In Senegal, the University of Dakar, symbol of a day of chaos after the conviction of Ousmane Sonko

In the alleys of the University of Dakar, desolation replaces the usual hubbub and tingling

In Senegal, the University of Dakar, symbol of a day of chaos after the conviction of Ousmane Sonko

In the alleys of the University of Dakar, desolation replaces the usual hubbub and tingling. “From university cars to some buildings, everything burned down,” said Sahite Gaye, communications director at Cheikh-Anta-Diop University (UCAD). “Firefighters even came back today to put out a fire at the medical school archives,” he adds. Friday, June 2, the smoke which still escaped from certain charred vehicles testified to the violence of the events of which the largest university of Senegal had been the theater the day before.

Since then, the tension has shifted. Friday, after the prayer, new clashes broke out in certain districts of Dakar such as Dalifort, Grand Yoff and in the suburbs of the capital. But Thursday, it was at the university that the toughest clashes took place, between the police and supporters of the opponent Ousmane Sonko, a political leader particularly popular among young people. The surge of violence has taken hold of Dakar and several major cities of the country after the judges sentenced the most serious rival of the party of the head of state, Macky Sall, in view of the presidential election to two years in prison. for "youth corruption". This sentence should make him ineligible.

The opponent was nevertheless found not guilty of "rape", while Adji Sarr, a former massage parlor employee where he went, accused him of having abused her on several occasions between December 2020 and February 2021. Statements that Ousmane Sonko has always rejected, considering himself the victim of a "plot" fomented by the Head of State to exclude him from the race for the supreme magistracy.

"Our buildings were rocked and burned"

It took only a few hours after the verdict for clashes – which left at least nine people dead, according to authorities – to break out in the country. At university, they were particularly violent. In videos shared on social networks, we see men armed with machetes preventing a crowd of demonstrators from advancing. "Thugs" in the pay of Senegalese power, according to Internet users. "No," says one of the security officers on the "social" campus, where the students live. "It was between students of power and the opposition," he says, rejecting any "infiltration".

The tension spilled over to the "educational" campus, which was generally spared from clashes at the university. CESTI, the journalism school housed in UCAD, paid one of the heaviest prices. "Our buildings were stoned and burned," says its director, Mamadou Ndiaye.

On Friday, small cohorts of students were sneaking out of the university. Some were carrying luggage on their heads that was visibly packed in a hurry. During the night of Thursday to Friday, the announcement of the closure of the social campus because of "ransacking of premises and equipment" took its residents by surprise. Abdou Diouf, a 3rd year literature student, drags his suitcase in search of a means of transport, visibly exhausted by the previous day of riots. "The police were inside the campus, we had to move to other buildings than the ones we live in," he says.

"There was nothing to eat"

A little further on, we see a line of transport vehicles whose touts are trying to stir up the young people. A group of students discuss, luggage at the foot, in front of a bus supposed to convey them to Sandiara, 100 kilometers from Dakar, their town of origin. "We do what we can. We haven't received our scholarships yet, so our parents had to send us money so that we could travel," explains Thiaka Mbengue Diouf, a history student who witnessed a day when "there was no nothing to eat ".

Patience and Rose had "fleed" in the early hours to take refuge in a nearby church. "We stayed there until 10 p.m.," say the students, who returned "to sleep" to the sound of clashes between demonstrators and security forces, which continued late into the night. They did not know until late that they had to leave the premises. Several telephone messaging applications have been restricted since Thursday by the Senegalese authorities.

A woman approaches the group of female students: "Where are you going?" How much are you ? “, she says. She is a volunteer who tries to help struggling students after learning about their situation. A surge of solidarity was organized after the numerous calls for help from students to provide accommodation, bus tickets and meals. "We wanted to bring things to eat but for the moment, they don't even have the head for that," laments one of the volunteers on site.

The closure "until further notice" of UCAD is not to reassure students of a university whose academic calendar is often marked by delays. "Under these conditions, I don't think we can resume even after Tabaski [Muslim holiday scheduled for June 28]", laments Thiaka Mbengue Diouf.