Thursday, November 22, 2007

Dakar, Senegal - Rioters ransacked the mayor's office, overturned and burned cars, blocked off streets and clashed with police as authorities attempted to remove all the sidewalk vendors, blamed for causing traffic congestion, from the streets early yesterday morning. The throngs of angry street fighters swelled soon after, at the last minute, police revoked a long since issued permit for a trade union demonstration against rising food and fuel prices. Hundreds of the capital's poor residents joined in to vent their frustrations with a government that is perceived to be corrupt.

A large police presence made an effort to disperse rioters with teargas and truncheons, but smaller outbreaks of violence continued into Thursday. At least two buildings were burned down, and 15 people were arrested during the unrest. In an attempt to diffuse some of the anger, Dakar Governor Amadou Sy offered the evicted traders space on side streets away from downtown. However, the vendors were not contented by the compromise which they felt was not good enough.

The violence was on a scale greater than any seen in the country in at least the past six years. Senegal is often held up as an example of stability in West Africa, but tensions among the nation's less well off have been growing as the gap between rich and poor has widened significantly in recent years and the cost of living continues to rise dramatically. Discontent with the federal government is widespread and primarily stems from issues related to economics and poverty.

President Abdoulaye Wade has been attempting to give Dakar a facelift in preparation for the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) summit planned for March. Massive amounts of government funds have been sunk into projects such as new luxury hotels, conference rooms, bridges and roads. Meanwhile, the issues of the poor have been largely forgotten and those individuals have been pushed to the margins.