The Senegalese authorities deployed armed forces in Dakar on Friday, the day after nine people were killed in violence that erupted following the prison sentence against the opposition Osman Sonko, a candidate for the 2024 presidential elections, and he is more threatened than ever with disqualification.
“We note with regret the acts of violence that led to the destruction of public and private property,” said Interior Minister Antoine Daumey in a brief message broadcast on national television on Thursday night. “Unfortunately, nine people were killed in Dakar and Ziguinchor,” in the south of the country, he added.
Journalists from Agence France-Presse said that men dressed in military uniforms and armed with military rifles were stationed at various points in the capital, Dakar, whose usually crowded streets had become deserted and activity had almost completely stopped.
AFP was unable to identify the forces to which the deployed units belong.
For fear of looting, shops remained closed on entire streets, still bearing scars from the previous day’s violence.
The university in particular was the scene of prolonged clashes and widespread destruction. Students said they have been called to leave the campus and are having difficulty collecting their belongings before finding transportation to head elsewhere.
Many Dakar residents decided not to leave, either fearing for their safety or because they could not find transportation.
Dayoumi confirmed that the authorities imposed restrictions on access to social networks, as observed on Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter, for example. “After we noticed the spread of messages of hate and vandalism, the entire state of Senegal, with its sovereignty, decided to temporarily suspend the use of some digital applications,” he said.
On Thursday, several areas in Dakar, Casamance (south) and other cities witnessed acts of violence due to the case of Osman Sonko, the fiercest opponent of President Macky Sall, who has been waging a fierce battle with the authorities for his judicial and political survival for two years.
And before the events of this week, about twenty civilians had been killed since 2021 in unrest related to his status, while the authority and the opposition camp exchanged accusations in this regard.
Popular among young people
On Thursday, Senegal witnessed clashes between young men and security forces, looting of shops and public facilities, and an invasion of the highway between Dakar and the international airport.
On Friday, the Minister of Interior announced on television that nine people were killed in these clashes.
On Thursday, a criminal chamber sentenced Sonko, who came third in the 2019 presidential election, to two years in prison on charges of “corrupting the youth”, which is a misdemeanor related to encouraging a person under the age of twenty-one to “debauchery”.
He was tried on charges of raping a female worker in a beauty salon he used to visit in 2020 and 2021 for massage, and threatening her with death. This employee, Aji Sarr, was under the age of twenty-one when the facts for which she was sued took place. The court acquitted Sonko of rape and death threats.
This ruling has important criminal and political consequences. Under the penal code, this decision would result in Sonko being stripped of his electoral eligibility.
Sonko did not stop denying the charges against him, pointing to a plot by the authorities to keep him out of the presidential elections.
The authorities deny this and assert that the case is a “dispute” of a personal nature.
Sonko did not attend the sentencing hearing or any other hearing in his trial. Apparently, the security forces are forcing him to stay in his home, and he is “detained,” he says.
Justice Minister Ismaila Madior told reporters that after two years of confrontation with the authorities that caused tension in the country, he could now be arrested “at any moment”.
Sonko is very popular among young people looking for prospects and hope in a difficult economic and social environment, due to his relatively young age, his sovereign and African discourse, his defense of religious values and traditions, his speeches against the “state mafia” and multinational companies, and the economic and political influence exercised by France, the former colonial power, in his opinion.
Another factor of tension is the ambiguity that President Macky Sall keeps about his intention to run for a third term or not.