In Senegal, Ousmane Sonko against Macky Sall or the strategy of tension

The staging is unusual to say the least

In Senegal, Ousmane Sonko against Macky Sall or the strategy of tension

The staging is unusual to say the least. Gray sweatshirt on the back, hood on the head and infusion on the arm, Ousmane Sonko is sitting on a hospital bed. Four days after his stormy appearance in court and his face-to-face with the police, Thursday, March 16, the accused accuses. "This is neither more nor less than yet another assassination attempt ... assassination if not an attack on my physical integrity", he denounces in a video released late in the evening of Monday March 20 .

The police “sprayed me with liquid at point-blank range. An extremely toxic liquid that produces respiratory effects, effects on the eyes, effects on the skin, effects on the digestive system. These products, we don't know exactly what they are yet." The main Senegalese opponent has been hospitalized since the tumultuous day that surrounded the resumption of his trial on Thursday. Ousmane Sonko is being sued for defamation by the Senegalese Minister of Tourism, Mame Mbaye Niang, whom he accuses of embezzlement. The case could make the most serious opposition candidate for the 2024 presidential election ineligible, while the head of state, Macky Sall, casts doubt on his desire to serve a third term.

Chronicled live on social networks by activists from Pastef (African Patriots of Senegal for Work, Ethics and Fraternity), Sonko's party, the day of March 16 was peppered with clashes and scenes of high tension. which killed at least three people. Among them, the one where we see the opponent being forced out of his vehicle by a gendarme to be taken to court marked the spirits. She recalls the one that occurred a few weeks earlier: during Sonko's first appearance, an officer had broken the window of his vehicle to bring him home.

A martyr persecuted by the regime

“In Senegal, successive regimes have mistreated their opponents. Between 1988 and 2000, Abdoulaye Wade suffered several acts of violence from the Abdou Diouf regime, recalls Seydi Gassama, executive director of Amnesty International's Senegal section. Members of his party were arrested, tortured by the police. Today, the disproportionate use of force against Ousmane Sonko demonstrates that the country is taking a twenty-year leap back. »

Since the 2019 presidential election, Ousmane Sonko, a former tax inspector dismissed for having denounced acts of fraud, has not stopped his ascent. It is very popular with young people, urbanites, graduates, a population often without job prospects. For his supporters, his legal troubles have made him a martyr persecuted by the regime. They thus remember Khalifa Sall, the mayor of Dakar, excluded from the presidential race because of a prison sentence. Before him, Karim Wade, the son of Abdoulaye Wade, had suffered the same fate. It does not take more for some activists to shout at the political-judicial conspiracy orchestrated by Macky Sall.

Unlike his predecessors, Sonko refuses to "trust" a justice that he considers to be under orders. In March 2021, when Adji Sarr, a massage parlor employee, accused her of rape, a crowd of her supporters took to the streets. Clashes with security forces left at least 14 dead and 500 injured.

"These images are a shame for a country that prides itself on being a democratic model," asserts Alioune Tine, head of the Afrikajom Center think tank. They are terrible for our security forces, despite being recognized for their professionalism in external missions. »

"Mr. Sonko thinks he is above the law"

Around Ousmane Sonko, we say we are "worried". "We fear for our own safety," said El Malick Ndiaye, Pastef's national communications secretary. He denounces the "thugs of power with clubs who operate with the police".

An irrational fear, we claim on the side of the government. “The real problem is that Mr. Sonko thinks he is above the law. At each summons, he stirs up his support, calls for insurrection. Faced with one-upmanship, the security forces are rather showing restraint and professionalism, "defends Oumar Youm, president of the Benno bokk yakaar parliamentary group, the presidential coalition.

Violence, in deeds as well as in words, nevertheless seems to be omnipresent. As soon as he came to power in 2012, President Macky Sall promised to reduce "the opposition to its simplest expression". "Gatsa gatsa [an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth]", replies today in Wolof Ousmane Sonko, who promises a "mortal combat" against the incumbent president.

“These talks go to war muzzle those who think differently. Today, for Pastef supporters, you are either with their leader or against him. Dissenting makes you corrupt. Intellectuals and religious leaders are now afraid to speak critically against Ousmane Sonko. They fear invective and attacks, especially online, regrets Oumar Mboup, activist of the citizen movement Jammi Gox Yi, The political debate has been confiscated by this extreme bipolarization. »

The next high-risk day in Dakar is set for March 30, when Ousmane Sonko's trial is due to resume. While many of his supporters demanded that he be evacuated for health reasons abroad, the opponent warned that he did not plan to leave his country. "It's a fight for the survival of our homeland, of our democracy largely compromised by Macky Sall and his dictatorial regime. That's why I will stay here in Senegal," he said in the video.