Tensions in Senegal reached a tipping point on Friday over the government’s decision to hold the opposition to the vote in planned legislative elections. Thousands took to the streets to show support for opposition leader Ousmane Sonko and to demand that President Macky Sall allow his opponents to run.
Smoke plumes blew up in the air throughout Dakar’s southern neighborhoods on Friday as protesters set fire to tires and plastic drums. Tear gas canisters rained down from the sky, scattering protesters. When they reappeared, they sang, “Macky Sall is a dictator!” and threw stones at police officers.
Graduate student Maimina Aidara was among them.
“What Macky Sall is doing to Senegal is an injustice. “What he is trying to do is not right,” he said. “We, the people here in Senegal, are suffering. We’re getting heavy. We’re getting really heavy. We want Macky Sall to leave his office. The protests will continue every day, God willing, until the elections. Macky Sall will resign. “
Anger has risen since Senegal’s constitutional council invalidated the opposition’s list of candidates for the July 31 legislative election, preventing opposition leader Sonko and other opponents from running.
The outcome of the election will determine the composition of Senegal’s 165-member National Assembly, which is currently dominated by the president’s coalition.
On Friday, it was seen blocking Sonko’s house, which prevented him from attending Friday prayers and the demonstration.
Sonko came third in the 2019 presidential election and is a candidate for 2024.
Sonko was arrested last year on what many believe were dubious allegations of rape. The incident caused a week of rioting that led to the deaths of 14 people.
According to Agence France-Presse, two deaths were reported in Friday’s protest and three opposition members were arrested.
West Africa has been plagued by a series of coups in recent years and any indication of instability in Senegal could have consequences for the whole region.
Hawa Ba is head of the Senegal office at the Open Society Initiative for West Africa.
“We are in a very volatile sub-region. Democracy is in jeopardy, and Senegal is supposed to be a beacon of democracy, “Ba said.” It is supposed to be a country that pulls the region and the continent upwards. And what we are seeing is that Senegal’s democracy has been slipping back a few years. “
Ba called on international bodies such as the Economic Community of West African States and the African Union to press Senegal to adhere to democratic norms. The African Union is led by Macky Sall.
Although many protesters said at Friday’s rally that they attended in support of Sonko, others had more general motives.
Seydina Halifa Abebacar said his biggest concern was inflation. The price of items like rice and cattle has risen, he said, and with Eid al-Adha around the corner, he is worried that the price of sheep will do the same.
“They have increased prices on everything. “Our families are suffering,” he said. “I came here to fight for my future and for that of my children. I’m not here for Ousmane Sonko – all politicians are the same. If we do not do it [throw rocks at police officers] there will be no solution. To protest is a right. ”
The protest took place despite a government ban. A demonstration on June 8 was also banned, but was eventually allowed to continue.
Demonstrations are expected to continue throughout the weekend, with or without authorization.
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