Y’en A Marre Toujour: The Evolution of a Revolution
Senegal is known for it's stability in a West African region fraught with conflicts.
Due to the population's evolving social consciousness it's hard for politicians to pull a fast one over Senegalese as the former president,Abdoulaye Wade, found out more than two years ago.On June 23rd, 2011 Senegalese citizens stood in front the National Assembly to protest a ridiculous bill that would’ve allowed Wade to be declared winner by a mere 25 percent of votes. At the epicenter of this historic uprising and resistance was a group called Y’en A Marre.
Y’en A Marre garnered publicity for their critical role in the protests. The protest though was just the beginning for this group. This group’s focus is on the future -- not settling debts with the previous regime, which is the mistake that many organizations make in some African countries.
The regime had arrested members of Y'en A Marre multiple times. Members include Thiat, a well-known rapper who is one of the founders of the organization -- his last name means "last-born." Newspapers joked about his name, suggesting that President Wade was just a grandfather trying to discipline an unruly child, when Y'en A Marre's activities were suppressed. The strategy may have backfired. “Wade brought attention to our cause and made us more popular,” Thiat says.
The organization's vision is to create what they call the "New Type of Senegalese." This new citizen would be more responsible and active in regards to their larger community. The focus is on empowering citizens to create change within their communities rather then waiting for the government to act -- change from the grassroots up.
The group considers the New Type of Senegalese (NTS) critical.
“Once Abdoulaye Wade is gone we have to be very constructive, we have to build something new. So Y’en A Marre wanted to intervene in different fields of society,” Thiat says.
The programs are Community Health and Environment which focuses on cleaning up the streets as well as providing medicine for poor people; Citizens’ Observatory for good governance and democracy which urges citizens to hold Macky Sall, the new president, accountable to his electoral promises; Female Leadership and Entrepreneurship which pushes for women leaders as well youth leadership; and, the Urban Culture Program that urges for hip-hop artist in Senegal to act as an independent voice criticizing the political process.
The underlying theme of all these programs is to create a sense of critical thinking within the population. This sense of critical thinking is something the group very much embodies. Criticizing not only the political process but also the media; a media that in their opinion does not provide enough objective information. Fou Malade, another rapper, and founding member, says Senegalese media have lost credibility due to conflicts of interest.
“My big brother is director of RTS, but RTS is still a state run news outlet," he says. "Private media outlets such as Walfadijiri and others have a lobby behind them. So these private media outlets release information based on the interest of the owner. Therefore the population does not get the real message and they believe everything they hear on the radio as the truth."
Y’en A Marre charges themselves with helping the population be aware that they are not receiving quality news from the traditional media outlets. They use the skill set of rap to spread the news.
Why rap? Rap, according to Fou Malade, is the communication of proximity. This is a method that is already proven as a great tool for the group. To get young people to register to vote, different members would board buses and start rapping about the importance of voting. This helped shift the notion that voting did not achieve anything or that it was something for the older people to do.
A big part of NTS is to have everyday Senegalese take accountability for their environment -- starting with their physical surroundings. The group goes to different neighborhoods and starts cleaning the streets. This is not the easiest task.
Walking around Dakar and other Senegalese cities or towns, one can observe people mindlessly throwing away plastic bags and trash on the streets. Members of Y'en A Marre act like a volunteer Sanitation department. “People get energized because we are always the first ones on the scene and the last ones to leave,” Djiby, who acted as the unofficial spokesman during the talk, says, referring to their street-cleaning swoops.
The group also doesn't believe in political graffiti urging people to vote for rival candidates. They come with their own graffiti artist who paints mural on the walls. They believe that cleanliness will also deter men from public urination.
The most refreshing part of Y’en A Marre is their attitude towards women. “People first saw the four guys and said Y’en A Marre is a men’s movement, but that is not true without women there would be no Y’en A Marre,” Thiat says.
They put their money where their mouth is. Their youth leadership initiative is headed mostly by women. Djiby says whenever they get program grants, they make sure that the program leaders are comprised mostly of women.
With an organization like Y’en A Marre, Senegal is already making the "new" citizen.
Photos From Y'en A Marre's official Facebook page