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Popenguine-Ndayane, a small fishing village on Senegal’s Atlantic coast, has been a site of pilgrimage for the country’s Christian minority for over 135 years. Pilgrims, including politicians, come to pray at a site where the Black Madonna is said to have appeared, with some believing miracles happen in this village. The village has become a hotspot for politicians running for office, who arrive with music, freebies, and promises of hope. However, Senegalese voters are not easily swayed by these tactics.

In February, President Macky Sall announced the cancellation of the presidential elections just hours before the campaign was set to begin, citing flaws in the candidate list drawn up by the constitutional council. This move threw Senegal into uncertainty, leading to backlash from citizens who saw it as a constitutional coup to extend Sall’s time in power. The ensuing protests and political maneuvers eventually led to a new election date being set for March 24, allowing campaigning to commence.

The governing party’s candidate, former prime minister Amadou Ba, began canvassing voters with the support of the state apparatus. Despite his defeat in the 2022 parliamentary elections, Ba is President Sall’s chosen candidate and has been portrayed as a man of stability ready to lead the country. Opposition candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye, who was released from prison due to an amnesty bill, has gained popularity as the anti-establishment candidate calling for a political system overhaul. Faye’s campaign has resonated with young people, including those like Julie Sagna, who see him as a break from the past needed to move the country forward.

In Senegal, elections are won in the countryside, away from the capital and flashy campaigns. Traditional village healers believe that the key demographic to sway elections is Senegalese women, who hold the power to tip the outcome. In villages like Popenguine-Ndayane, women discuss a country they feel is no longer their own, as many young men have left for Europe in search of work despite a growing economy. The women of Senegal seek certainty in times of uncertainty, more than the freebies offered by politicians. Like the Black Madonna that pilgrims venerate in Popenguine-Ndayane, Senegal’s women have the power to make miracles happen during elections.

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