In Zinguinchor, Ousmane Sonko, the child of the country present everywhere despite his absence

The loudspeakers installed by the team of the African Patriots of Senegal for Work, Ethics and Fraternity (Pastef) continuously spit out songs in praise of Ousmane Sonko, in the streets of Lyndiane, a popular district of Ziguinchor

In Zinguinchor, Ousmane Sonko, the child of the country present everywhere despite his absence

The loudspeakers installed by the team of the African Patriots of Senegal for Work, Ethics and Fraternity (Pastef) continuously spit out songs in praise of Ousmane Sonko, in the streets of Lyndiane, a popular district of Ziguinchor. The incarcerated opponent, subject to several legal proceedings, will undoubtedly not be able to compete in the presidential election in February 2024. But, in the city which elected him mayor in 2022, his supporters are not giving up.

Posters on the walls, speeches broadcast over and over, party bracelets on the wrists of many city dwellers... In Ziguinchor, his stronghold in the south of Senegal, Ousmane Sonko may be physically absent, but the local child occupies as much space as minds . Neither the accusation of rape brought by a former employee of a massage parlor in Dakar, nor the charges brought against him after the demonstrations which took place between March 2021 and June 2023, in particular for calling for insurrection, undermined its popularity.

After having long refused to consider an alternative to Ousmane Sonko, Pastef, dissolved in July by the authorities, had to resolve to appoint, on November 19, another champion: Bassirou Diomaye Faye, the number two in the group. It is to collect part of the 45,000 sponsorships necessary for his candidacy that members of the local youth section of the party struggle in front of a grocery store in Lyndiane, transformed for one evening into a rallying center.

“I wanted it more than anything.”

Pressed for time – the sponsorship campaign ends on December 26 – Bassirou Coly, deputy mayor in charge of youth, organizes impromptu rallies almost every evening in the neighborhoods of Ziguinchor. “The local cells do most of the work, on our side we try to catch those who escape their rounds,” he explains. Potential voters like this elderly passerby, proud to have signed the sponsorship form. “I wanted it more than anything,” he exclaims, all smiles.

“Before the appointment of Bassirou Diomaye Faye, the campaign had not really started in Ziguinchor,” notes Cheikh Cissé, political columnist for GMS, a local press group. And, if Ousmane Sonko's supporters are mobilizing, it is "only in the hope that it is a strategy so that Bassirou is elected and holds new elections so that power then returns to Sonko,” according to the political analyst.

For a few hours on November 17, the city of Casamance believed that its mayor would finally be able to run for the supreme office. That day, the Supreme Court – which acts as the Court of Cassation in Senegal – had to rule on the validity of a judgment rendered by a court in Ziguinchor requesting the re-registration of Ousmane Sonko on the electoral lists. But the enthusiasm that gripped the supporters of the Pastef leader was quickly dampened: the highest court in the country finally followed the appeal of the state lawyers and sent the case back to be retried before a court in the capital.

The Supreme Court's decision caused clashes in the city won by the opponent. Traces of burned tires are still visible on certain arteries. But the protest movement did not reach the level of violence observed in June after the sentencing of Ousmane Sonko to two years in prison for “corruption of youth” and then in August after his incarceration. The clashes which took place during the summer with the police in Ziguinchor left a total of 8 dead according to information from Monde Afrique and several injured during these periods and still leave painful memories.

Sentiment d'abandon

Like many residents of the city, Adama Kebe, a young unemployed aquaculturist living in the Grand Yoff district, is convinced that Ziguinchor is paying for having "resisted more [against the power of Macky Sall] than in other regions" in what he considers like the injustice done to Ousmane Sonko. Casamance, separated from northern Senegal by the Gambia, has suffered for decades from its isolation and the conflict between the central government and the separatists of the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC). But the tensions that have emerged since June have further increased this feeling of abandonment.

“The economy is completely blocked,” laments Adama, referring to the State’s closure of the maritime link between Dakar and the capital of Casamance since June 2, at the height of the riots in the country. "The State has no compassion for young people here, it does not create factories to provide work, but what's more, it prevents our parents from transporting their goods to have enough to live on," complains the young man who provided his sponsorship to the Pastef candidate.

This feeling of “collective punishment” inflicted by the authorities risks uniting the Ziguinchorois a little more behind Ousmane Sonko, believes analyst Cheikh Cissé. Although calm has returned to Ziguinchor, anger continues to well up. On November 24, a caravan of young supporters of Ousmane Sonko was intercepted on the way out of the city by the gendarmerie. Several of them were briefly arrested. Five days later, a screening of Ousmane Sonko's speeches in the street was prevented by the police.

Bassirou Coly, the incarcerated mayor's youth deputy, assures us: Ousmane Sonko continues to administer his commune from prison. “He had planned everything and delegated several signatures upon his election so as not to slow down the functioning of the town hall. (…) We always need his authorization,” before signing a contract, specifies the municipal elected official who assures that the choice of Bassirou Diomaye Faye has in no way affected the mobilization of Pastef in Ziguinchor: “We have already exceeded by far the 20,000 sponsorships collected for Ousmane Sonko during the 2019 presidential election.”