Senegal Government Cuts Internet Again Amidst Protest Crackdowns

Sébastien Gray
Sébastien Gray
Sébastien is a published journalist and historicist with over six years of experience in freelance journalism and research. His primary expertise is in African conflict and politics, with additional specialization in Israeli/Palestinian and Armenia/Azerbaijan conflicts. Sébastien serves as the deputy desk chief for Africa.

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What’s Happening

The Senegalese government has again restricted mobile internet access across the country, citing “hateful” messages and “misinformation” being spread, which it said had contributed to starting the previous unrest the country has faced over the last week.

Their restriction of internet access comes the same day that the government banned a planned demonstration by opposition groups, who had planned a silent march. The protest organizers have announced they will instead attempt to hold the protest on Saturday, and have called for those around the nation to join.

Senegalese authorities had previously restricted internet access in Dakar, the Senegalese capital.

Protesting What..?

Senegalese citizens and opposition political groups are protesting the governments decision to postpone the nations’ elections by 10 months, from February 25th to December 15th.

A protestor pictured in Dakar after throwing back a tear gas canister at police on February 9th, 2024 (Photo from Guy Peterson/AFP).

According to the government, the delay is in the interest of holding a fair and inclusive election, pending a parliamentary investigation into the independence of two judges of the Constitutional Court.

The Constitutional Court presides over the creation of Senegal’s list of Presidential candidates. The list of 20 candidates excluded two key opposition figures, denying them the ability to run for President. One of the opposition figures, Ousmane Sonko, is thought to be the largest threat to the ruling party given his high levels of popularity with Senegal’s youth.

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.

Bassirou Diomaye Diakhar Faye, a candidate in Senegal’s 2024 Presidential election.

Karim Wade, another key opposition leader and son of former President Abdoulaye Wade, the predecessor to Senegalese President Macky Sall, was also barred from the election due to his dual citizenship with France.

The vote to delay the election was held under rather questionable circumstances, taking place as opposition lawmakers were escorted out of parliament by police.

Opposition groups, however, accuse President Sall and the ruling party of attempting to hold on to power as long as possible. President Sall’s term would have ended on April 2nd with the February 25th elections, however now he will remain as President until the elections.

Opposition groups have witnessed increased popularity and momentum since the last election, and thus some also speculate the government may simply be trying to delay an election which they fear losing.

Since the announcement of the vote to delay the election on February 3rd, and the vote itself on February 5th, Senegal has witnessed intense protests. Thus far, three protestors have been killed during clashes with police in separate incidents around the country. The police response to protests has been rather heavy handed, with them oftentimes deploying tear gas in efforts to disperse protests.

International Calls

International diplomatic pressure is growing upon Senegal to abandon the postponement of the elections, and return to the February 25th timeline. An ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) delegation is still in Senegal to discuss the situation after travelling there on February 12th.

France, Senegal’s former colonial power, has several times called for the elections to return to February 25th. The French foreign ministry released a statement, both condemning the deaths of protesters, and calling for the election to be held “swiftly”. The French Foreign Ministry statement may be read below:

“France extends its condolences to the loved ones of those who died in the demonstrations in Senegal over the past few days. It calls for a proportionate use of force. France reiterates its call to the authorities to hold the presidential election as swiftly as possible, in accordance with Senegal’s constitution, and guarantee public freedoms. France encourages all stakeholders in Senegal to give priority to dialogue and safeguard Senegal’s long democratic tradition” -France’s Foreign Ministry

Several other international entities have called for calm in Senegal. The regions eyes are on Senegal, particularly given the recent string of coups that have triggered across west Africa. Senegal is one of the more stable nations of west Africa, having never experienced a coup.

However, Senegal also had never before delayed a Presidential election since it’s independence in 1960, and thus the present crisis represents a unique political situation for the country.