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Youssou N'Dour Sets Sights On Senegal's Presidency
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Youssou N'Dour Sets Sights On Senegal's Presidency



What do Michel Martelly, Joseph Estrada and, closer to home, Ronald Reagan have in common? All three were performers who became presidents of their respective countries - Haiti, Philippines and, of course, the U.S. Now, Senegal's singing sensation Youssou N'Dour wants to follow suit. He's announced his intention to throw his hat in the ring. N'Dour is challenging Senegal's veteran leader and other candidates in the presidential election next month. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton filed this report.


YOUSSOU N'DOUR: (Singing in foreign language)

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Youssou N'Dour shot to international stardom in 1994 with this hit, "7 Seconds," sung with Neneh Cherry. The Senegalese mbalax musician has gone on to win a Grammy and become one of Africa's most influential and popular singers.


N'DOUR: (Singing) Seven seconds away, just as long as I stay. I'll be waiting.

QUIST-ARCTON: The 52-year-old, known simply as Youssou, grew up poor in Senegal's capital, Dakar. Today, he has his own radio station and television channel in Senegal, owns a national newspaper and runs a business empire. He also served as a U.N. goodwill ambassador, espousing noble causes like fighting malaria. And now, Youssou N'Dour says he's ready to become Senegal's new president, and he anticipates victory in the election due February 26th.


N'DOUR: I'm going to win this election in the first round, definitely. No question. I'm the most credible, most popular. And what I say is coming from the people.

QUIST-ARCTON: Youssou N'Dour told the BBC he's confident of both local and international support.


N'DOUR: I believe if I do here in Senegal, good governance, freedom, and a lot of things the international community are waiting for, they're going to support me for my program. I think the world have to support new model. I want to change Senegal, then change Africa.

QUIST-ARCTON: But will his undeniable popularity and street cred as a singer in Senegal necessarily translate into votes for Youssou as president? He's never held elective office, and questions are being raised over whether, without much formal education - he dropped out of school at age 13 - he has the political smarts to lead Senegal.

The West African nation proudly flaunted its democratic credentials when other countries in the region were battling coups, rebellions and civil wars. Senegalese opposition politician Abdoulaye Bathily.

ABDOULAYE BATHILY: You know, the question is whether an artist can be considered as somebody fit for leadership. This is the first time this kind of thing happened in Senegal.

QUIST-ARCTON: There's bad blood between Senegal's opposition and the octogenarian president, Abdoulaye Wade, who's seeking a third term in office. His critics accuse Wade of political nepotism and trying to cling to power. Youssou N'Dour used to be close to the president, but has become one of his most outspoken critics. He, and many others, says it's time for Wade to go.


N'DOUR: Abdoulaye Wade doesn't have the right to go to the election. Our constitution say no. I think also, you know, even I have great respect for him, he's too old. He's too old.


N'DOUR: (Singing in foreign language)

QUIST-ARCTON: Youssou N'Dour is already chanting the mantra of the politician, making campaign promises to provide food, electricity, health and education for all in Senegal.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News.


N'DOUR: (Singing in foreign language)


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