World-renowned Senegalese singer Youssou Ndour announced Monday night that he was running for president against incumbent Abdoulaye Wade in February 26 elections.
“I am a candidate,” the country’s most famous export declared on his privately-owned television station after weeks of speculation about his plans.
“I have listened, I have heard, and I am responding favourably,” Ndour said, referring to numerous requests that he throw his hat into the political ring.
“It is a supreme patriotic duty,” he added of the race in which he hopes to use his massive star power to unseat 85-year-old Wade who is seeking a much criticised third term in office.
Ndour, 52, announced at a concert at the end of November that he had put performing on hold and formed his own political movement, Fekke ma ci bolle (‘I am involved’ in Wolof).
“It’s true, I haven’t pursued higher education, but the presidency is a function and not a job. I have proved my competence, commitment, rigour and efficiency time and time again.
“I have studied at the school of the world. Travel teaches as much as books.”
Hailed by the New York Times as “one of the world’s greatest singers”, Ndour has achieved huge international success with his mixture of Senegal’s popular Mbalax music style with samba, hip-hop, jazz and soul.
He was born in October 1959 in Dakar’s populous Medina suburb to a modest family and is an icon in his home country.
Abroad he has collaborated with Peter Gabriel, Sting, Wyclef Jean, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen and many other famous names.
In his declaration on Monday night, Ndour said his campaign would include initiatives for peace in the troubled southern Casamance region, good governance, agricultural and social development projects.
“My life is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration,” he said.
The singer has also been heavily involved in social and political issues.
In 1985 Ndour organised a concert for the release of South Africa’s then-apartheid prisoner Nelson Mandela who went on to become the country’s first black president. He has been involved in scores more benefit concerts.
He owns private media group Future Medias which includes a radio station RFM, a television station TFM and daily newspaper L’Observateur which are often critical towards Wade’s government.
Ndour has emerged as an outspoken critic of Wade, whose bid for a controversial third term in office has opposition and civil society groups fuming, and tensions have led to violent clashes in recent months.
Wade was first elected president in 2000 for a seven-year term, and re-elected in 2007 for five years after a constitutional reform shortened presidential terms.
In 2008 the seven-year term was re-introduced, raising confusion over whether Wade had exhausted his two-term limit. The opposition says yes, he says no, and the constitutional court will rule on the issue in early January.
Some 20 candidates will be taking part in the election.