By: Mark Fitzgerald
Violence broke out at Unity ’08 Friday between supporters and opponents of Senegal President Abdoulaye Wade just before he was to speak to the convention of minority journalists in Chicago.
The violence, which flared just briefly but drew dozens of Chicago police squad cars to the convention McCormick Place site, appeared to have been touched off by supporters of Wade angry at a protester who was being interviewed by this reporter.
“All lies, all lies!” a Wade supporter who did not give his name shouted to this reporter and Bolly Ba, who said he was a Senegalese-American now living in Washington, D.C. Several men and a few women dressed in pastel native garb set upon Ba. About two dozen people tussled trying to rip protest signs and Senegalese flags from each other.
Dozens of Chicago police squad cars arrived and the groups were quickly separated and moved in different directions.
Sen. Barack Obama is to address the meeting on Sunday.
Wade was a controversial choice as a headline speaker at the joint conventions of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Asian American Journalists Association, and Native American Journalism Association. Lauded by many in the West for speaking on human rights issues, Senegalese political opponents and international free press groups such as the Committee to Protect Journalists say in his seven-year reign he has muzzled and intimidated the press.
“Beating up journalists, locking up journalists — that is his game,” a Wade protester Joe Sall said. “When he’s home he acts like a real despot. When he’s in the West, he acts like he’s a democrat, talking about human rights.”
Wade was cheered lustily and frequently at the Unity opening ceremony Wednesday night by some 50 supporters, many wearing T-shirts and baseball caps reading “Wade in 2012.”
More than 100 Wade supporters showed up at McCormick place Friday morning. Ba, a member of U.S.-based group New African Visions, alleged the Senegalese government paid to bring the supporters to Chicago. “All these people you see here are paid,” said Ba, adding that he and dozen other protesters had come at their own expense to protest Wade and would follow him to D.C. for a speech he is scheduled to give Saturday. One of the leaders of the pro-Wade group who gave his name only as Abdul denied that government funds were involved in getting to Chicago.
NABJ President Barbara Ciara, in comments to the student-produced convention daily Unity News, defended the invitation to Wade saying the group was interested in hearing from many different view points. Ciara led a recent NABJ fact-finding mission to Senegal.