Youssou President?

I’ll admit it–when I heard that the Grammy Award-winning Senegalese artist, Youssou N’Dour, was joining the presidential race–I was skeptical. In my defense, this is the same man who (less a month earlier) declared that he would never–jamais— run for president. And why should he? He’s already earned the title.

But, skepticism aside, when N’Dour announced his candidacy I was also a little excited. I thought: “what a great opportunity to talk about the role of artists as intermediaries between the public and political realms!” Oh, if only I had stopped there. By the time I had finished coming up with a list of topics, N’Dour’s candidacy had been rejected and he was out of the race.

So, why am I talking about N’Dour’s failed campaign? Well, primarily because I don’t think it was a failure. In fact, I think the circumstances surrounding N’Dour’s early departure have even added to the success of his campaign. I still believe N’Dour when he said that he wouldn’t run for president–he didn’t. Okay, at least not seriously. Maybe I’m giving him too much credit, but I think if N’Dour wanted to run a successful campaign, he could have. He wouldn’t have launched his campaign with less than two months until the elections and he would have taken care of all of the details; he has the resources he would have used them. Why do it this way? 

To make a point. Before N’Dour joined the race, people expected him come out and endorse one of the many opposition candidates; the national paper even ran the headline: “Who Will Youssou Sing for?” But in deciding to run, N’Dour’s answer was the people. It sounds clichéd and yes, overly romanticized, but consider N’Dour’s career and his entire public persona: Youssou N’Dour is a man of the people.

People trust N’Dour in a way that they do not trust politicians because he’s one of them. He supports grassroots activism, he invests in Senegal, and he’s made his career celebrating and promoting African music at home and abroad. As N’Dour put it: “I do not have two passports and have no possessions outside Senegal. Everything I have gained I have invested here.”

And now that N’Dour has been ejected by the same panel of judges that is bending the Constitution for Wade, his credibility is even stronger. Ultimately, N’Dour’s forced expulsion from the political sphere has reaffirmed his place in the public sphere and has shown how closed off the political structure is from the people of Senegal.

[image via Time]

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