Senegal is considered a model democracy and an area of prolonged stability, particularly since the ceasefire of separatist conflict in southern Casamance in 2014. However, protestors have recently taken to the streets of Dakar and this continues to spread outward through the country.
Who is protesting and for what cause?
The source of much political unrest comes from young people challenging conventional systems and practices. Protests in Senegal have been fuelled by rising economic inequalities, concerns over young people’s standards of living, and limited job prospects. Economic devastation caused by COVID-19 pandemic and the introduction of a nightly curfew has frustrated many people, particularly since a large proportion of work is in the informal sector.
This is part of a much larger political movement to challenge Senegalese politics. Ousmane Sonko is the leader of the Pastef opposition party and the only likely candidate to challenge Macky Sall’s presidency. He has been arrested under an allegation of suspected rape and disrupting public order. Sonko, who disputes these allegations, has a lot of support from young adults, and many believe the arrest was a political tactic to suppress the opportunity for Sonko presidency.
The protests also speak to the history of Senegalese political relations at a global level. Some of the protesters have targeted French-owned businesses such as the major grocery chain Auchan and ‘Total’ gas stations, as well as the government newspaper Le Soleil. Protestors believe that, under President Macky Sall, France has extended its economic interests in its former colony.
What could this mean for the future of Senegalese government?
Senegalese presidents are limited to two consecutive terms, but Sall launched a constitutional referendum in 2016, which some believe he will use to run again. Two other opposition leaders were excluded from the 2019 election after being arrested. Presidents in West Africa – such as Guinea’s Alpha Conde and Ivory Coast’s Alassane Ouattara – have used constitutional changes in the past to win third terms. It remains unclear as to whether Sall will likely exercise this for the 2024 election.
President Macky Sall has faced allegations of corruption in the past. An investigation published by BBC Panorama and Africa Eye found that BP (British Petroleum) had agreed to pay Timis Corporation between $9bn and $12bn in royalty payments for its stake in gas blocks. It was alleged that Timis Corporation made a secret payment of $250,000 to a company run by the president’s brother. President Sall has made substantial steps towards increasing democracy in Senegal, including investment in agriculture, infrastructure and tourism as well as movements towards establishing a universal healthcare system. Achieving peace in Casamance has been one of Sall’s greatest achievements during his presidency but many continue to question his neutrality.