Political Science
Kenneth D Mok

Youth and Political Engagement in Senegal

A Survey of 88 Young People in Dakar

  • Faculty Advisor

    Rachel Riedl

Published On

May 2015

Originally Published

NURJ Online


The purpose of this study is to determine whether the activities of a young, pro-democracy group in Senegal significantly increased youth’s willingness to participate in politics.  Senegalese youth share a history of political distrust and protest that correlate with waves of incumbent rule and anti-incumbent opposition. Most recently in 2011, the Movement of the 23 June (M23) halted President Abdoulaye Wade’s attempts to change the constitution in his favor for the 2012 presidential election. The group, Y’en a marre, emerged at the forefront of the movement, crystalizing youth’s grievances through hip hop music and catalyzing the larger opposition coalition to oust the incumbent. Social movements can affect change by expanding methods of political engagement and increasing political efficacy, the belief that one can produce effects through political action. To determine whether Y’en a marre achieved these aims among youth, this study conducts political opinion surveys of 88 people aged 18 to 30 in six Dakarian villages. The findings provide a political pulse on Senegalese youth post-2011 and enhance social movement and political efficacy literature in Africa.


Senegal, the Francophone nation on the tip of West Africa, is considered one of the most stable democracies in sub-Saharan Africa yet its increasingly young population overwhelmingly distrusts politicians and share a history of political protest that goes back to the 1960s. Most recently in 2011, the Movement of the 23 June or M23 halted President Abdoulaye Wade’s attempts to change the constitution in his favor for the 2012 presidential election. Started by prominent rappers and journalists, a pro-democracy group called Y’en a Marre emerged at the forefront of youth contestation and mobilization, crystallizing their grievances through hip hop music and catalyzing the larger opposition coalition to successfully oust the incumbent. Through grassroots community building and political activism, their national goal was and is to create a “New Type of Senegalese” or NTS, one that is more socially and politically conscious, assumes his or her responsibilities as a citizen, and fights for the well-being of the Senegalese people.

 A lack of youth engagement in the formal political process poses a serious challenge for African countries that fail to provide adequate levels of jobs, education and healthcare for their exponentially growing, urbanized young populations. In Senegal, the youth electorate grew from 2.7 million voters in 2000 to 4.9 million in 2007 while unemployment rates remained at 49%, 60% of whom are under the age of 35 (Bingol, YouthMap). The literature on youth politics in Senegal has focused on how young people have reconfigured spaces outside the formal economic and political systems to solve their own problems and demand a better life (Ralph, Knight, Diouf). Rooted in this history of self-reliance, young Senegalese are consistently active in civil society but distrustful of party politics (YouthMap, DRG).

 Public trust reflects the legitimacy of political institutions and is thus crucial for the consolidation of democracy. Besides surveys administered by Afrobarometer, Senegalese research on young people’s trust in government has been limited (DRG 16). In its most recent report, the Afrobarometer found that public perceptions of political institutions are closely tied to the perceptions of their leaders with regards to corruption and management of the economy. Others echo this phenomenon by arguing that trust levels have historically followed waves of incumbent rule and anti-incumbent protest, largely due to a personalistic and decentralized party system (Resnick). For example, trust levels in President Abdoulaye Wade reached a peak in the 2000 elections when young people fueled his “blue marches” but steeply declined by the time he was voted out of office in 2012 at the urge of youth resistance (Sall 2-3). Related to public trust, another indicator of a healthy democracy is political efficacy, which is the belief that one can produce effects through political action. Internal political efficacy, or self-evaluation, deals with the belief in one’s ability to influence political discourse and political outcomes whereas external political efficacy is the belief that government will respond to one’s demands. Both are critical in order to ensure active, legitimate civil and political societies in Senegal.

Social movement theory offers a useful framework to understand how youth protest movements and groups have impacted Senegalese politics. According to Sydney Tarrow’s cycles of contention model, social movement activity reaches peaks of social and political unrest when interactions between challenges and incumbents intensify but the activity inevitably declines, ending in reform or repression (320). These peaks of conflict are often accompanied by innovations in a country’s “repertoire of contention,” the total set of tools and actions available to a group of citizens for making claims on governments (Tarrow 203-205, Tilly). Instead of transforming the repertoire of contention all at once, they contribute to its evolution through larger cycles of mobilization in which the innovations of collective action that they produce are tested, refined, and integrated into the accepted repertoire. Examples are prevalent in Senegal’s history including the use of neighborhood cleaning campaigns called Set/Setal that originate from the urban riots of 1988, the use of caravans to deliver political messages derived from the “blue marches” of 2000, and weekly YouTube hip-hop videos that narrate the news for young people which come from the emergence of Y’en a marre (Foucher, Diouf).  

 In this study, I seek to measure the effectiveness of the young, pro-democracy group Y’en a marre who helped catalyze the most recent protests in Senegal. During the peak of the 2011 protests, their chants were widely used in demonstrations, they caught the eye of the national media, and they met with top national and international officials. Since then, the group remains active and their regular civic activities are well documented but scholars have yet to measure the tangible effect of their civic innovations (Nelson). In other words, this study attempts to quantify whether the group has succeeded its goal of instilling a sense of citizenship among the masses. Therefore, I pose two questions:

  1. Did the activities of Y’en marre during the 2011 protests affect young people’s political efficacy, the belief that their political actions are meaningful?
  2. Did the activities of Y’en a marre during the 2011 protests contribute to the repertoire of contention, a society’s set of tools to disrupt the political status quo?

Methods and Data

To address both of these questions, I employed a political opinion survey of 88 randomly selected youth (n=88) in the capital city of Dakar from July 23rd to August 11th 2014. I limited my sample to Dakar due to logistical limitations but also because it is the center of political, commercial and cultural life in Senegal. Although scholars do not agree on a uniform parameter for “youth,” I limited the category to the 18 to 30 age bracket based on relevant literature and surveys (YouthMap, Abbink). Under 18, an average Senegalese may be considered dependent on older people and not accepted as an adult while over 30, he or she is more or less expected to be socially independent, have a family and acquire some social status of their own. I used a clustered, stratified, multi-stage, probability sample design to provide a cross-section sample that aims to be representative of all youth aged 18 to 30 in Dakar. First, I selected six out of the 19 districts or communes d’arrondissments in the city, covering multiple socioeconomic and social characteristics. They are Pikine, Giéduawaye, Grand Dakar, Grand Yoff, Médina and SICAP Liberté. Within those districts, I followed a walking and subject selection method similar to that of Afrobarometer, the largest and most reliable surveying data project in Sub-Saharan Africa (see Appendix A for a detailed explanation).

The youth survey comprises 39 multiple-choice questions and several open-ended questions that ask about their political opinions and actions (see Appendix B and C for full English and French versions). Using the results of this survey, I attempt to answer the two questions that this study seeks to answer.

First, I created a linear regression model to see if youth who participated in the group’s activities during the 2011 protests felt more empowered to engage in politics afterwards compared to those who did not. I set a dummy dependent variable to represent whether someone participated in Y’en a marre activities. To qualify, a respondent had to do one of the following actions in 2011: attend at least one demonstration, give money to the group, register young voters, canvass, distribute pamphlets and organize for the group. The explanatory variables represent respondents’ answers to political efficacy questions that generally ask about their opinions of certain political actors, the general political environment and the potential impact of their political actions. For example, one question asks how much they agree with the statement “My vote is important.” The regression model determines whether those who participated in Y’en a marre are more likely to answer “Yes” to the question than those who did not, thereby measuring their belief in political action. The model accounts for six confounding variables that include age, sex, neighborhood, education level, job and partisanship. I use R software to conduct the linear regression of Y’en a marre participation by inputting the following equation.

Call: lm(formula = polinterest ~ age + factor(neighborhood) + sex + education + job + partisan1 + partisan2 + yenparticipatebinary, data = senegal) where polinterest is an independent variable, yenparticipatebinary is the dependent variable, and every other are confounding.

Easier to conduct, the second part of the survey determines whether Y’en a marre had a lasting impact on society’s repertoire of contention by asking respondents what they thought about the group’s message, activities and influence. Questions include whether they believe the group had a significant impact on the elections and whether they consider themselves as “NTS.”


The results of the survey are split into its two parts, youth’s general political efficacy and opinions of Y’en a marre. The first part shows the results of the linear regression of participating in Y’en a marre on various political efficacy measures. Out of the 13 political efficacy questions, six dependent variables produced regression results that were either against the hypothesis or negligible in magnitude. The following table presents the results of the other seven explanatory variables that were significant.

Participating in Y’en a marre makes respondents 33.9% more likely to be interested in politics, 29.6% more likely to trust politicians and 39.0% more likely to participate in party politics. It also means that young people are 0.394 units more certain that those that are elected keep in contact with their people and 0.457 units more certain sure that political parties care about young people’s opinions with one unit meaning the difference between agreement and strong agreement. In this case, one should think of one “unit” as the different between “Strongly Agree” and “Agree” or between “Neither Agree nor Disagree” and “Agree.” The respondents are also 0.125 units more certain that politicians care about what young people think and 38.4% more likely to believe President Macky Sall is a better kind of politicians than ones in the past.

 The following page’s results show what all the respondents thought about Y’en a marre’s impact.

Overall, the majority of the young respondents believe that Y’en a marre have had positive influences on the country both during the 2011 protests and in the years after. Despite these positive impressions, 67% of respondents say that their opinion of Y’en a marre has changed since 2012 and half of them said for the worse.


The regression results from seven out of 13 dependent variables suggest that participating in the Y’en a marre movement may have increased young people’s political efficacy. More specifically, Senegalese youth who attended a demonstration or worked for the group during the 2012 elections are more likely to believe that formal political actors would response to their needs. However, these results are inconclusive because six of the dependent variable coefficients on political efficacy in this study were either negligible or showed counter-trustful results. Potential sources of error include the low sample size, the varying abilities to understand the French survey due to different literacy levels, and the exclusion of non-Wolof speaking citizens.

The results from the second part of the survey show that the group and their perceived effects on the 2012 elections are regarded favorably among Dakarian youth, which aligns with literature detailing Y’en a marre’s activities positively. But without the robustness of a regression model, these results should be considered as a potential snapshot of the population’s feelings towards the group rather than a likely correlation between group participation and political efficacy. A source of error for this part of the study is that people may inherently find it harder to oppose a pro-democracy group due to their universal messages, skewing results positively.  

It is important to note that the applications of this study should be limited to the repertoire of contention in Senegal and nowhere else. Unlike Afrobarometer, the same questions are not asked across different countries so regional generalizations would have a weak foundation based on these survey results alone.

Overall, the results of this study are partially significant and limited in scope. Future methods to expand on this research include the following:

  1. Create a more robust survey that accounts for additional dependent variables like media exposure to Y’en a marre messages, confounding variables like religious participation, and explanatory variables that are more focused on internal efficacy rather than external efficacy measures.
  2. Encourage the Afrobarometer project to include questions about protest activity in the next round of surveys because it holds a privileged position to enhance the field’s knowledge about the psychological impact of social movements on citizenship.
  3. Advise that future academic attempts to measure a protest group’s lingering effects on one’s political efficacy should conduct experiments rather than capture a snapshot of opinions about the group. A treatment stimulus for such an experiment in Senegal would be a political video message under a Y’en a marre label and leader’s voice, the control would be the same video without the Y’en a marre label, and the results would show whether the affiliation of Y’en a marre incites an intent for political action.

Originally from northern NJ, Kenny is a senior majoring in Political Science and Economics. On campus, he has been involved in Associated Student Government, the Asian Pacific American Coalition and the Freshman Urban Pre-Orientation Program. He is passionate about public policy design and implementation on a wide range of domestic issues and has interned for a local Congresswoman and a global executive search company. Nominated for the 2015 Homecoming Court, Kenny enjoys the Northwestern community and sits on the Senior Year Experience Committee. He likes long-distance running and believes everyone should watch Friday Night Lights – the TV show, not the movie.


Afrobarometer Data, Senegal, Round 4-6, 2008-2014, available at http://www.afrobarometer.org.

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