World music icon Youssou N'Dour is adding his star power to West Africa's political scene with his announcement that he will challenge Senegal President Abdoulaye Wade in Senegal's presidential election on February 26.
N'Dour, 52, announced Monday that he will run against Wade, 85, who has been in power for 11 years and whose plans to seek a third term have sparked violent protests, according to the Guardian.
N'Dour made the announcement on his private radio and TV stations, according to AP. He joins some 20 other candidates already running against Wade.
"For a very long time, many Senegalese of different backgrounds have called for my candidacy for the presidency next February," N'Dour said. "I've listened, I've heard and I am responding favorably to their request. I am a candidate. It's a supreme patriotic duty, the best I can give of myself. I am the alternative to the current leadership in place in the country."
N'Dour's announcement was expected in Senegal, after N'Dour said in November that he was cancelling all music performances to concentrate on politics.
Senegal is seen as one of the most democratic and stable countries in West Africa — it is the only country in the region never to have experienced a military coup, according to the BBC.
The Grammy-winning N'Dour sells out concert venues worldwide and is Senegal's most famous cultural export, but it is not clear if he will win over Senegalese voters.
N'Dour's music, drawing inspiration for Senegalese traditional music, called Mbalax, has focused on social issues and he is known for urging better governance. He has also used his music to campaign for better health, using his lyrics to urge people to use mosquito bednets against malaria, for instance.
In Senegal N'Dour is known for his scathing critique of the country's ruling party, reported CNN. He owns a hugely popular private radio station that holds regular debates featuring government critics.
And N'Dour also has a newspaper that routinely highlights corruption allegations involving the country's ruling elite, including the president's family.
Residents of Dakar, Senegal's capital, doubted that the musician would fare well at the polls — or in office.
"It's good enough that he makes good music," said Abdou Ngom, 26. "Politics is made of treason and low blows. I'm sure that real politicians will not help him."
But retiree Moussa Diop, 70, said he admired the musician.
"N'Dour is a good example of courage. Because he shows that it's possible to start with nothing and to succeed," Diop said.
But political analyst Cheikh Yerim Seck said Ndour is taking a risk by running.
"He risks first of all the credibility of his media holdings," he said, adding that Ndour's newspaper, radio station and TV station could be seen as complicit in his bid.
Wade's plans to run, as well as frequent power cuts and the spiraling cost of living, sparked violent protests last year in what has historically been one of West Africa's most stable democracies.
Once a symbol of the opposition, Wade became president in a landmark election hailed for being one of the first peaceful transfers of power on the continent.
He set off a wave of criticism, though, when he announced he planned to run for a third term, using a loophole in the electoral law to circumvent the two-term maximum set out in the constitution.
Massive street protests hit Senegal's capital last year following a proposed constitutional change that would have paved the way for Wade's son to succeed him. Wade later agreed to cancel it, but the unrest marked the biggest challenge to his 11-year rule.
N'Dour is renowned around the world for his fusion of traditional Senegalese music with salsa, jazz and hip-hop.
His 1994 duet with Neneh Cherry, "Seven Seconds," was a worldwide hit and won a Grammy nomination. In 2011, N'Dour was awarded an honorary doctoral degree in music from Yale University.