Ramadan puts Senegal presidential candidates to the testFri, 22 Mar 2024 06:25:45 GMT

Senegal’s fast-tracked presidential campaign period wraps up Friday, having put candidates through the unprecedented endurance test of running for high office during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.For the first time in the Muslim-majority West African nation, presidential hopefuls have had to forego food and drink while traversing the country in an attempt to win over voters.”We’re having a hard time adapting, like everyone else, to the hunger, thirst and scorching heat,” said Idrissa Seck, one of the 17 candidates in Sunday’s election. The 64-year-old opposition politician, who is running in his fourth presidential election, was greeting supporters from his motorcade in the capital Dakar.But the atmosphere was subdued, with some in the crowd visibly exhausted after following the procession for just a few metres.”I’ve been supporting Idrissa Seck since 1988 (but) we’ve never campaigned during Ramadan,” said Anta Nar Fall, a member of the campaign team dressed in orange, the party’s colour. “It’s very hard and you can’t adapt. To be hungry and thirsty as well as running, you have to be athletic to do it,” she added.- ‘Complicated’ -More than 90 percent of Senegal’s  population, and all of the presidential candidates, are Muslim.During the month of Ramadan, one of the five pillars of Islam, Muslims must not eat, drink, smoke, or have sexual relations from dawn until sunset.This is the first time that a Senegalese election campaign has taken place during the holy month.The traditionally stable nation was plunged into one of its worst political crises in decades last month after President Macky Sall postponed the vote initially scheduled for February 25.After a month of uncertainty which sparked deadly unrest, Sall finally set the date of March 24 under pressure from the country’s top constitutional body.The last-minute move dramatically shortened the campaign period to just over two weeks, a week less than the time specified in the electoral code.Candidates were left scrambling to re-adjust their strategies to fit the accelerated timetable.But in the middle of Ramadan, the task was far from easy. “What they’ve done to us isn’t right. Imposing a campaign on us (during Ramadan)…” said 68-year-old hopeful Khalifa Ababacar Sall.”First of all, we don’t even know how to campaign. People wake up late. During the day, they are busy preparing to break their fast.”At night, they are in prayers. And then they have to go to bed early so they can have their ‘xeud’ (last meal before dawn). It’s complicated,” he added.- Heatwave -In the central town of Diourbel, where the governing coalition’s candidate held a rally on Tuesday, people rushed home just after 5 pm to prepare for the end of the fast, an AFP journalist saw.Compounding the hunger, thirst and logistical challenges, presidential candidates have also had to battle soaring temperatures, particularly in the interior.Senegal has experienced several days of heatwave, with temperatures reaching up to 45 degrees Celsius, according to the national meteorological agency.A number of cases of exhaustion were reported on social media during the campaign.In an attempt to alleviate the situation, 31-year-old Momar Assane Diouf and his friends, all supporters of the anti-establishment candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye decided to hand out iftar meals at the end of campaign rallies.Dressed in Senegal football shirts or party colours, the group handed out coffee, millet fritters and flyers summarising their chosen candidate’s manifesto after a rally in a Dakar suburb.”It’s working very well. Distributing the kits allows us to capture people’s attention and talk to them about the (Faye’s) campaign,” he said.