Senegal’s violent protests reveal that its long-stable democracy is fragile, after all

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A supporter of main opposition candidate Ousmane Sonko protests outside the Justice Palace in Dakar recently.

At the beginning of March, Senegal was rocked by the most violent protests of its recent history. The demonstrations spread spontaneously throughout the country after the police arrested Ousmane Sonko, a member of parliament and prominent opposition leader. Accused of rape by a 20-year-old masseuse a month earlier, Sonko was arrested and charged with “disturbing public order” as he was headed to court to respond to the rape allegations. Because of the protests, he was released less than a week after his arrest, under judicial supervision.

In Dakar, Senegal’s capital, and in other cities where the protests broke out, security forces responded to the popular unrest by firing live bullets at opposition supporters, leaving at least 10 people dead and hundreds injured.

Senegal has often been considered one of the most stable countries of the African continent. The recent events reveal its democracy’s fragility.

President Sall’s political challengers have been consistently charged and jailed

Ousmane Sonko is President Macky Sall’s last major political rival. His arrest has raised questions about whether the accusations were politically motivated. In the 2019 presidential elections, Sonko took third place with 15.67 percent of the votes, after Sall and former Senegalese prime minister Idrissa Seck. In 2020, Seck left the opposition and joined the presidential majority as head of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council, a move that made Sonko the de facto leader of the opposition.

Khalifa Sall, no relation to the president, a former mayor of Dakar and another political contender for the presidency, faced a similar fate in 2017 when he was accused, convicted and jailed on charges of corruption. The convictions barred both Wade and Khalifa Sall from running in presidential elections. Should Sonko be sentenced to prison, his 2024 presidential bid could come to an abrupt end, giving President Sall the choice of seeking an unconstitutional third term or handpicking his successor.

This is not the first time one of Sall’s political opponents has faced trial. Karim Wade, son of former president Abdoulaye Wade, was widely seen as a potential president. In March 2015, only two days after the Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS) — a major political party — designated him as its next presidential candidate, Wade was sentenced to six years in prison on embezzlement charges. In detention since April 2013, he was eventually pardoned by Sall and released from jail in 2016. Wade is now in exile and out of Senegalese politics.

Read more at: Washington Post

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