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Musician eyes presidency in Senegal

By Ebrima Sillah, for CNN
updated 10:15 AM EST, Tue January 3, 2012
Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour (pictured) has just announced his candidacy to become nation's president
Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour (pictured) has just announced his candidacy to become nation's president
  • Youssou N'Dour has announced his candidacy for president
  • He is a Grammy-winning musician
  • But some wonder if his candidacy will hurt his career

(CNN) -- One of Senegal's most popular musicians Youssou N'Dour has announced his candidacy in February's presidential elections.

Speaking on his television network TFM, N'Dour said his motivation to run for president was influenced by what he called "a supreme patriotic duty to do more for my country."

Indeed, N'Dour is one of Senegal's most popular faces on the international stage, a celebrated musician who has won many awards including a Grammy in 2005.

N'Dour will run against current president Abdoulaye Wade, whose bid for a third term is proving controversial. In June last year, thousands of protesters clashed with police capital Dakar after President Wade proposed changes to the constitution that his critics alleged were meant to make it easy for him to win reelection. The proposed changes reduced the percentage of votes need to avoid a runoff from 50% to 25%.

West Africa has a history of military coups and civil wars but Senegal is a rare exception. It has never experienced a military coup. However, the rising political tension in the run-up to the February presidential election is cause for worry.

Speaking of his candidacy, N'Dour said Senegal deserves better and is prepared to do whatever it takes to ensure that the country does not take the path of violence seen in other countries in the region during election period.

"We have to continue to communicate the message of peace and tolerance and this is what my presidency will advocate if elected" N'Dour said.

Biram Gueye, a Dakar-based political analyst, said while there is no doubt that N'Dour has been a very successful and celebrated musician with large following among young people, it is difficult to guess whether he can galvanize this into political support.

"Political support in Senegal is influenced by not any ideological lineage but rather familiarity with the terrain and experience in the field and this is what Youssou N'Dour lacks," he said.

We have to continue to communicate the message of peace and tolerance and this is what my presidency will advocate if elected
Youssou N'Dour, singer

In the streets of Dakar, however, opinion is mixed.

While some welcome N'Dour's desire to run for the presidency, others are cautious.

"The political arena is like a mine field and I prefer Youssou not to venture into it because if he doesn't win, it could have some dent on his music career," said Amet Seck, a university student.

Gueye agreed.

"Before, many in Senegal saw Youssou as a neutral unifier through his music. But from now on a section of the society, especially supporters of the ruling party, have began viewing him differently."

But perhaps the most difficult issue for N'Dour's presidential bid is how to deal with a constitutional clause that sets a minimum educational qualification of high school certificate to be able to run as president. N'Dour lacks a formal education.

His answer is that the presidency is a function and not a job.

"It's true, I haven't pursued higher education but I have proved my competence, commitment, rigor and efficiency time and time again. I have studied at the school of the world. Travel teaches as much as books," he said.

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