One Week In
Protests in Senegal have been ongoing for over a week now over the governments decision to delay elections for 10 months, which opposition lawmakers have referred to as a “constitutional coup”.
A week on, and three protestors have been shot and killed by police during clashes around the country. One was killed in the Senegalese capital of Dakar, one was killed at the Gaston Berger University close to St. Louis, with the last being killed in Ziguinchor, a city in southern Senegal.
Despite a hefty police crackdown on protests, opposition groups have stated their intention to continue protests until the government restores the original election date of February 25th. Police have regularly deployed tear gas to disperse protests, and internet access has been heavily restricted, particularly in Dakar.
A Political Crisis
Senegal, typically understood to be one of the most stable nations in West Africa, has been undergoing a crisis following the decision of the ruling party to delay the nations elections on February 5th, 20 days before they were supposed to be held on February 25th.
The vote to delay the election was held under rather questionable circumstances, as opposition lawmakers were escorted out of the nations parliament as the vote was ongoing.
??| Senegalese parliament votes to postpone elections with forced evacuation of opposition MPs
— Casus Belli (@casusbellii) February 5, 2024
President Macky Sall had announced the vote two days prior, claiming the delay in the election was for the government to pursue “an open national dialogue to bring together the conditions for a free, transparent, and inclusive election”. This comes after two key opposition leaders were barred from participating in the election by the nations’ Constitutional Court, who presided over the creation of the list of Senegal’s 20 Presidential candidates.
The delay originates from a parliamentary inquiry into the independence of two Constitutional Court judges due to the barring of the two opposition candidates. The two opposition candidates who were barred are Ousmane Sonko, and Karim Wade.
Ousmane Sonko, the primary opposition leader, was barred from the list due to the upholding by the Supreme Court of a defamation conviction, which the Constitutional Court said rendered him legally ineligible.
In his stead, Sonko named Bassirou Diomaye Diakhar as his successor. Sonko was previously thought to be the largest threat to the ruling party, witnessing significant levels of support from Senegalese youth. With him barred from the election, he has named Bassirou as his successor, who appears to be witnessing similar levels of support, despite Bassirou presently being in jail, having been in provisional detention since April.
Karim Wade, another key opposition leader and son of former President Abdoulaye Wade, the predecessor to President Macky Sall, was also barred from the election due to his dual citizenship with France.
While the government has stated that the delays are in the interest of operating a fair election, many have accused President Macky Sall and the ruling party of just attempting to hold onto power as long as possible, as the ruling party fears losing the upcoming election.
President Sall is not seeking a third term in office, and has instead named Amadou Ba, the current Prime Minister, as his successor. Division amongst the ruling party on the PM’s candidacy, mixed with the sharply increasing popularity of opposition candidates, has increased the likelihood of an opposition victory.
This marks the very first time that Senegal has delayed a Presidential election since their independence in 1960. Senegal is typically viewed as one of the more stable democracies in West Africa, and in fact Africa as a whole, having never before experienced a coup. The political crisis in the country is made particularly worrying due to a string of coups that have triggered across West Africa in recent years, emboldening anti-democratic voices across the region.
ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) chair and Nigerian President Bola Tinubu has travelled to Dakar in order to hold a meeting with President Sall pertaining to the political crisis in the country. President Tinubu, and the bloc as a whole, have urged President Sall to return to the original election timeline, following an emergency meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, about Senegal.
ECOWAS has taken several hits recently regarding the groups influence, after the recent string of coups resulted in the bloc suspending Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea. Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso all in January fully withdrew from ECOWAS. Their withdrawal came after months of tension between the three states and ECOWAS after the bloc threatened to invade Niger if the military government did not restore the deposed President Mohamed Bazoum.
ECOWAS’ threats slowly faded into the background, never being realized, however tensions remain high.
ECOWAS is one of several international entities that has urged Senegal to hold their elections as planned, with many worried about the instability which the move has caused.