In Senegal, controversy over the "thugs of power"

The communication exercise turned into a fiasco

In Senegal, controversy over the "thugs of power"

The communication exercise turned into a fiasco. Sunday, June 4, several luminaries of the Senegalese national police show up for a press conference as unusual as their faces. After the lights are turned off in the room, commissioner Mamadou Gueye from the police public relations office shows reporters a series of videos from the recent protests.

"He's got a gun that those in law enforcement don't have," he said as he played a video of a man running down the capital's toll road. “This one shoots differently, he’s a professional (…). He's in control of what he's doing," the Commissioner said of another individual in a red T-shirt in the middle of a street in Dakar.

“Their goal is to blame [violence] on the defense and security forces,” Gueye concluded after his presentation on these “infiltrators” who “shoot at the population” during demonstrations. At least twenty-three people were killed in riots following the sentencing of opponent Ousmane Sonko to two years in prison on June 1, according to Amnesty International.

The presentation of the policeman is disputed just a few minutes later on social networks, despite the restriction of the Internet decided by the authorities. From all angles, images of these armed civilians are quickly relayed by Internet users to deny the arguments of the national police. We see men in civilian clothes landing on riot sites in convoys of pick-ups, the majority white. They act, some armed with rifles or handguns, alongside the police and visibly confront the demonstrators.

A controversy already present in March 2021

Thursday, June 8, the Pastef, party of the opponent Ousmane Sonko, replied. At a press conference, the journalists were again treated to the spectacle of a video of several minutes entitled: "The thugs in full complicity with the police forces. "If it's plainclothes law enforcement, then they [authorities] tell us who's shooting." If they are thugs or infiltrated foreigners, they will have to tell us why they are mixed up with the police without them being told anything,” calls out El Malick Ndiaye, the Pastef spokesperson. .

The NGO Amnesty International has confirmed that it has observed the presence of "armed men, dressed in civilian clothes, alongside the police" and asked that the agents deployed in front of the demonstrators display "visible" means of individual identification. . Seydi Gassama, executive director of Amnesty Senegal hopes for investigations into "the role and function" of these people as well as prosecutions for the "violations committed".

This controversy over the possible presence of power thugs had already erupted in March 2021, during the clashes that followed the brief arrest of Ousmane Sonko. The government of Senegal then promised to shed light on the identity of these armed men. At the time, helmeted men were filmed driving in pick-up trucks in different arteries of Dakar, armed mainly with clubs and baseball bats, confronting angry protesters after the detention of Ousmane Sonko.

Today, several videos show similar vehicles and images show their passengers entering the headquarters of the ruling party, the RPA, where young people were seen by journalists touching the money. Some of these vehicles were still parked on Thursday, Le Monde found.

For the Pastef, there is no doubt about the sponsors of the action of the armed men: "It is the ultimate misdeed of the Macky Sall regime which recruits a private militia with impunity", affirms Marie Rose Faye, door - deputy spokesperson for the Pastef. An accusation rejected by the deputy spokesperson for the ruling coalition, questioned on the private channel TFM. "The RPA has not recruited any thugs, any young people for any abuse whatsoever," reacted Abdou Mbow.