Security forces and protesters have clashed in Senegal’s capital and other cities in the first widespread unrest over the delay to a presidential election that constitutes one of the country’s most significant political crises to date.
In Dakar, the riot police used tear gas, stun grenades, and potentially rubber bullets against a large group of demonstrators. The protesters had set up roadblocks, lit fires with tires, and threw rocks.
Several protesters waved flags of Senegal, while others chanted phrases like “Macky Sall is a tyrant”.
Protesters clashed with law enforcement officers in other parts of Senegal, such as the city of Touba in the center of the country, Thies in the east of Dakar, Richard Toll in the north, and Kolda in the south. This information was reported by residents and shared on social media outlets, according to Reuters.
A geography student named Alpha Yoro Tounkara from Gaston Berger University was murdered in the city of Saint-Louis, according to opposition leader and former mayor of Dakar, Khalifa Sall. Sall expressed his sorrow in a post on X, stating, “The actions that led to this violent conflict, caused by the unjustified interruption of the electoral process, have deeply affected all advocates of democracy.”
The death in Senegal is currently under investigation by the interior ministry. According to Reuters, the security forces cannot be held responsible as they did not intervene on campus.
The geography club at his university released a statement expressing their sadness over Alpha’s passing and acknowledging his dedication to the university community. His absence has left a void in their hearts and minds.
The presidential elections in Senegal were originally scheduled for February 25, but after a vote by the parliament, the date was changed to December, allowing President Sall to remain in office until the end of the year.
This is the first instance in Senegal’s past where elections have been postponed, posing a significant challenge to its reputation as a democratic country. In a region known for coups, Senegal stands out as a role model for effective governance, according to west Africa expert Paul Melly.
According to him, Senegal is highly symbolic and is typically seen as a nation that follows established protocols. He also mentioned that the current crisis is unprecedented, as there has never been a delay in an election before.
Sall, who assumed power in 2012 and has now reached the maximum two-term limit set by the constitution, stated that he postponed the election due to a disagreement regarding the list of candidates. This disagreement posed a threat to the legitimacy of the voting process.
The delay has sparked disapproval from Dakar’s allies, who cautioned the former president against using unconstitutional methods to stay in office. The West African organization Ecowas urged Senegal’s political leaders on Tuesday to promptly follow the electoral schedule and encouraged law enforcement to handle demonstrators with caution.
The European Union raised concerns about any potential efforts by Sall to prolong his term, while the US State Department expressed deep worry over actions taken to postpone Senegal’s presidential election on February 25.
Some opposition leaders, such as former prime minister Aminata Touré, have opposed the postponement and criticized President Sall for damaging the reputation of our previously well-regarded democracy. Khalifa Sall has labeled these recent developments as an “institutional coup.”
Presidential candidate Anta Babacar Ngom, who has been chosen as one of the top twenty contenders, stated in an interview with Al Jazeera that she suspects the postponement of the election is a tactic for President Sall to extend his term. She argues that this is not just a political issue, but a matter of human rights and protecting democracy and national sovereignty, and urges others to reject it.
Sall has supported his choice and rejected claims that he was trying to hold onto control. During an interview with the Associated Press in Dakar on Saturday, he stated, “I am fully prepared to hand over leadership. I have always planned for that. My only goal is to leave a country that is peaceful and stable.”
Protesters have been gathering on the streets ever since parliament approved the decision last week, resulting in frequent clashes with law enforcement. Additionally, mobile data in Dakar was limited on February 5th and 6th, the days following the delay.
According to Isik Mater, the research director at Netblocks, Senegal has experienced telecoms blackouts in the past and these ongoing protests may potentially lead to similar disruptions.
Senegal’s justice minister, Aïssata Tall Sall, responded to those who criticized the delay in an interview on Friday, accusing them of having malicious intentions.
She stated that her reply to these individuals is to inform them that the proposal originated from a parliamentary group in the national assembly, even though it was from an opposing group.
On Monday, 105 out of 165 members of parliament voted to approve the bill to delay the event, despite efforts by a group of opposition members to halt the vote. Security forces intervened and used tear gas to disperse the small-scale protests happening outside.
Thirty-nine legislators from the Yewwi Askan Wi opposition coalition, along with multiple opposition candidates for president, have submitted legal appeals to the constitutional court.
The minister of justice stated that the constitutional court does not have authority over legal disputes. She also mentioned that the delay of the presidential election followed all guidelines outlined in the Senegalese constitution.
Sall did not mention the specific legal options for contesting the decision, but noted that the fact that adversaries were resorting to the legal system demonstrated that “we live in a functional democracy.”
Contributions were made by Reuters and Associated Press to this report.