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Independence Day Amidst Political Tensions

Instability seems to be coming back to Senegal in light of preparations for the 2024 presidential elections and on the eve of a very special and joyous occasion, the independence day. These protests specifically target the current president of the west African country, Macky Sall, because of concern regarding the present possibility of his candidacy. This candidacy would be his third. As a matter of fact, president Sall has been president under fire for many controversies for many years, ever since reaching the nation’s top job.

On the occasion of the national holiday, President Macky Sall addressed the nation in a televised speech on the eve of this holiday. In the context of political tensions in Senegal one year ahead of the presidential election, the president said that he would welcome dialogue with all the political forces and other concerned parties across the nation. However, he did not express anything regarding the candidacy matter.

The country has been witnessing a rather tense political crisis that has spanned for almost two years, if not more. In 2021, violent demonstrations, that took the lives of 14 people, erupted in the country after the arrest of a strong political opponent and presidency candidate Ousmane Sonko in an alleged rape case.

The political climate has been tense to say the least in recent weeks, in particular because of the legal proceedings that have been indicted against the opponent Ousmane Sonko.

Macky Sall's main rival has narrowly escaped being ineligible to run for the 2024 presidential election in Senegal. A Senegalese court sentenced the opposition and a very popular politician Ousmane Sonko, Thursday, March 30, to two months in prison suspended for defamation against a minister.

During the day of Mr. Sonko’s trial, demonstrations erupted on March 16, 2023, resulting in three deaths and more than 400 arrests of activists from the main opposition coalition Yewwi Askan Wi (YAW) who is led by the opposition leader himself.

The coalition Yewwi Askan Wi (YAW, Liberate the people in the Ouolof language) called for several demonstrations before the trial of their leader, who was sued by the Minister of Tourism Mame Mbaye Niang, a leader of the presidential party. The latter accuses him of having defamed her and sworn at her many other derogatory accusations.

Hundreds of Sonko supporters gathered in the Yoff neighborhood of the Senegalese capital Dakar on Tuesday for the protest. Some waved and displayed Senegalese flags and photos of Sonko.

There was a heavy security presence, including dozens of riot control vehicles manned by the police who, as history has proved, were ready to fight back these demonstrations.

 The police quickly cracked down on the protests and protesters. The latest pro-Sonko protests, which took place after his release from court last month, were dispersed with tear gas.

The members of the opposition coalition have also declined, in a press release published on Sunday the invitation sent to them by the establishment for the biggest and most important civil-military parade marking the celebration of Independence Day.

This move to imprison Ousmane Sonko has been translated by opposition parties and analysts as nothing more than a simple trick to keep the concerned politician out of the presidential race.  The texts in force of Senegalese law  provide for the removal from the electoral lists, and therefore ineligibility in certain cases of conviction for defamation.

While from their side, the establishment headed by President Sall has accused Sonko of using the street to his advantage to escape justice.

Senegal has always been seen as a possible nest for an emerging democracy, at the very least in the West African region, a region which, ever since the independence of its countries has known nothing but troubled events and dictatorships. And recently, Senegal has also been seen to be headed towards this authoritarian direction especially after Sall’s crackdown on all sorts of dissidents and opposition and his perceived failure to improve the economic conditions in the country for the people.

For this 63rd celebration of the country's independence, a large format parade is held after three years of celebration made in the greatest sobriety.

Edited by : Ritaja Kar 




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