In Senegal, Ousmane Sonko's amnesty project is controversial

Peace, reconciliation, national unity

In Senegal, Ousmane Sonko's amnesty project is controversial

Peace, reconciliation, national unity. This is the triptych declaimed like a mantra by President Macky Sall since he brutally suspended the electoral process on February 3, three weeks before the date on which the presidential election was to be held. On Wednesday February 28, the Senegalese head of state went further in the exercise of the great pardon. He had an amnesty bill adopted in the Council of Ministers on the facts relating to the political demonstrations that occurred between 2021 and 2024, during which around sixty people were killed, several of them with live ammunition. A measure which, if voted for by deputies, would allow his main opponent, Ousmane Sonko, to regain freedom after seven months of detention.

“I hope, beyond the legitimate concern for justice and accountability, that amnesty and forgiveness, through their salutary virtues for the nation, will help us overcome these difficult times,” declared the Head of State on Monday , at the opening of the national dialogue, a meeting boycotted by 17 of the 19 candidates vying for the presidential election.

“This will make it possible to pacify the political space, further strengthen our national cohesion and maintain the democratic influence of our country,” added the Head of State in front of an audience of officials from his majority.

Getting the idea of ​​amnesty accepted

The measure, the contours of which remain unclear, must still be adopted in the National Assembly. If the bill is submitted to deputies under an emergency procedure, it could be presented in the coming days. It nevertheless arouses strong reluctance even in the ranks of the majority. “He mentioned it during the council of ministers on February 7, but some ministers harshly disapproved of it. Then he returned to the charge the following week, but he suffered another barrage of barrages,” says those around him.

On Monday, the president ended up imposing his project publicly during the opening of the national dialogue. “Everyone has their own responsibilities, I assume mine. This is the position of the President of the Republic and my government will submit to it,” he said, referring to the future bill. The criticisms arose without delay. At the same platform a little later in the day, his Minister of Labor Samba Sy, member of the Independence and Labor Party (PIT), an ally of the coalition, sharply denounced this project.

“Our party cannot accept that the university was burned while singing, that two young girls were burned in a bus, that water and electricity supply instruments, barracks were attacked of the gendarmerie,” he denounced.

“Samba Sy said out loud what many elected officials think of the majority,” slips a regular at the palace. “For us, the president betrayed what we fought for when he came to power. By postponing the vote, he trampled on democracy. This amnesty law flouts justice. Why not wait until the defendants are tried? Why does he persist in wanting to bring out Ousmane Sonko, whom we fought to protect the Republic? »

“An unbearable denial of justice”

The question torments certain supporters of the president who refute the argument of a necessary "reconciliation", as the fight against the popular pan-Africanist leader has been merciless since March 2021. Tried for rape against an employee of a massage parlor - he finally was convicted of “corruption of youth” in June, Ousmane Sonko has always seen in his accusations a plot hatched by the regime in order to block his path to the 2024 presidential election. His party, Pastef, was also dissolved and several of its executives were imprisoned.

The adoption of the amnesty bill would therefore allow the opponent to leave the Cap Manuel prison where he is incarcerated because he is detained on the grounds of “call to insurrection” and “attack on state security.” The candidate nominated by his movement, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, imprisoned for the same reasons, would also benefit from release. However, this will not allow Mr. Sonko to hope to be able to run for president, because his candidacy had been rejected for another reason, his conviction for defamation against a minister.

As the country goes through one of its most serious political crises, critics of the text are questioning the advisability of such a measure. “Macky Sall and his team are in reality haunted by the prospect of having to answer for their actions, because the people will never forgive,” said Thierno Alassane Sall, opponent and presidential candidate. Arguments also supported by civil society organizations.

“It is an unbearable denial of justice for the sixty dead and their families, civilians and soldiers who have been waiting for three years for the opening of investigations,” regrets Seydi Gassama, executive director of Amnesty International Senegal, who urges deputies to seize the Constitutional Council in the event of a vote. This law is not intended to pacify the country because Ousmane Sonko and Bassirou Diomaye Faye can, like hundreds of detainees released in recent days, benefit from this procedure. The president actually wants to protect members of the security forces, political leaders and thugs who participated in the bloody repressions.

The legislative battle promises to be arduous

“There is no political calculation,” defends a senior executive from Benno Bokk Yakaar (BBY). The president cannot leave power without appeasing the country. If he does not do this, in the event of an alternation, if a witch hunt is launched, we ourselves risk falling into radical opposition. We would enter an incessant cycle of violence. »

The legislative battle promises to be arduous as the majority is divided and only has 80 deputies out of 165. The challenge for the ruling movement is to convince its supporters and beyond that, certain opposition deputies, notably within of the Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS) of Karim Wade. This could be one of the big winners from the postponement of the presidential election. While he had been disqualified by the Constitutional Council for having renounced his dual nationality too late, the members of the national dialogue have just proposed his reinstatement to the contenders for the supreme office.

In the Ousmane Sonko camp, even if the measure is denounced as a “legalization of impunity,” it nevertheless arouses embarrassment. While its deputies voted overwhelmingly against the postponement of the presidential election, they risk being confronted this time with a serious equation: reject a text in the name of their line attached to the denunciation of the political violence of the regime, or support a text which would allow their leader to regain freedom, at the risk of confusing the most radical fringe of their base.