Election Time: When Enough Is Enough: Urban Guerilla Poetry

This is the second article in a series titled, “Election Time: Lessons from Young Leaders”

Woman in bright yellow dipping finger in red ink at voting station (© AP Images)
A woman dips her finger to prove she has voted in the March 20, 2016, referendum in Senegal. (© AP Images)

Isabella Tudisco-Sadacca, originally from Arizona, is pursuing her master’s in human rights at Sciences Po in Paris. A trained dancer interested in using arts to build community, she has traveled the U.S. doing slam poetry and has danced in various places from Vermont to Senegal to Trinidad.

The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government.

“Abdoulaye, faut pas forcer!” Loud but nonviolent, Y’en a Marre redefined political activism in Senegal through the strength of verse and what has earned the name “urban guerilla poetry.” In 2011, the Y’en a Marre (“We’re fed up”) movement was started by well-known rappers Fou Malade, Thiat, and Kilifeu and journalists Fadel Barro, Aliou Sane and Denise Sow. They were disappointed in their country’s politics and social justice, and so they created the idea of “The New Type of Senegalese” to promote a more politically and socially engaged youth and community. They wanted to create a citizen movement, to empower their community to express and defend their vision for Senegal.

While social activism lies at the center of their interests, they worked to promote civic engagement for the 2012 election. So how did this group of rappers and journalists have such a big effect on the election? Their approach was multifaceted. They began by holding protests but were often shut down by the police. And so they sought new methods. One of their campaigns used the slogan “My (electoral) card, my weapon,” which targeted registering more young voters. The activists would go into different neighborhoods and just talk with those around about the issues at hand and carrying a stereo played their single “Faux! Pas forcé,” or “Don’t force it.” This song, a critique of the Wade administration, became the anthem of many protests throughout the election period. They used their status as recognized rappers as a way to share music that had a political message and encourage their fellow citizens to become more engaged.

To get their message out, the activists had to get creative. In addition to holding frequent informal concerts, they worked with local rappers and would hop on public buses for a few stops to distribute flyers and rap about the political situation and the importance of voting. They held a “Problems Fair” in which over 300 participants held booths to open dialogue and debate about everyday issues in Senegal, from transport to education to food prices. Around 7,000 people came to take part in this fair, to listen and to share. Outside of Y’en a Marre but using the same tools, Rappers Xuman and Keyti started the Journal Rappé — a successful weekly news broadcast rapped in French and Wolof, again showing how music can be effective in reaching larger audiences and sharing timely information. The Journal Rappé has now extended to Niger and the Ivory Coast, with local rappers producing their own news broadcasts.

Since Macky Sall was peacefully elected in 2012, Y’en a Marre is making sure he follows through in helping his country, and they remain vocal about new political decisions. On February 16, Sall announced that despite his previous promise to only hold office for a five-year term, he will stay in office for the full seven years, and only as of 2019 will the presidential term in Senegal be limited to five years. This change was proposed to the Senegalese people in a constitutional referendum on March 20. Y’en a Marre, using their Facebook page, released a new single on February 24 and called to action various social organizations, citizen movements and individuals in creating the “No Front.” They asked that people vote “no” in order to hold Sall accountable for his previous statements and promises. Turnout was low for the March 20th referendum, and the “yes” won: Sall will remain in power for two more years.

Y’en a Marre, using urban guerilla poetry that advances social justice through ancient oral traditions, updated in a modern musical style, has shown how our words can be our strongest weapon. Their actions leading up to the 2012 election showed the community how everyone should and can be involved. Their methods were simple and mostly involved going from person to person, neighborhood to neighborhood, sharing music and starting conversations. While their status as rappers helped them gain momentum, the intention was to start a movement that the whole community would join and to show how everyone has the necessary tools to be politically engaged, to demand that politicians are responding to the issues that really matter to the community. They have continued a spirit of resistance and accountability in Senegal’s political environment and have given youth the information and support to become “The New Type of Senegalese” and to fight with their words for what the country and people deserve.

Want to read more articles from the, “Election Time: Lessons from Young Leaders” series? Please find them here:

Election Time: Lessons from Young Leaders

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