Senegal seems to be grappling with an identity crisis. Its citizens take pride in the fact that their country is considered one of West Africa’s most stable democracies, and many are outraged that this reputation is now at stake.
In a mosque in the capital city of Dakar, a group of imams express their feelings of betrayal by President Macky Sall regarding the recent political crisis. The crisis began when MPs supported President Sall’s decision to delay the upcoming presidential election until December. Ismael Ndiaye, the general secretary of Senegal’s League of Imams, explains that this move is unacceptable and unprecedented for Senegal.
As Islam is the predominant religion in Senegal, the comments made by influential Muslim leaders like these carry significant weight. Their direct words reflect the widespread anger in the country as protesters take to the streets.
President Sall has justified his decision, stating that more time is needed to resolve a dispute over the eligibility of presidential candidates, as several opposition contenders were barred from running. However, those protesting see this postponement as an attempt by President Sall to cling onto power beyond the end of his second term on April 2.
President Sall denies these accusations in his first interview since the announcement, stating that his only intention is to leave the country in peace and stability. However, critics find his words hollow, considering his previous stance against then-President Abdoulaye Wade seeking a third term.
Violent protests have erupted across Senegal in the past week, resulting in the reported deaths of three individuals. One of the casualties was a geography undergraduate who died during clashes with the police on a university campus in the city of Saint-Louis. In Dakar, debris litters the streets following stand-offs between protesters and security forces.
The current situation has left many of Dakar’s four million inhabitants upset and uncertain about the future. Fanta Diallo, a resident, expresses feelings of hurt and shame. She suggests a „dead city“ general strike to demonstrate their anger towards parliament’s support of the vote delay. Adamadou Bayeshare agrees, stating that peaceful protests are necessary to fight for what is right.
The younger generation in Senegal, who face a lack of job opportunities and support opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, are particularly frustrated. Sonko has been excluded from the presidential race due to a defamation conviction. His critical stance on the country’s relationship with France has gained him significant support but also worried the country’s elite.
The nine-month postponement of the election may give the ruling coalition a chance to strengthen its position and consider a stronger candidate. It may also benefit another opposition leader, Karim Wade, son of a former president, who was disqualified due to his dual nationality.
Finding a solution to calm the tension in Senegal seems challenging. Government spokesperson Abdou Karim Fofana maintains that President Sall made his decision to preserve the country, even if it is unpopular. However, with Sonko’s support and the perception that the judiciary has been used to exclude him, it remains uncertain how this crisis will be resolved.
Law expert El-Hadji Omar Diop suggests another scenario where President Sall may choose to step down after April 2, leading to the National Assembly president assuming power and calling for a new election within a few months.
More demonstrations are planned for Tuesday, although they have not yet been authorized by the authorities. Mamadou Faye, a father of three, hopes these protests will effectively convey their message without the need for „dead city“ strikes, as he cannot afford to miss work. The people of Senegal simply want to be able to provide for their families.
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