What is happening in Senegal?
Ousmane Sonko, the leader of the Senegalese opposition, was forcibly removed from his car on Thursday, March 17, to bring him to court in the context of the trial for defamation and public insults against the Minister of Tourism Mame Mbaye Niang. Ousmane Sonko had said at a press conference that Mr. Niang was pinned by a report on the management of PRODAC for an amount of 29 billion CFA francs (44 million euros). The trial was exceptionally postponed until March 30, but has already created chaos in Senegal.
The president of the political party PASTEF was forcibly removed from his car after he refused to take the route proposed by the police, explaining that the route was full of militias who could attack his life. After being brutalized and brought to court, Sonko's lawyers stated that their client was psychologically and physically affected by the assault on him by the police, hence the postponement of the trial.
The images that trended on social networks quickly prompted young people, largely supporters of Sonko, to take to the streets of Dakar and the rest of the country. Scenes of violent clashes between demonstrators and police were noted in several strategic areas of the capital. French stores such as Auchan, petrol stations, and the headquarters of the telephone company Orange, among others, were stormed, destroyed or burned.
The demonstrators believe that the trials against Ousmane Sonko (another for rape and death threats) are orchestrated by the regime of Macky Sall (with the support of France) to remove the leader of PASTEF from the presidential race in 2024. The issue of the third mandate is also a source of tension in Senegal. Although President Macky Sall has not yet openly declared his candidacy for a third term in 2024, many of his supporters say he will and are pushing him to do so.
In addition, according to the number 2 of PASTEF Birame Souleye Diop, Ousmane Sonko was a victim of poisoning. "He was sprayed with a substance whose nature is unknown," explained Diop. Ousmane Sonko himself sent out a tweet in the evening to warn of his worsening health situation as the forces of law and order prevented him from going for treatment after the court hearing and barricaded his house late into the night, even preventing an ambulance from entering.
"Since the FDS dropped me off at my home, I have been subject to terrible dizziness, I suffer from lower abdominal pain and I have difficulty breathing. We called SUMA ASSISTANCE, but for more than an hour, the police blocked their ambulance at the roundabout and refused them access to my home. Macky Sall is openly engaged in an umpteenth assassination attempt on my person," Sonko tweeted. He was then evacuated.
Some doctors fear poisoning via the substance that was sprayed on him during the scuffles to force him into court. Several members of civil society, such as Alioune Tine, have been calling for dialogue for several weeks, warning of the risks of instability if the PASTEF leader is rendered ineligible through the multiple lawsuits brought against him.
In recent years, the regime of Macky Sall has been repeatedly indexed by reports from Amnesty International, the U.S. Department of State, human rights activists and Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sas Frontières) for its anti-democratic practices. Ousmane Sonko's rights have been violated several times, 14 people were killed during the March 2021 demonstrations without any investigation being opened until now, many PASTEF members and journalists are in prison for opinion crimes; former Prime Minister Hadjibou Soumaré was even arrested and placed under judicial supervision for having only questioned President Macky Sall about a sum of 12 million euros he allegedly paid to Marine Le Pen during her visit to Senegal a few weeks ago.