Senegal on a ridge line

Since Thursday, violent demonstrations have erupted in Dakar, the capital, and in several major cities of the country following the proclamation of the verdict of the trial of opponent Ousmane Sonko, sentenced to two years in prison for "corruption of youth"

Senegal on a ridge line

Since Thursday, violent demonstrations have erupted in Dakar, the capital, and in several major cities of the country following the proclamation of the verdict of the trial of opponent Ousmane Sonko, sentenced to two years in prison for "corruption of youth" . Anger, fear, indignation and weariness seem to be the most shared feelings among Senegalese interviewed about this unusual situation which threatens to divide national cohesion.

Two years of legal proceedings, a 471-page file and a verdict, 72 hours of demonstrations and 16 deaths, this is the record of a political and judicial soap opera that has kept an entire country spellbound. The epilogue of a procedure opened in March 2021 following the complaint for rape and death threats of the ex-masseuse, employee of a beauty salon in Dakar, Adji Sarr, against the opponent Ousmane Sonko, president of the African Patriots of Senegal for Ethics, Work and Fraternity (Pastef). The verdict, delivered on Thursday, June 1, 2023, sentences the February 2024 presidential candidate to two years in prison for "youth corruption", thus rendering him ineligible, literally set fire to Dakar and Ziguinchor but also in other cities in the country.

Violent demonstrations, accompanied by scenes of looting and ransacking of state infrastructure, in particular administrative buildings, were noted leading to firm measures by the authorities. The day after the unrest, the university campuses were closed, the regional express train (TER) stopped due to the fire at one of its stations. Dakar has taken on the appearance of a besieged city and several arteries of the capital, strewn with stones, tires and charred garbage still bear the scars of three days of "chaos" as some newspapers headlined.

On the teachers' side, some reluctance could also be felt if the school year is prolonged due to a possible postponement of exams, in particular the tests for the Certificate of Completion of Elementary Studies (CFEE) for entry to college, are already set for June 21. "Through their unions, teachers may not comply with the new dates and negotiate a counterpart with the State, thinking that this delay is the result of a situation for which they are in no way responsible", warns the teacher, who nevertheless hopes for a return to normal.

The consequences could be more serious on the side of higher education because the campuses of the universities of Dakar, Ziguinchor, Saint-Louis, Thiès and Bambey have been closed "until further notice". The students were asked to pack up in order to return to their respective homes following the violent clashes that caused the ransacking of several administrative buildings, restaurants and vehicles, including the student bus from Cesti, the journalism school in Dakar. "We are in the middle of a revision period because we were to start the exams on June 12", informs this student from the Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar (UCAD).

According to him, the State must show its power and apply its authority in all its rigor. “There is a minimum of respect and consideration due to the President of the Republic because he is above all an institution. To all those who make irreverent remarks against Macky Sall, he replies that some people who have not done any glory because they have not done anything for their country so far should refrain from such remarks. Reporting cases of rape perpetrated by certain demonstrators on women found in their workplaces, in particular certain restaurants that remained open, he denounced this physical violence and this desire to ransack stores, supermarkets, rob houses, etc.

According to him, the state was right to stand up to these calls for insurrection. Speaking of the protesters, he said, "They have no restraint and are setting themselves up as heroes. So, there is no question for the authorities to back down because "it has to be hard once and for all in order to end it definitively and be able to move on". While some press releases from the international community call for calm and invite the authorities to find a way out of the crisis, A. Dieng thinks that dialogue is premature. "Our neighbors envied us and respected us and we must not be anything other than what we were: a stable and democratic state", insists the specialist in renewable energies. “You have to protect the average citizen first and foremost,” he adds, and “we can debate afterwards. But, you have to hold on first, ”insists the man.

Many young people engaged in the profession of delivery bear the brunt of the consequences of the tensions recorded because the circulation of mopeds and motorcycles has been prohibited by order of the governor of Dakar. A recurring measure for some time, with each announcement of a rally or demonstration of the opposition because some thugs would use these motorcycles to move around and indulge in their evil designs.

In a capital where monster traffic jams are the daily lot of Dakar residents, because of the work of the Bus rapid transit (BRT) which should improve the transport of populations, these drivers of "two wheels", as they are called, ensure the delivery of thousands of packages and even city dwellers. For Abdou Khaly Mbaye, Tiak Tiak motorcycle driver: “This work is an undeniable source of income for many young people who help their families a lot. We can end the day with 10,000 francs in profit and when there are fewer races, we can end with 5,000 francs in profit. So I can't see motorcycle delivery people participating in demonstrations at the risk of losing their work tool and their livelihood, "says the courier.

He was speaking on Wednesday, May 31, 2023, during a press briefing held by the Association of "Tiak Tiak" deliverers of Senegal, whose president, Alioune Fall, indicates that his structure, which has nearly 563 deliverers, denounces stigmatization of motorcycle drivers. “This shutdown has severely impacted our business and that of several e-commerce businesses, caterers and corporate meal services. I think it is unacceptable to want to index the Tiak Tiak who use their motorcycles to earn a living. I think the state has all the means necessary to secure populations and public property, instead of indexing motorcycle delivery people,” he said.

Despite the shortfall noted in their various sectors of activity, trade unions and employers' organizations have called for calm, serenity and solutions to end the crisis. Most merchants had to, in spite of themselves, lower the curtain to avoid being the target of certain demonstrators. Other voices from the artistic world like Youssou N'Dour, and sports, like the international Sadio Mané, have also called for calm in the country.

This escalation of violence which spread in a few hours was also exacerbated by social networks, analyzes this observer of political life, also on condition of anonymity, who will be called Mamadou. For him, "we must be wary of hasty declarations and have the necessary distance to analyze a society in full mutation where the youth (more than half of the population) seems to be forging a political culture in the light of the publications of pseudo-influencers on social networks. Young people get information on TikTok, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, where speaking out has been freed up by "live" followed and shared by this hyper-connected generation which feeds on these opinions which have become their only source of information.

In addition, while many Senegalese were offended by the suspension of access to social networks, particularly the most popular among young people, to which are added Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, which took place on Thursday evening, others welcome this measure. . A step reinforced by the cut of the mobile connection intervened as of Sunday, decision of which the populations were informed via a press release of the Ministry of Communication, Telecommunications and Digital Economy which "informs that because of the diffusion of hateful messages and subversive in a context of disturbance of public order in certain localities of the national territory, the Internet of mobile data is temporarily suspended during certain time slots". Further, the document, signed by Moussa Bocar Thiam, minister in charge of this department, stipulates that telephone operators "are required to comply with notified requisitions". The latter were quick to inform their users with "apologetic" SMS that it was at the request of the State that the internet was cut.

It is also via a press release that the Association of Publishers and Professionals of the Online Press (APPEL) denounced these restrictions which "deprive the Senegalese of their fundamental right to information". According to her, "the populations have been deprived of their right to fair and plural information to this effect. This cut took place without warning or consultation with Internet players. APPEL is certainly sensitive to this very tense socio-political situation. However, it considers that the public's right to information, guaranteed by the Constitution and international legal instruments ratified by Senegal, is inalienable. The suspension of mobile data results in the de facto suspension or interruption of the provision of information through our sites”.

For Mamadou "they have lost their minds on both sides" because this standoff does not benefit anyone. There will be no winner and everyone will lose. Usually, the demonstrations are well organized with identified leaders, signs held up by the participants and well supervised by the Defense and Security Forces, "said the man. While currently, "we are facing protesters stealing, breaking and looting, ransacking businesses and services such as gas stations, supermarkets, banks, mobile phone shops have been particularly targeted," says the man. An opinion shared by A. Dieng, who reports jewelry stores robbed by protesters, speaking of "sabotage".

The attacks do not spare media houses either. If Walf TV has not been broadcasting since Friday, for having relayed images of the demonstrations, and saw its signal cut by the authorities, other televisions such as 7TV or Youssou N'Dour's press groups have made the object of threats. "With the restriction of social networks, the demonstrations seemed to decrease this weekend", says Mamadou, even if "some Senegalese in the diaspora are calling for civil disobedience and dreaming of a 'Senegalese spring' like spring Arab, which swept away the Tunisian and Egyptian regimes", according to this observer.

This housekeeper, who was returning home after a day's work and who found herself face to face with the "protesters", armed with machetes and bladed weapons, claims for her part to have witnessed scenes of aggression and thefts as they snatched bags and mobile phones from people they met on their way. She only had her salvation thanks to the kindness of a lady who opened the door of her house to her, while the group of young people went on their way.

During a press briefing held on Sunday early evening, Divisional Commissioner Ibrahima Diop, Director of Public Security, informed of the death of 16 people and the arrest of more than 500 people holding edged weapons, firearms fire (automatic pistol, large caliber weapons) and molotov cocktails. Among the young people arrested, many are mostly minors and foreigners, he said, in the presence of other national police officials, including commissioner Serigne Faye, head of the Dakar operational group, the central commissioner of Dakar Cheikh Dramé and Commissioner Mouhamadou Gueye, Director of the Public Relations Office of the Police.

Divisional Commissioner Ibrahima Diop said security forces have "faced violent protesters who do not seek to express opinions, but are engaged in subversive activities". The declaration of the police authorities was made, videos in support, showing armed people, thus confirming the previous declarations of the Minister of the Interior noting the fact that people infiltrated the demonstrators and used their weapons. .

According to the National Police, "the actions of the demonstrators targeted essential state infrastructure such as water and electricity plants, public transport, as well as financial institutions". “The goal of the protesters is to disrupt economic activity and create a climate of terror among the people. The police officer, taken to task by minors during the demonstrations, refused to use his weapon and asked his colleagues to leave him there, underlined the Director of Public Security.

Calling for a return to calm, the Divisional Commissioner Ibrahima Diop invited the populations to report any suspicious act on the toll-free numbers of the Police or the Gendarmerie, and assured the firm will of the Defense and Security Forces to ensure the safety of people and property.

In Touba, a religious city located in the center of the country, the Caliph ordered the end of the demonstrations. "We even had to declare a state of siege," insists A. Dieng, in favor of a firm show of sanction from the state. "To show weakness would be an admission of failure and a sovereign state must show itself strong", underlines the expert in renewable energies. "It's manipulation and some are eager for it to flare up", according to him, "we must strengthen internal security and that of our borders to avoid any conflagration and to make a census of those who have authorizations to carrying weapons and taking them away, doing identity checks", so many measures put forward by the man for a return to normal.

"Sonko has succeeded in enlisting people in politics who normally did not do it" analyzes Mamadou, who continues and tempers: "But he is losing everything because some are leaving him. "Is this the bankruptcy of political elites?" asks this other observer. With a speech inaudible by dint of being heard, repeated, hammered in the face of a population that no longer has faith in its leaders, the leader of Pastef has succeeded in enlisting young people and others, older, who have been disappointed by a regime that no longer meets their aspirations.

Supporters of Ousmane Sonko continue to denounce "the parody of justice" and the plot of which he is the victim following the verdict pronounced Thursday. Under house arrest since Sunday, the leader of the patriots says he is "kidnapped" at home by the security forces and has been deprived of his phones. His last outing on social networks, on the night of Monday to Tuesday, allowed him to appeal to his supporters to "come out massively". Since then, the leader of the Patriots has not made any public appearances or statements.