Crisis in Senegal: security forces forcibly disperse a rally in Dakar

During a test day of the balance of power between the power of President Macky Sall, civil society and the opposition, the security forces violently dispersed, on Friday February 9, an attempted rally in Dakar, to oppose to the postponement of the presidential election decreed by the Head of State

Crisis in Senegal: security forces forcibly disperse a rally in Dakar

During a test day of the balance of power between the power of President Macky Sall, civil society and the opposition, the security forces violently dispersed, on Friday February 9, an attempted rally in Dakar, to oppose to the postponement of the presidential election decreed by the Head of State.

Mobile groups seeking to get closer to the vast esplanade of Place de la Nation were kept at bay by police in riot gear who fired tear gas, journalists from Agence France-Presse (AFP) noted. . Several demonstrators responded by throwing stones, while all access to the square was closed.

This mobilization is the first major protest since the postponement of the presidential election initially scheduled for February 25, which opened a serious political crisis in Senegal and plunged the country into a period of uncertainty.

President Sall decreed last Saturday the postponement of the election, just three weeks before the vote, in the midst of a political fight over the candidates retained or rejected for the vote. The National Assembly approved on Monday a postponement until December 15, with the votes of the presidential camp and supporters of a failed candidate and under the protection of the gendarmes. She also voted to maintain Mr. Sall in power until his successor takes office, probably in early 2025. Macky Sall's second term officially expired on April 2.

Religious mobilized and walkout in schools

Friday, at the Masjidounnour mosque in Dakar, for the great Muslim Friday prayer, only a handful of faithful were dressed in white and the national colors, at the call of a new collective of citizen, religious groups and professional organizations who opposes the postponement of the vote.

In his sermon, Imam Ahmed Dame Ndiaye protested against the political situation. “Even the president can make mistakes and in this case it is up to us to tell him the truth,” he said, adding that “no one has the right to watch society being destroyed ". For muezzin Souleymane Ndiaye, President Macky Sall “has backed down and it is a shame for all Senegalese. The word given is sacred.”

“The situation is deplorable, we came to pray and we were gassed, which is intolerable. The Senegalese must be outraged and not only on social networks,” one of the presidential candidates, Thierno Alassane Sall, told AFP.

In the morning, teachers set the tone with walkouts in schools. At the Blaise-Diagne high school in Dakar, hundreds of students left their classes at 10 a.m., like Seynabou Ba, 18, who says he “no longer has hope” for democracy in his country. “It’s not just a problem in education, it’s a general problem,” says Assane Sene, a unionized history and geography teacher there. “It’s just the beginning of a fight. If the government persists, we will be forced to take other actions,” he says.

The Aar Sunu Election (“Let’s Protect Our Election”) collective has also asked Christians to dress in white at Sunday prayers and is planning a demonstration on Tuesday. The collective insisted on its desire to protest peacefully and to maintain its independence. A dozen candidates opposed to the change of calendar, out of the twenty selected by the Constitutional Council, expressed their desire for convergence with civil society.

Appeal filed by the opposition before the Supreme Court

The course of Friday will therefore give the measure of the strength of the protest against the decision, without precedent since independence in 1960, to postpone the presidential election by ten months. It sparked outrage widely shared on social networks. The opposition calls for a “constitutional coup”. The latter suspects a scheme by the outgoing head of state to avoid the defeat of the presidential candidate, or even to keep President Sall at the head of the country for several more years.

A group of several opposition candidates filed an appeal with the Supreme Court in the afternoon. Attempted demonstrations since the announcement of the postponement have been repressed and dozens of people arrested.

Such events are subject to an authorization regime, and there is no indication that a request for this one at Place de la Nation has been submitted. Authorities have commonly banned such protests and prevented them from taking place in recent years. Dozens of people have been killed and hundreds arrested since 2021 during different episodes of protest.

After maintaining doubt for months, Macky Sall repeated on different occasions, and again on Wednesday evening, the commitment made in 2023 not to run again. Faced with one of the most serious political crises in recent decades, he said he wanted to initiate a process of “appeasement and reconciliation”. He ordered the government, and first and foremost the Ministry of Justice, to take measures to give effect to this desire. These instructions were interpreted as potentially affecting the detained persons.