POLITICAL CRISIS IN SENEGAL

Senegal’s political stability is truly remarkable, considering that it has maintained its independence for 64 years without experiencing a military coup. Of the 54 states in Africa, only Botswana, South Africa, Cape Verde, Malawi, Namibia, Eritrea, and Mauritius have reached this feat.

The current president, Macky Sall, announced on February 3, 2024, that elections will be postponed from February 25 to December 15, to ensure an inclusive, transparent, and fair election. Throughout the country’s history, the first and only election postponement occurred in 1966.

National Assembly

The postponement announcement caused a stir because it was issued a day before the candidate campaigns started, which added to the suspicions of election tampering amidst the ongoing investigation of the Constitutional Council members. Macky Sall attributed the announcement to disputes over the electoral candidates’ list. The National Assembly cast votes on February 5 to postpone the elections.

Numerous irregularities related to the electoral procedure initiated a series of mass protests around the nation. Before the voting process began, security personnel withdrew opposition MPs and lawmakers from the premises of the legislative building, which led to multiple altercations between security personnel and opposition supporters. Internet services were also interrupted after the declaration of the voting results mainly to suppress the spread of information among opposition groups to prevent mobilization for possible protests.

Mass Unrest and Government’s Response

Irregularities associated with the National Assembly voting process triggered several protests across Senegal on February 5 as citizens took to the streets to register their displeasure with the outcome. Vandalism of property and the burning of tyres along main roads in Dakar, Ziguinchor, Saint Louis, Mbour, and Mbacke were the highlighting factors of these protests. Over 100 protesters were arrested by police while the use of tear gas was deployed to disperse crowds in Dakar. Clashes between security personnel and opposition supporters and observers also occurred outside the legislative building at Place Soweto in Dakar.

Several opposition activists, lawmakers and members of Parliament were arrested on February 6 in anticipation of further protests in the Capital. 3 lawmakers from the opposition coalition Yewwi Askan Wi (Liberate the People) were arrested by security forces. At least 25 journalists were also arrested for reporting on protests in an attempt to allegedly intimidate the media.

To add more pressure on the government, nationwide strikes by civil society groups were also announced on February 8. 13 of Senegal’s 20 presidential candidates also formed a collective group to file an appeal to the Supreme Court for what they described as a “Constitutional Coup”.

Google Earth image highlighting the locations where protests were recorded in Senegal from February 5-17.

Security personnel were deployed to major cities, including Thies in Dakar, Toulba City in Central Senegal, Richard Toll in northern Senegal, and Kolda in the country’s south. Situations however deteriorated when the use of tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets were fired towards large crowds who were burning tires and hurling stones at security forces.

On February 10, students of the Gaston Berger University in Saint-Louis clashed with security forces leaving one dead and several injured. In remembrance of the student a silent march was held on February 13 by the Aar Sunu Election movement (Let’s Protect our Election) along the Jet d’eau roundabout route – Ecole Normale Superieure in Dakar.

Days later, the violent nature of these protests took a turn on February 17 when the Aar Sunu Election (Let’s Protect Our Election) group organized a peaceful protest with authorization from security forces involving several political parties, religious groups and trade unions.

Frequent interruptions of mobile internet were experienced across the country to hinder the dissemination of information and interfere with the organisation of opposition groups and their supporters’ participation in protests.

Geopolitical Implications

In response to heightened tensions in the country, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) urged Senegal’s political leaders to promptly reinstate the country’s electoral timetable in alignment with Senegal’s constitution.

Foreign governments such as the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and France advised their citizens to increase vigilance and anticipate further unrest and road blockages, especially roads leading to the Blaise Diagne International Airport (DSS) in Dakar. Notably on February 9, the U.S. Embassy in Senegal issued a warning alert to all U.S. citizens about protest actions in major areas including Colobane, Fass, Medina, and Liberte 6 in Dakar, as well as Thies, Mbour, and Saint Louis.

Constitutional Council’s Ruling

The Constitutional Council of Senegal, ruled against the postponement of the election on February 15, describing it as unconstitutional. Foreign governments including France and the United States of America have issued statements recognizing the decision of the Constitutional Council and advising all election stakeholders to conduct a timely election in a free and fair manner.

President Sall announced his intention to comply with the ruling of the Constitutional Council and his commitment to holding the presidential election as soon as possible.

Current Situation

On February 22, President Macky Sall announced his intention to step down at the end of his second term, which concludes on April 24, 2024. A two-day political dialogue, which will include civil society groups, political parties and candidates both approved and unapproved by the Constitutional Council, slated to commence, on February 26, aims to assist the government in determining an appropriate election schedule, which will be after the conclusion of his term.

As a gesture of goodwill, several opposition MPs, lawmakers and activists who had been detained were subsequently released. However, the main opposition leader, Ousmane Sonko still remains in prison. Civil society groups, emboldened by the first authorized protest since the election postponement announcement, have organized another protest scheduled for February 24, with the objective of speeding up the decision-making process for the new election date.

Forecast/Outlook

Tensions are expected to ease across Senegal after President Macky Sall accepted the Constitutional Council’s ruling and announced he will step down in the coming months. It is also worth noting that heightened security is expected to persist nationwide in anticipation of unauthorized protests by opposition groups and activists at government facilities and public squares mainly in Dakar and Ziguinchor. In the event protests do occur, clashes between security forces and protesters cannot be ruled out. Interruption of internet services and telecommunication networks may continue across the country.

 

Image Source:  Punch Newspaper

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