Political crisis shakes Senegal’s image of stability in a volatile region


As Senegal president Macky Sall arrived in New York for this week’s UN gathering, pro- and anti-Sall protesters confronted off close to the nation’s UN mission, within the newest signal of the political disaster gripping the west African nation.

A starvation strike by the nation’s opposition chief, lethal protests forward of February’s bitterly contested presidential election and a wave of coups in neighbouring states have created a flamable ambiance in a rustic historically seen as certainly one of west Africa’s most steady democracies and a western ally in an more and more unstable area.

“The political turmoil has put Senegal’s establishments and democracy to the take a look at,” mentioned Ikemesit Effiong, head of analysis in danger advisory agency SBM. “Set inside the backdrop of regional democratic regression, heavy handedness from Sall’s authorities might set off the ghosts of a extra unsure previous,” he mentioned, referring to the interval after independence in 1960 by to the Nineties when Senegal was successfully a one-party state.

Senegal has been in turmoil since Sall’s allies final 12 months floated the concept of one other 5 years as president, in breach of the two-term constitutional restrict. This crystallised issues among the many 61-year-old chief’s critics of a drift in direction of authoritarianism, sparking the unrest that has unsettled the nation ever since.

The protest motion has been led by opposition chief Ousmane Sonko, a one-time tax inspector who constructed a repute for preventing graft after uncovering alleged widespread tax avoidance by the Senegalese elite, for which he misplaced his job. These accused included Aliou Sall, the president’s brother. 

Senegal’s president Macky Sall
Senegal’s president Macky Sall declined to contest a 3rd time period © AFP/Getty Photos

But Sonko’s political profession has been dogged by a rape accusation that supporters say was politically motivated. Sonko was in June acquitted on the cost, however a conviction for “corrupting the youth” led to a two-year jail sentence that has positioned his participation within the election doubtful.

Sonko was later charged with additional offences, together with fomenting rebel, undermining state safety and creating political unrest. He then started a now-ended starvation strike that led to a interval of intensive care at a hospital within the capital Dakar.

Yaya Ague, an insurance coverage dealer taking a break in Dakar’s Independence Sq., mentioned he was open to voting for Sonko however had issues over the 49-year-old’s rhetoric. “Sonko may be violent together with his speech,” he mentioned.

Sall finally declined to contest a 3rd time period. However he stays a spotlight of a lot of the general public anger and lately named his prime minister Amadou Ba because the ruling coalition’s presidential candidate.

A woman passes a looted and burnt-out supermarket in Dakar
A girl passes a looted and burnt-out grocery store in Dakar following violent protests sparked by the arrest of opposition chief Ousmane Sonko © John Wessels/AFP/ Getty Photos

Marie Gane, 52, one of many anti-Sall protesters in New York, mentioned she wished “to point out our president . . . we’re bored with being in poverty”, including: “We wish our nation again.”

However Alima Keita, a Sall supporter, praised him for main the event of Senegal, the place the economic system has grown a 5 per cent on common yearly since he grew to become president in 2012. “We wish somebody who works for the nation so we’re right here to assist him,” mentioned the 34-year-old.

Senegal’s increase has been fuelled by a nascent oil and fuel trade that has helped to fund funding in infrastructure comparable to new roads and railways. The IMF lately named Senegal as certainly one of Africa’s strongest- rising economies and international funding rose 21 per cent to $2.2bn in 2021, in response to the latest information from the UN commerce company.

But lots of the younger Senegalese who make up Sonko’s political base complain of being left behind in a rustic the place youth unemployment is shut to twenty per cent. The influence of local weather change on fishing and farming, conventional sources of labor for younger folks, has exacerbated the issue.

The disillusionment has satisfied many younger Senegalese to embark on perilous journeys to Europe in the hunt for a greater life. Greater than 60 folks died final month when a ship that set sail from Senegal capsized off Cape Verde.

Opposition leader Ousmane Sonko waves to his supporters in Ziguinchor, Senegal
Opposition chief Ousmane Sonko has led the protest motion in Senegal © AFP/Getty Photos

Different points that have an effect on the broader continent are additionally at play in Senegal, observers say. Eight profitable coups in west and central Africa in simply three years have unsettled democracies and autocracies alike and raised questions over which nation could be subsequent.

François Conradie, analyst on the Oxford Economics Africa consultancy, mentioned the anti-French sentiment sweeping former French colonies additionally had the potential to reshape Senegalese politics.

“Since independence [from France], the governments of Senegal have been pleasant to French industrial pursuits,” he defined. “Now you’ve gotten Sonko, a tough leftist who has promised to alter the system and make it a fairer deal for the Senegalese employee. The sensation of opposition to exploitation by French enterprise could be very related.”

He famous that Sonko was a powerful supporter of Mali’s coup chief Assimi Goïta, who has burnished his opposition to France since seizing energy in 2021.

It stays unclear whether or not Sonko might be allowed to contest the presidential election, with Senegal’s justice minister suggesting that his latest conviction eradicated him from the race.

Mucahid Durmaz, senior analyst in danger intelligence firm Verisk Maplecroft, mentioned banning him would solely widen the fissures in Senegalese society, “deepen public distrust in state establishments, particularly the judiciary” and lift recent questions in regards to the credibility of the elections.

Sonko is just not the primary of Sall’s rivals to be blocked from elections resulting from authorized difficulties. Khalifa Sall, a well-liked mayor of Dakar, was unable to contest the 2019 ballot after being convicted of fraud and corruption in a trial that human rights group Amnesty Worldwide condemned as unfair.

“The Sonko case has raised suspicion that the authorized circumstances towards an extended line of distinguished rivals to Sall are a part of a witch hunt towards opposition figures,” Durmaz mentioned.

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