Of art, sports, serenades and youth empowerment #Senegal

Beautiful does not begin to describe Dakar, Senegal’s capital city.  I feel like the word beautiful actually does it some injustice; perhaps magnificently beautiful is more befitting. When the flight captain went on to tell us that we were 10 minutes away from descending into Leopold Sedar Senghor airport, I let out a not so quiet shrill “I know!” Excitement had clearly overtaken me. The view of the waves, the peninsula, the swaying palm trees and the clean coastline were all breathtaking to say the least.

After an 11 hour flight transiting through Benin and Mali, we had finally arrived in Dakar.

Reason for being in this magnificent city was the Third High level dialogue on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance that was being convened by the Africa Governance Architecture platform within the Department of Political Affairs of the African Union Commission.

Fast forward to when we were leaving the airport; some of us, me included, began to comment on the beauty of the Senegalese, not to mention their lean body sizes. “Hmmm… interesting,” I thought to myself.

As we drove into the city, I couldn’t help but notice and feel the vibe of the place. The place is bustling and yet despite the high temperatures in the late afternoon, several people were jogging by the road, others trading in the market squares and others seemingly enjoying after work catch up conversations.

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The most astounding thing crossed my field of vision; young children were wrestling in a sandy pitch alongside the road, with several others cheering on in excitement. I am not quite sure on why this struck me, but allow me to carry on.

The children’s smiles and laughter are still so vivid and next to them was a football pitch with what looked like slightly older boys playing. It’s safe to say that all were deeply engrossed in their games oblivious to their surroundings.

Continuing with the bus ride to our destinations, it dawned on me that we had past neither 2 nor 3 football/wrestling pitches but an estimated 7. “Phenomenal,” I thought to myself. The Senegalese government had made a conscious effort to allocate spaces for sports activities.

To be honest, I couldn’t keep track of the number of runners that we had passed. Some were in groups, others by themselves. Across the city, they could easily have been in the hundreds. “Goodness, does everyone run here?” asked one of my colleagues. Her question had indeed confirmed my train of thought.                           IMAG5376_1

Allow me to fast forward again to my first morning in Dakar. This is the view that I had. Beautiful isn’t it?

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But another thing aside from this had struck me; I could see dozens of people in the ocean doing some sort of exercise.

“This people really do like to work out,” I thought to myself again and brushed off.

At the end of the two day meeting, colleagues and I decided to enjoy a good meal out in the town, it being a Friday night and all. I am in fact grateful to one of them for insisting that we do so by the beach. We had somewhat accustomed to the place and it was no surprise seeing some people running by the beach while others lifting weights at 9 pm in the night.

Having enjoyed our beautifully cooked meal and being burnt out from fatigue, I left my colleagues to catch a good night cap.

What happened after is what I’d like to call the true meaning of missing out. My colleague and good friend Nerima narrated to me on how they had been serenaded as they took a stroll by the beach. Her narration is as follows.

“So this guy snuck up on us and started beating his drum which of course startled us, I think I actually jumped. At first I was thinking…hmm what is this? Then it started to dawn on us on what he was doing and we started clapping and supporting him. It made me smile, I was so happy.”

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Be it in Goree island, which is known for its rich history dating back to the slave trade era; or the very streets of Dakar; one is bound to see both the young and the old carrying their Koras (traditional string instruments) around with them or strumming away either in solitude or to an indulged crowd.

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(A young man playing his kora by the pier in Goree Island)

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(A young man crossing a street in Dakar, holding in hand his Kora)

As we drove to the port to catch a ferry to Goree Island, once again, one could not help but notice all the high quality sports amenities that had been set up along the coastline. Be it basketball courts, hockey pitches or soccer pitches. It was remarkable.

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(The basketball courts)

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(Children’s play area)

This then begs the question; is it any wonder that Senegal is one of the most stable countries in Africa?

The AU high level dialogue that had been convened was a forum whose aim was to escalate actions being taken to silence the guns that are ravaging and hampering progress on our continent. These are wars whose main perpetrators and victims are the youth. I can’t think of a better place to illustrate the magnitude of what good investments in young people’s energy and passion can do. Whether jobless or otherwise, there is something about sports that allows one, especially the young, to release frustrations, be good managers of their time, build a culture of teamwork as well as be peaceful ambassadors.

From the young man who serenaded my colleagues on the beach due to the freedom of expression, or the freedom to just authentically be; to the young boys wrestling in the sandy pitches, it is evident that all have been brought together by a cultural thread of oneness be it in sport or art. This underscores the importance of creating a positive identity among ones people. The Senegalese know not which ethnic tribe they are playing a sport with nor serenading to. All they know is that they do enjoy doing this with their friends in a healthy manner. This reminds me so much of the Ubuntu philosophy which states that I am because we are. Let us all try and emulate the noble example that is  Senegal.

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(Dakar sunrise)

High Level Dialogue: What will it take to Silence the Guns in Africa by 2020?

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(Pic Courtesy of dgtrends.org)

“Guns don’t usually talk, but when we make them talk, they shout, BOOM BOOM.”

In kick starting discussions on what it would take to silence the guns; H.E Olusegun Obasanjo unsparingly reminded us of the consequences of guns blazing in the continent; their impact on human development, economic development and the extent to which they destroy families, majority of the time women and the youth.

“Identity, colonial legacy, democracy, popular participation, resource management, religion and inequality must be addressed now,” stated the former president of the Republic of Nigeria. We need to give more weight to discussions on the elimination of corruption and correct interpretation of religion. Youth are our present and future and we need to ensure education and employment for all.”

“I admit that we did not address the civil war in Nigeria well, we didn’t look at the aspects of diversity dividing us; and it is for this reason that I believe the extent to which lessons learnt are shared is pertinent in managing and preventing conflict. Our war lasted 30 months; I realized that I am a Yoruba but my Yorubaness could not overtake my Nigerianess. That we must embrace our diversity for collective national development,” he stated.

“With the state having three pillars of government borrowed from colonialism, that being the executive, the legislature and judiciary, so too do we need a fourth pillar which is a higher authority of active solidarity,” informed the former head of state. “This is the only way that we can deal with the problem of social frustration and subsequently disallowing it to fester.”

Advocate Thuli Madonsela, the Public protector in South Africa shared too her views on silencing the guns. In a somber tone, she reiterated the need for respect of the rule of law during elections and civil and political rights. The impressive prosecutor highlighted the dire consequences of inadequate public awareness and citizens’ rights emphasizing the paramount importance of ensuring access to good information by citizens. “Where people are misinformed or ignorant they will create their own narratives and take the law into their own hands,” she stated. She also raised the pertinent point of benevolent governments needing checks and balances because they too are prone to making mistakes.

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(Pic Courtesy of dgtrends.org)

Dr. Noha Bakr, Assistant minister of International cooperation in Egypt posed a poignant question to the audience as she shared her views on the aforementioned topic. “There is no spring in Africa, how then did we end up calling it the arab spring? We did not anticipate the repercussions of not walking our talk.”

The Egyptian assistant minister emphasized the need to address high levels of illiteracy and shared on their experiences in Egypt. She highlighted the poignant aspect of democracy being measured through the ballot boxes as fictitious and wrong benchmarking. “Democracy with regards to the ballot box is not about elections alone but also incorporates the ballot boxes in oil and resource matters.

Dr. Brice Parfait Kolelas, Minister of Public Service and State reforms, Republic of Congo shared in these sentiments and spoke on the need for synergy between institutions dealing with democracy, human rights and governance. “Today, we can learn a great deal from the National Commission for Social dialogue in Congo,” he stated.

H.E Olusegun Obasanjo in ending his experiences with the forum, shared the sobering story of a young rebel leader that he once met from the Niger delta. The former head of state was extremely curious on how the young man had ended up in such an unfortunate role and the young boy  responded as follows.

“Your Excellency, due to free primary education I went to primary school, I did extremely well and hence secured a place in secondary school; and I then went to university. There I pursued a career in mining engineering seeing as I come from a resource rich country. I graduated and could not get a job for 4 years, what do you expect me to do?”

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