Street kids and the Islamic Conference

Journalists and delegates are struggling to get their badges for the upcoming Islamic conference in Dakar.

Fingerprints were done, "morality investigations" requested, private villas taken up and luxury yachts anchored to shore, as, despite years of preparations, and hundreds of millions of dollars in Gulf monarchy oil money, hotels are unfinished, some not even started. A few sidewalks have been painted up, but already they are being cracked, by motorists using them as an extra lane.

The president's own son has been in charge of preparations. He barely speaks Wolof. He refuses to say whether he will run in local elections, postponed for whatever reason. He held a little get together in a swanky restaurant that looks like a high-class bordello, with white tatooed hostesses glaring menacingly at anyone who seems not to fit into their decor and creamy plates and Bollywood tummies playing on a large screen in a surreal scene as the president's son wears a black cape and courts the questions of the wolf-like journalists, barking away at his heels.

Nervous? "Do I look nervous", he asks back? "The goal is to turn Senegal into the third biggest African center for conferences. We want our guests to have a nice time."

Some will be staying maximum one week, princes, kings, with their gas-guzzling delegations, two days, maybe.

What about all the vendors whose stalls were demolished to make the streets look cleaner? "Did that have anything to do with the summit? What are you talking about?" Where was he when Dakar erupted into rioting for several days last year?

In this country, where thousands of youths feel they have no other prospect than to walk through deserts or jump at sea on dangerous pirogues hoping to reach Spanish islands; marabouts, or religious leaders, hold enormous sway.

They mediate between politicians. They tell their followers to stop the rioting. They control peanut plantations. They have networks of sunglass sellers across Europe and the Americas.

Within Senegal, they educate a large majority of poor children, taking them from villages or run-down neighborhoods, into streets amid the fumes of cars, asking them to beg, in exchange for learning how to chant a few Koranic verses. Are there other schools? The government barely runs any. Do the elites send their children to these schools?

Is this a battle between UNICEF and their big white vans who rush through villages, and marabouts in robes, who speak in whispers, cast spells, and walk kilometers and kilometers, picking up children to add to their religious tribe of sorts, in an another apocalyptic sign of globalization in Africa, with the forces of neoliberalism and localized Islam at play?

This shows another reality, than the ones the VIP will see. Poo-poohing? Are foreign journalists wrong to focus on the KKK or death rows, and mangled election circuitry when they cover the United States? Probably not. Is there another reality than the one Ive experienced? Most probably, I dont doubt it, but I find the one Ive observed worrisome.





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