DAKAR, Apr 5 – Senegalese superstar Youssou Ndour has been appointed the country’s new tourism and culture minister in President Macky Sall’s cabinet, according to a decree issued on Wednesday night.
The Grammy-award winning singer, a fierce critic of former leader Abdoulaye Wade, hung up his microphone to campaign for Sall and now forms part of a slimmed down government of 25 people appointed by Prime Minister Abdoul Mbaye.
Cutting down a bloated government was one of the campaign promises made by new leader Sall, 50, a former prime minister who took over the reins this week after a crushing poll victory over the unpopular incumbent.
One of Africa’s most recognised artists, Ndour sent shockwaves through the music industry when he announced in January he was giving up performing to run for president amid rising tension over the incumbent’s bid for a third term in office.
However shortly afterwards the country’s constitutional council rejected his candidacy on the grounds that he had failed to provide enough valid signatures to back his application.
The same court ruling validated Wade’s contentious candidacy, sparking deadly riots as anger grew over the 85-year old’s plans to rule for another seven-year term.
Ndour jumped to the forefront of an opposition campaign to unseat him and was often seen at protests addressing the crowd, uncomfortably at first but as weeks went on he took on his new role with more ease.
He would often make an appearance in the chaotic streets as rocks and tear gas flew.
When Macky Sall emerged as the most likely candidate to beat Wade, and 12 failed candidates threw their weight behind him, Ndour too hit the campaign trail for the opposition candidate.
Sall won the election on March 25 with a crushing 66 percent of the vote, and when he entered the presidential palace as the nation’s new leader on Monday Ndour was there as they watched Wade leave power.
Wade surprised the world by conceding defeat just hours after the polls closed and calling his former protege to congratulate him, a move that won him plaudits from around the globe.
“It is a great day for Senegal, a great day for Africa … now we can get to work! I am very happy, very moved. It is democracy which has won,” Ndour said.
The new president’s dream team is much smaller than the 40-odd ministers who served in Wade’s government.
Sall appointed allies in key positions such as home affairs, justice, foreign affairs, communication and education.
Banker Amadou Kane, former head of the Senegalese branch of French bank BNP was named minister of the economy.
Well-known ecologist of Lebanese origin Ali Haidar, who has been heavily involved in the protection of the marine environment, was named minister of ecology.
Some key backers of Sall in the second round of voting were appointed to higher education, fishing and the planning ministry.
In his first address to the nation as president on Tuesday Sall warned that “everything is urgent”.
Sall’s government must combat a series of biting social problems, notably unemployment, high food prices, power cuts and a long strike which has crippled the education sector.
The new president vowed his administration would put the public interest first.
“Power is meant to serve others, not to serve its own interests,” he said, adding his team would “ban favouritism and influence peddling and put the public interest above all other considerations.”
In an earlier interview, with the Senegalese news agency APS, he said he was going to work immediately and believed he could show results “in a reasonable amount of time.”
“We aren’t able to do everything. I haven’t promised to do everything,” he explained, saying he would focus on poverty alleviation and boosting development.