A storm is heading for the "island of stability"


Cem Ozdel / Anadolu

This is exactly the case when the opposition made a gift to the authorities. On February 25, presidential elections were held in Senegal. Outgoing head of state Macky Sall, who is finishing his second term, vowed that he would not run for a third one. And in July last year he once again confirmed that he had served his term, and the candidate from the ruling party will be the current Prime Minister Amadou Ba.

And they seem to have done everything right. Particularly active opposition was imprisoned, 20 candidates were removed from the campaign. But people still suspected something wrong. In one of the neighboring countries, exactly the same thing happened. The outgoing president promised everything, presented his successor and even invited him to dinner. And the successor died the next morning. Ah, well, then I continue to lead the country — due to the newly developed circumstances.

Despite the promises, the opposition suspected that Sall was looking for a third term and looked everywhere for conspiracy theories. One candidate, Karim Wade, though a minister and the son of a former president, was removed for having dual Senegalese and French citizenship, which the constitution does not allow. He became indignant, questioned the honesty of two judges of the Constitutional Council (aka Constitutional Court), proposed to create a commission and postpone the elections.

All right, thought the ruling party. Let’s postpone it for six months, as you suggest, and in the meantime, Macky Sall will be in power. You say six months? It’ll be August 25th, at the peak of the rainy season. And if it’s still possible to reach the polling stations in Dakar, it won’t be possible in the rest of the country.

The parliament of the country supported the president’s proposal, and the elections will be held in December. However, the decision was accompanied by a fight and the removal of opposition MPs from the hall with the help of the police.

Three quarters of Senegal’s population (yes, 75%) are under 25, which is a rare demographic. They immediately took to the streets and occupied the Plateau neighborhood where all the power structures are located, including the presidential palace. For two days, the police dispersed them with tear gas and chased them down alleys. Mobile internet has been cut off and the license of Walf TV, the only private channel, has been suspended.

Meanwhile, they shout into the cameras: «We are not afraid, it’s all a coup d’état and a plot by Sall to stay in power, we will go out as much as we need to and will march on the presidential palace if necessary».

They believe that the whole situation is a manipulation by the ruling party to stay in power. The candidate proposed by Sall, although from the same group, has no chance of winning, and that is why this whole mise-en-scene is organized, which is nothing but a putsch by Macky Sall. The first in the history of Senegal.

«We must take into account the general mood in the region, I mean the recent coups in West African countries», says Antoine Glaser, editor-in-chief of EdiAfrique. — «In the minds of the young people who are taking to the streets, ideas of sovereignty are mixed with ideas of pan-Africanism. The idol of Senegalese youth is Ousmane Sonko. He, an anti-systemic candidate, was sent to prison by the authorities and removed from the elections».

A 49-year-old Sonko entered politics on a wave of exposure of corruption schemes. Further, as the authorities began to shut him up, the halo of the martyr only grew. The young people who support him see in the current leadership, which is not young anymore, those who are to blame for all the troubles, for the poor life, systemic unemployment and total hopelessness.

Then, as in Mali or Burkina Faso, they see a link between the ruling elites and the former colonizers, the French. This idea is also pushed by Ousmane Sonko in his speeches. In Mali and Burkina it ended in military coups. To what extent is such a scenario possible in Senegal?

«The Senegalese army has always prided itself on republican values — it is not for nothing that it has been sent on peacekeeping operations in other countries more often than others». — Antoine Glaser believes. — «It is indeed an unproblematic army. But soldiers were sent to Dakar to quell unrest in 2021 and 2023, when 12 people died. And it’s possible that the mood in the barracks is about to change».

Everyone has the Internet (that’s why it was cut off in the first place), and young people know what is going on in neighboring countries and roughly understand how to act. This was the case during the «Arab Spring» color revolutions. As soon as the constitutional foundations of a country crack, a flood of discontent rushes in.

In Senegal, we are talking at least about a constitutional crisis, as there is a conflict between the legislative and legal powers. Parliamentarians, at the initiative of removed candidate Karim Wade, have set up a commission to investigate the activities of the Constitutional Council.

«We have a saying: ‘God first, then the Constitutional Council,’» says Alioune Tine, an independent human rights expert at the UN. «In Africa, once the Constitutional Council collapses, all other institutions collapse after it. This was the case in Mali during the 2020 elections. The Constitutional Council collapsed, the parliament couldn’t work, power was weakened, the military took it».

Basically, almost all of the recent coups in West Africa have occurred either because elections were postponed, canceled, or because the president tried to go for the proverbial third term. This was the case in Guinea and Mali, which is why the international community is closely following the events in Dakar. The EU, the US, the UK, ECOWAS have already expressed their concerns.

Not to mention that during the unrest in the summer of 2023, French Auchan supermarkets, Total and Shell gas stations were smashed, key parts of the capital’s infrastructure were paralyzed and the country’s economic life began to slow down.