Senegal candidate Anta Babacar Ngom runs fast-track campaignWed, 13 Mar 2024 07:20:52 GMT

A cacophony of horns and cheers erupted as the only woman standing in Senegal’s presidential election emerged from the sunroof of her SUV in the outskirts of the capital Dakar.Anta Babacar Ngom was on her third day of the campaign trail and, like the other 18 candidates in the race, she has less than two weeks to win over voters.”Call me the women’s candidate, call me the woman candidate, I fully embrace it. But I am the candidate of all Senegalese,” Ngom told AFP.The normal 21-day campaign period has been cut short by a week after a last-minute change to the electoral calendar. President Macky Sall finally set the election date of March 24 following weeks of turmoil triggered by his postponement of the vote originally planned for February.The campaign period started on Saturday and ends at midnight on March 22, leaving candidates scrambling to readjust their strategies to fit the accelerated timetable.”It’s extremely difficult,” said Ngom, a political newcomer and opposition candidate. “It requires a certain ingenuity. You have to be innovative”.The 40-year-old businesswoman runs Senegal’s largest poultry company, which was founded by her father.Her ambition is to break down barriers in Senegal’s conservative society to become the country’s first woman president.- Restructure, reform -“We have to ask ourselves why women don’t get involved enough in politics,” Ngom said. “Perhaps because they have long been led to believe that a woman cannot be president of the Republic of Senegal. I don’t believe that,” she added.Women hold 44 percent of the seats in Senegal’s parliament, a record in West Africa, and Ngom is not the first woman to run for president. But patriarchal attitudes and laws remain deeply rooted in a society strongly attached to traditional Islamic values. Matching the dusk sky in pale blue, Ngom smiled as she raised her fist to the dozens of her gathered supporters.Residents craned their necks out of windows and from balconies to watch the candidate’s procession pass by.Ngom’s programme for the presidency involves re-establishing the rule of law and democracy, restructuring the economy by supporting the private sector, protecting the environment and providing free healthcare for the most vulnerable.She has also said she would reform the education system to provide classes in local languages, rather than just French, as well as putting an emphasis on foreign languages from a young age. Ngom will from Wednesday visit all Senegal’s regional capitals.Her team are also focusing efforts on spreading her message digitally through social media, said campaign strategy manager Elimane Malick Badji.At a busy Dakar printing works, dozens of employees from graphics to sewing departments were frantically preparing the candidate’s campaign materials. The company had to deliver more than 30,000 posters and 20,000 T-shirts adorned with Ngom’s face by the following day. – ‘Stay here all night’ -“I hope you’ve made arrangements to meet the deadlines,” the company’s managing director Rokhaya Ngom Ndiaye told the screen-printing supervisor. “We’re going to redouble our efforts, work longer hours, hire freelancers, to be able to meet this demand. If we have to stay here all night, we’ll stay here all night,” Ndiaye said.Production ground to a halt with the delay to the presidential poll.While the new date was greeted with relief, the challenge now is to deliver on schedule.”We’re in the process of reviewing all our strategies and communication materials, and renegotiating with our service providers in a weak position because they know we have no choice,” said another candidate, Boubacar Camara.”We have to readjust and pick up the pace,” said Dethie Fall, another hopeful in the race.Fall also didn’t rule out a new twist in the saga surrounding the electoral calendar. Candidates must also contend with campaigning during the fasting month of Ramadan in Muslim-majority Senegal.