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Senegal leader’s age becomes campaign issue
Opponents of Abdoulaye Wade’s re-election say he’s older than the 85 he claims to be
KEBEMER, Senegal — The question dogging the president of this nation as he tries to persuade his country to vote for him one last time can be traced to this town enveloped in sand.
It’s here inside a house with a goat tethered outside where President Abdoulaye Wade was born.
The problem is when?
His birth certificate is locked away. And the page stating when he entered primary school has been torn out.
As Mr. Wade tries to persuade voters to give him a third term in Sunday’s election, his age has become a campaign issue.
Officially, Mr. Wade was born on May 29, 1926, making him 85 years old in a nation where most people die around age 59. His critics contend that he may be 90 - and the world’s oldest leader.
They point to the common practice in rural Senegal of reducing children’s ages on official documents so they can stay home longer and help in the fields before starting school.
The issue is so touchy that a longtime resident who knew the president before he was elected began receiving death threats last week after he claimed Mr. Wade was born in 1919.
“His age is a problem. The issue is the uncertainty it causes. Is he capable of managing the nation?” says Cheikh Bamba Dieye, the mayor of Saint Louis, where Mr. Wade’s birth certificate is kept in a locked room.
“The worst-case scenario is not that he dies, but that he remains in office and is incapacitated - a president by default. Someone in office who is exercising his power without actually doing so.”
Guarded birth certificate
Before independence from France 51 years ago, only people born in one of the four administrative centers in the French colony were considered French citizens.
The closest of the four to Kebemer was Saint-Louis, located 45 miles to the north over dusty plains dotted with thorn trees.
In his biography, Mr. Wade says that although his father never attended school, he understood the benefits of French citizenship, so he asked a friend in Saint-Louis to register the birth right after it happened.
The archive where Mr. Wade’s birth certificate is housed is inside a narrow hallway, where men sit in darkness behind moldering binders. Not even the head of the government’s main research institute has been allowed to see it.
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