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At NABJ, questions arise about Senegalese president

SENEGAL protest 4_edited-2.jpgLast week, the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) invited Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade to speak about global climate change at its annual Unity Convention in Chicago, dubbed "the world's largest gathering of journalists of color."

NABJ's description of Wade as "a leading spokesperson for democracy and development" hardly conceals his poor press freedom record since taking office in 2000. Wade, the octogenarian leader of Senegal who endured decades of repression as an opposition leader and an ally of the press, has since presided over more suppression of independent media than his predecessors.

Ahead of Wade's arrival, I had consulted with CPJ's Africa program coordinator, Tom Rhodes, about alerting the NABJ to CPJ's recent protest letters to Wade. We had focused on press freedom issues in the country, such as criminal libel and impunity for a spate of threats and physical attacks against Senegalese journalists. Thanks to the help of our intern Pedro Araujo, we were able to make contact with most of the NABJ members who took part in the Senegal trip.

On July 17, I received a voicemail from Barbara Ciara. She confirmed receiving CPJ's concerns and pledged to pass on the information to her board members. The next day, CPJ received a call from NABJ board member Tonju Francois requesting brief background notes about press freedom issues in Senegal to raise with Wade.

On July 22, NABJ's April Yee contacted me with questions about Wade's record on press freedom and reports of planned protests by Senegalese journalists in Chicago.

When Wade's plane finally landed, his press freedom record had preceded him, made bare by media buzz and planned protests. While in the company of American journalists, the president could not restrain his contempt for their Senegalese colleagues. Incidentally, NABJ also reported that a security officer from Wade's Senegalese Democratic Party punched a protester who interrupted the president's speech on Friday.

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