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Senegal Votes; Darfur and Chad Simmer


This morning, two views of Africa. In West Africa, the people of Senegal are voting for their new president today. The country has a reputation for being one of the continent's more stable and functioning democracies. But in the turbulent Sahara Desert region, Chad is a different story.

The brutal conflict in neighboring Darfur has spilled over the border from Sudan into Chad. And attacks by armed factions on civilians and relief organizations near the border have intensified over the past few weeks. Hundreds of people are reported to have been killed and ten of thousands more displaced from their homes.

Joining us to talk about these contrasts in Africa is NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton. She's in the Senegalese capital, Dakar.

Ofeibea, Senegal is voting for the new leader today? Tell us a little bit about what the voters' main concerns are?

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Well, you're catching me at the polling station where, as we speak, waiting for the president to come and vote. Senegal is a stable democracy. But it's a very poor country. It exports peanuts. It has some tourism, a little fish, a lot of charm, and very little else.

President Abdoulaye Wade has been in power now for seven years. He came in after 40 years of the socialist government here in Senegal. He said he was going to bring progress, change, development and especially jobs. His opponents say he has failed, that his eye has been on the bigger picture, looking abroad and not doing the things that Senegalese need: bringing water, bringing electricity, and especially employment for the youth.

HANSEN: You talk about Senegal being poor, but the impression is the country works. Does it?

QUIST-ARCTON: It does. Especially when you compare it with other countries in West Africa - Liberia, Sierra Leone, both emerging from a civil war; Guinea, its neighbor, in conflict as we speak. Senegal has been a model democracy. But there's the thousands of young men taking to the high seas, they say in search of a better life and better jobs abroad, many of them dying at sea. and that is the international picture that Senegal has shown over recent months. So the opposition are saying these are the issues he should have dealt with. He has failed in that, and it's time for him to go. But comparatively, yes, Senegal does work.

HANSEN: And turn our attention now to Eastern Chad. Explain for us what's been happening there recently, because some aid groups have been comparing the level of violence there to that of Darfur.

QUIST-ARCTON: Now, when you talk about Chad, you've got to talk about the region - Chad, Sudan across the border where Darfur is located, and the Central African Republic. In this area of Africa, you have three countries which have concurrent rebellions: rebels trying to overthrow the government in Sudan, rebels trying to overthrow President Idriss Deby's government in Chad, and rebels across the border in the Central African Republic also trying to topple the government there. So it is a very turbulent region.

But Darfur is of course the focus of attention in the region. You have had this conflict now for going on four years. More than 200,000 people killed, more than two million displaced. And that has spilled over Darfur's borders into Chad. Now, it's Chadian civilians, who are facing these sorts of attacks by Janjaweed militia, these are Sudanese pro-government militia, but also armed Chadian factions who are attacking civilians. They're being displaced in their tens of thousands from their homes and people are being killed and wounded.

HANSEN: What would be the obstacles to sending peacekeepers to Chad? The U.N. Security Council is considering a peacekeeping force. And what about talks between Sudan and Chad to end this violence?

QUIST-ARCTON: And there are sporadic talks between Sudan and Chad. And each country accuses the other of supporting the others rebel. Chad in principle agrees to U.N. peacekeeping monitors at the border, Central African Republic as well. But it is Sudan, which has been really opposed to U.N. peacekeepers in Darfur, although the Sudanese President Omar Hasan Ahmad al-Bashir has sort of said he agrees to what he called a hybrid force, U.N. peacekeepers and African Union peacekeepers; that hasn't happened.

The situation continues to deteriorate. More people are being attacked. So we'll have to see what can be deployed when, and whether it will be able to keep the peace. But of course there's no peace to keep at the moment.

HANSEN: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton. She's speaking with us from Dakar, Senegal, where presidential elections are going on today.

Ofeibea, thank you very much.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Liane Hansen
Liane Hansen has been the host of NPR's award-winning Weekend Edition Sunday for 20 years. She brings to her position an extensive background in broadcast journalism, including work as a radio producer, reporter, and on-air host at both the local and national level. The program has covered such breaking news stories as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the capture of Saddam Hussein, the deaths of Princess Diana and John F. Kennedy, Jr., and the Columbia shuttle tragedy. In 2004, Liane was granted an exclusive interview with former weapons inspector David Kay prior to his report on the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The show also won the James Beard award for best radio program on food for a report on SPAM.
Ofeibea Quist-Arcton
Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is an award-winning broadcaster from Ghana and is NPR's Africa Correspondent. She describes herself as a "jobbing journalist"—who's often on the hoof, reporting from somewhere.