Protest Against Senegalese President Turns Violent
By EUNICE LEE and APRIL YEE
The UNITY News
A man protesting Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade’s speech to the UNITY convention was punched by a supporter. He was then removed from a McCormick Center ballroom as journalists looked on.
Soon after Wade began speaking, the man, Souleymane Jules Diop, a Senegalese journalist currently living in asylum in Canada, stood and shouted that “You’re not speaking for my people.” Suddenly, another man wearing a “WADE IN 2012” cap approached Diop and swung his fist into Diop’s right shoulder.
UNITY members stood and stared. They took notes and shot photos as Wade’s supporters blew whistles and waved banners. Some chanted “We love you” as they marched down the ballroom’s central aisle toward the stage.
Chicago police officers arrested Diop for trespassing and took him to the police station. Meanwhile, Wade calmly stood at the lectern throughout the scuffle as NABJ President Barbara Ciara asked supporters to quiet themselves and sit down.
The speech came two days after Wade’s arrival sparked protests from Senegalese residents and patriots on two continents. He was coming to speak about climate issues and increasing food production. But he was questioned everywhere about the treatment of journalists in his country.
Dozens of Senegalese came to Chicago and attended the speech wearing T-shirts and signs that The UNITY News learned were paid for by Wade’s political party, the Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS), according to Wade’s niece, Thialal Sabara. Wade’s party also paid for plane fares, a chartered bus and hotel rooms.
Wade has been called a leading advocate for democracy in African nations and has been embraced by the international community. He attended the G8 summit, an international gathering of world leaders, in Japan earlier this month.
And, NABJ members, who had visited Senegal last year, invited him to UNITY. NABJ defended their invitation vigorously.
“Why did we invite President Bush? “ NABJ President Barbara Ciara. “Why did we invite (former Secretary of State) Colin Powell? Why did we invite (former National Security Adviser) Condoleezza Rice? Why do we invite any world leader?
“We asked him to come to us because of free and open dialogue,” she said.
Wade arrived Wednesday and immediately was hit with questions about his treatment of the press.
Two journalists covering a soccer match in June were beaten by Senegalese police after they went onto the field to question players. Wade said that the journalists were attacking the players, a charge the protesters denied.
The beatings also led to the formation of the Committee to Protect and Defend Journalists. And on Monday, most newspapers, radio stations and TV stations staged a press blackout to protest the beatings and Wade’s failure to publicly condemn them.
Friday, hours before Wade’s speech, more than 70 protestors and supporters clashed outside the convention center. Supporters waved flags as a man in a suit chanted into a megaphone: “Abdoulaye Wade is the best president in the world.” They held signs with messages such as “YOUTH FOR WADE” and “WE WANT MORE YEARS WITH WADE”
Wade’s niece, Thialal Sabara, who has lived in the U.S. for 17 years, was among those in the crowd. Wearing the flowing sky blue and yellow colors of Wade’s party, Sabara came out in anticipation of her uncle’s critics.
“The opposition was going to be here to say bad things about the president,” she said. “We don’t like that.”
Sokhna Ndaiye, the general secretary of the Mouvement des femmes liberales, a New York satellite of Wade’s party, said: “He is the best president we have ever had since our independence.
“We sacrifice ourselves because we know if he stays for 20 years, we’ll be a big country like U.S.”
Protesters picketed and chanted.
“He’s just like Cato (a 2nd century BC Roman leader),” said Ousmane Diallo, a Senegalese-American from Iowa City, Iowa. “He’s a tyrant.”
When a Wade supporter shoved a protester, police blocked off the street and made the protestors move to the corner of East Cermak Road and Martin Luther King Drive. Police moved supporters away from the convention center across the street.
Despite the controversy, the ballroom when Wade entered to speak was less than half full.
As expected Wade opened his speech about The Great Green Wall, his plan to plant trees across 7,000 kilometers to stop the Sahara from growing south and taking up farmable land.
But even as he spoke about ways to save his country, protesters pounded the ballroom doors, shouting that Wade was a “tyrant” and a “dictator.”
Later on Friday, NABJ hosted a fund-raising dinner for Wade that was paid for by the Senegalese government, Ciara said. Later Friday, Wade was scheduled to fly to Washington, D.C., to meet with White House and State Department officials about his agricultural plan. His 100-person entourage, including journalists exclusively from state-owned media organizations, was to accompany him.
UNITY staff writers Andres Caballero and Wesley Lowery also contributed to this report.