form a Coalition with a bigger and larger opposition party? Could it be ethnicity, could it be power ambition on the side of the smaller party leaders etc? Whatever it is, the Senegalese sees us collectively as failures to our country and future, and they cannot be the catalyst to solve our own hatred of each other. Because, no amount of reservations within the opposition rank should be more urgent than, seeing the back of President Jammeh. After all, change is always positive in a collective landscape, even where the impression seems otherwise. People will always learn to grow from a change position. The blame for Gambia's pain lies on every single Gambian, but the burden is on the shoulder of the smaller opposition party leaders.

I will provide my own narrative for the bigger Gambian opposition party on my next contribution. Meanwhile, I just hope someone remind the opinionated opposition politicians writing letters to Jammeh and the Inspector General that, that has never work yesterday and will hardly ever work today. Masterminding disunity is the cause of our state of affairs today. Whatever Jammeh does, he knows some opposition politicians see others as more urgent priorities than him. That is Yahya Jammeh's saving grace, not his intimidation and harassment.