I recently heard Charles Mangongera, NED Democracy Fellow, deliver remarks on Zimbabwe. Yesterday, I heard his colleague, Thiat, speak on Y’en a Marre: Youth and Social Engagement in Senegal in the same room. Thiat provided a brief history of the emergence of Y’en a Marre, its opposition to President Wade’s unconstitutional efforts to seek a third term, and his future aims and objectives.
Thiat opened his remarks by graciously thanking NED for their support during his fellowship, he noted that when he was named a Fellow, he wondered what he was ‘going to do in front of a desk’, but that everything has turned out well. As I suspected, the NED employee moderating his talk, Sally Blair, confirmed that Thiat is the first hip-hop artist to have been hosted by NED.
He noted that Y’en a Marre emerged out of frustrations with the provision of electricity, lack of employment, inflation, and other social problems that the government had been ineffective in tackling. Y’en a Marre launched its offensive through protests, music videos, and petitions. Thiat stressed the sacred nature of Senegal’s constitution, noting that Senegalese should not expect the US and EU to preserve democracy as ‘it’s our responsibility to protect the constitution.’ Thiat’s PowerPoint presentation combined screen shots of major media coverage on the elections with YouTube music video and other visual footage.
Thiat noted that Senegalese hip-hop artists had been instrumental in helping to elect Wade in 2000. He noted that after the success in ensuring that Wade did not obtain a third term, Y’en a Marre would be more diligent in ‘observ[ing] our democracy’ to ensure that the future leaders do not engage in brazen power grabs. In addition to the overt success of ensuring that Wade was not re-elected for a third term, Thiat observed that many of the police who committed the most grievous atrocities during the elections, including murder, have been held accountable and received jail terms.
Thiat noted that he hails from Kaolack, a place sufficiently close to Gambia that he could go there just for lunch and return in a timely manner the same day. Accordingly, he has also dropped verses critical of Gambian President Yahya Jammeh. On a video criticizing Jammeh that he played, one performer makes a call to ‘knock this dictator out of the ring.’ He also expressed concern with the leaders of Zimbabwe and Angola.
Thiat concluded by noting that he would like to foster greater integration and unity within west Africa through his music. In the short-term he hopes to do to this through a multi-nation tour and the release of a compilation album. In the longer-term, he would like to launch a radio station and website.
The Senegalese Ambassador, Cheikh Niang, was in the audience. He praised Y’en a Marre as being ‘true heroes’ of Senegal and criticized Abdoulaye Wade as being ‘a head of state who lost his mind.’
For those who would like to see Thiat’s performng side, I understand that he has a show slated for the Kennedy Center at the end of March.