Nine people were killed Thursday, June 1 in Senegal in the violence that erupted after the two-year prison sentence of opponent Ousmane Sonko, presidential candidate of 2024 and more than ever threatened with ineligibility.
“We noted with regret violence that led to the destruction of public and private property and, unfortunately, nine deaths in Dakar and Ziguinchor” (south), said Interior Minister Antoine Diome in a short message broadcast by national television at night.
He also confirmed that the authorities had restricted access to social networks, which was observed for example for Facebook, WhatsApp or Twitter. “Having observed the dissemination of hateful and subversive messages on social networks, the State of Senegal in all sovereignty has decided to temporarily suspend the use of certain digital applications,” he said. He called for calm and assured that the state was taking “all necessary security measures”.
Internet monitoring service Netblocks said in a message to AFP that it observed a “situation (which) resembles that observed in 2021”. Senegal was then plagued by deadly riots, which an arrest by Ousmane Sonko had already helped to trigger.
Ousmane Sonko, third in the 2019 presidential election and fiercest opponent of President Macky Sall, was sentenced on Thursday by a criminal chamber to two years in prison for “youth corruption”, an offense which consists of promoting “debauchery” of a young person under the age of 21.
He was accused of rape and death threats against an employee of a beauty salon where he was going to have a massage between 2020 and 2021. The employee, Adji Sarr, was under 21 at the time of the events she denounces. The court acquitted Ousmane Sonko of charges of rape and death threats.
Unrest erupted in Dakar and several cities
The issue was as penal as it was political. The decision seems, in view of the electoral code, to lead to the ineligibility of Ousmane Sonko. The latter was absent at the delivery of the judgment, as well as during his trial. He is presumed blocked by the security forces at his home in the capital, “kidnapped” according to him.
But, after two years of a confrontation with the authorities which kept the country in suspense, he can now be arrested “at any time”, Justice Minister Ismaïla Madior Fall told journalists.
Without waiting for such an arrest, the dreaded troubles before the deliberation broke out in Dakar and in several cities. The University of Dakar has taken on the air of a battlefield. Groups of young people confronted with stones the police retaliating with tear gas. Several buses from the medical school, the history department and the country’s main school of journalism were set on fire and offices ransacked.
Eligibility already compromised
Apart from these hotbeds of violence, the streets of Dakar have been deserted. Clashes and looting of public property, shops and petrol stations have been reported in Dakar and its suburbs, but also in Ziguinchor (south), where several people were killed, in Mbour and Kaolack (west) or Saint- Louis (north).
Ousmane Sonko has continued to deny the accusations, shouting at the machinations of power to remove him from the presidential election. “This verdict on command is the final stage of the plot hatched by Macky Sall and his henchmen”, reacted in a press release his party, Pastef, which called on the Senegalese to “take to the streets” and the police to join them.
Ousmane Sonko’s eligibility is already compromised by a recent six-month suspended prison sentence for defamation against a minister. “Let all Senegalese know it: Ousmane Sonko can no longer be a candidate,” said one of his advisers, Me Bamba Cissé.
Since February 2021, when the case of alleged rapes hit the headlines, Ousmane Sonko has been engaged in a standoff with power for his judicial and political survival. Prior to this week’s events, around 20 civilians had been killed since 2021 in unrest largely linked to his situation. The power and the camp of Ousmane Sonko reject the fault.