Fri. Jun 21st, 2024

President Macky Sall’s decision to dissolve the party of his main opponent, Ousmane Sonko, appears to be another sign of a tightening grip in a country that claims to be a model of democracy.

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At a time when the proliferation of military coups in West Africa is shaking the fragile democracies born of decolonization, Senegalese President Macky Sall’s decision, on July 3, not to run for a third term in the presidential election of February 2024, was welcomed with relief as a sign of political responsibility. One month later, Sall risks compromising this goodwill. He has taken a grave measure, one that is extremely rare in his country: the dissolution by decree of the party led by his main opponent, Ousmane Sonko, on July 31.

Read more Senegalese opposition leader hospitalized a week into prison hunger strike

Sonko himself is not to be spared criticism, however. A former tax inspector who has mastered the art of denouncing the “corruption” of elites “sold out to foreign interests,” he gained popularity by surfing on a nationalist and traditionalist discourse, with anti-French and homophobic overtones. After being sentenced on June 1 to two years’ imprisonment in a case in which he was accused of rape, he called on the Senegalese people to “defend themselves by all means and to fight back,” triggering deadly riots, the most serious in years. He has always justified his calls to revolt by citing the “judicial harassment” to which he feels he is subjected.

Arrested and jailed on July 28 in a separate proceeding, on charges of several crimes including calling for insurrection and undermining state security, Sonko saw his party, the African Patriots of Senegal for Work, Ethics and Fraternity (PASTEF) dissolved four days later. This series of events, in addition to the convictions already handed down to him, seriously compromise his candidacy for the 2024 presidential election, in which he was expected to be one of the main opponents to the outgoing president’s camp.

Dividing the opposition

The use of the judiciary and legislative instruments for political purposes is a constant in Senegalese public life. This suspicion was fed once again by the concurrency on Saturday, August 5, of Sonko’s imprisonment and the adoption by MPs of a provision making Karim Wade and Khalifa Sall, two opposition figures long barred from running for the presidency by criminal convictions, eligible to stand once again. Although President Sall withdrew from the race, he does not seem to have given up on dividing the opposition and choosing those who will face his side.

The arrest in Mauritania of the provocative lawyer Juan Branco, who is defending Sonko, and the charges brought against him in Dakar for terrorism and conspiracy, before his deportation to France, appear to be further signs of the tightening grip in Senegal.

This kind of driftis worrying for a country that likes to present itself as an example of democracy. While in Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, and now Niger, military juntas are crushing any idea of citizen participation, the states that claim to be democratic have a difficult task. But how can these countries resist the totalitarian tendencies at work without accepting the countless debates – on inequality, corruption, and also on their relations with France – that agitate their populations? For the whole of West Africa, what is at stake in Senegal is nothing less than the superiority of democracy over any other regime.


By Admin

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