Senegal: the government warns of a risk of a coup, the opposition denounces “blackmail”

It is a macabre count that invariably increases with each anti-government demonstration in Senegal

Senegal: the government warns of a risk of a coup, the opposition denounces “blackmail”

It is a macabre count that invariably increases with each anti-government demonstration in Senegal. In Saint-Louis, Ziguinchor and Dakar, three young demonstrators have died since Friday February 9 in the wake of protests against the postponement of the presidential election. These deaths add to the heavy toll of victims of political unrest violently repressed since March 2021. In three years, around sixty people have been killed during clashes with security forces, including around ten by bullets.

In this tense climate, the week ahead promises to be high risk. The opposition and civil society are calling for a march on Tuesday February 13 for the reestablishment of the electoral calendar brutally interrupted by the president three weeks before the election and ratified by a law passed with forceps. It is also in the coming days that the Constitutional Council, contacted by around ten candidates, must rule on the legality of the postponement. While awaiting the decision of the institution – two judges of which are accused in a supposed case of corruption having justified the postponement of the election – the country is plunged into uncertainty.

Contested from within and criticized from without, the Senegalese government, although the decision-maker in the sudden end to the electoral process, seeks to give itself the role of peacemaker in the crisis. Saturday February 10, in an interview with the American press agency AP, President Macky Sall urged his opponents to accept national dialogue, at the risk, he warned, of destabilizing the country.

“If political actors are unable to agree on the essentials, other organized forces will do it for them. And there, they will lose the country, he warned. We must contest, but not exceed the limits that allow us to maintain the democratic trajectory. Because if we are no longer in democracy, we are in something else. »

“Coup blackmail”

After the “occult forces” held responsible for the riots of June 2023 which caused around twenty deaths, the president evokes the danger of “organized forces”. This disturbing exit comes as persistent rumors circulate of a supposed intervention by the army if the political crisis were to degenerate after April 2, the date of the end of the head of state's mandate.

“These rumors are unfounded. There is no risk of a coup in Senegal because the army is Republican, retorts an advisor to the president. These organized forces are the jihadist groups who are knocking on the doors of our country. We resist thanks to our democratic stability. »

But for some opponents, the Senegalese government is using “coup blackmail” to force its rivals to accept a national dialogue deemed insincere. “Macky Sall created chaos with this artificial and deadly institutional crisis. Talk of a potential coup is completely irresponsible and dangerous. He tells our adversaries that we are vulnerable, that our security forces would be incapable of facing a putsch,” denounces Amadou Ba, representative of candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye currently imprisoned.

The coalition, resulting from the former Pastef party – dissolved by the government –, rejects for the moment any offer of consultation. “The only possible dialogue is the reestablishment of the electoral calendar so that on April 2 Macky Sall leaves power. Otherwise, it is not excluded that we establish a parallel government with the entire opposition to move towards a civil, political but not military transition,” warns Amadou Ba.

Avoid conflagration

Faced with an explosive situation, mediators from civil society are working behind the scenes to avoid conflagration. They are trying to extract strong guarantees from power to encourage opponents to accept dialogue. Some conciliators are putting on the table the release of Ousmane Sonko and his candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye, both prosecuted for, among other charges, endangering state security.

Given in good standing by polls, Bassirou Diomaye Faye has not yet been judged. “A very broad agreement under the aegis of the ruling coalition and the ex-Pastef would lead to their release in a few months. Ousmane Sonko could thus run for president,” judges a foreign observer.

“If President Sall wants to prove his intention to reconcile the Senegalese through an inclusive dialogue as he announced, he must involve his main opponents, Ousmane Sonko and Bassirou Diomaye Faye. And free the imprisoned activists. It’s a question of trust, especially since the previous dialogue was ultimately useless. If he keeps this door closed, we risk confrontation,” warns mediator Alioune Tine, head of Afrikajom Center.

But this option does not convince the executives of the former dissolved party. “If we make the release of Ousmane Sonko and Bassirou Diomaye Faye a prerequisite for dialogue, we will allow Macky Sall to validate his political blackmail. We are not ready to negotiate their exit and that of the activists against his forfeiture,” warns Amadou Ba.

Call from imans for mobilization

On the religious side, whose influence with politicians remains significant, many actors are calling for the reestablishment of the electoral calendar. Like the Archbishop of Dakar who publicly castigated the government's decision. This is also the case of the Unitary Framework of Islam in Senegal (Cudis), an organization which brings together the main Muslim associations in the country.

“The urgency is to bring everyone back to the discussion table to move forward as quickly as possible before positions become irreconcilable,” assures Cheikh Tidiane Sy, the president of Cudis. “The urgency is also to organize elections before April 2. Or allow the President of the National Assembly to act in the interim until elections are organized within three months,” he continues, assuring that the religious guides of the major brotherhoods will only intervene “last recourse, if all avenues have failed.”

Imams also joined the civil society platform Aar Sunu Election against the postponement. An extremely rare situation, during Friday prayers, they called on their faithful to mobilize.

In the presidential camp mobilized in the unfailing defense of the postponement, we are hammering home the need for an inclusive dialogue. “The president really wants to leave. His departure on April 2 can also be discussed. To do this, we must dialogue to obtain a consensus on the effective duration of the transition, on the political authority which should preside over it. It could be the President of the National Assembly,” sketches a minister.

Less than two months before the end of the president's mandate, the protest is also sparking strong protests in the diaspora. On Sunday, at least 2,000 people marched in Paris against the postponement and repression of protests.

“Macky Sall has put himself in a situation that he cannot control. It still has a small window to exit through the big door. For this, he must quickly give signs of relaxation to restore confidence,” said an evening visitor. A “first sign of appeasement” according to its supporters was given on Sunday evening with the restitution of its license to the Walfadjiri press group, withdrawn a few days ago following the comments of a columnist deemed offensive to the head of state. Other signals of loosening, such as the authorization of Tuesday's rally, could follow to ease the pressure in this decisive week.