Confronted with urban riots after the judicial indictment of oppositionist leader Ousmane Sonko, Senegal’s President Macky Sall is experiencing the most serious crisis since his accession to power.
Demonstrators were dispersed and pursued in the streets of Dakar by armed rioters that the forces of order turned a blind eye to. Total stations and Auchan supermarkets were ransacked by protesters. Tear gas and stun grenades were thrown in response to stone-throwing. Army tanks were positioned at strategic points in the capital.
And finally, according to Amnesty International, 11 people – including a 12-year-old child – died from bullets fired by the forces of order.
Not since the protests held in 2011-2012 against the controversial constitutional reform project and Aboulaye Wade’s third presidential candidacy, has Dakar experienced such scenes of rioting.
For Senegal’s President Macky Sall, re-elected in February 2019 to a five-year term, the riots at the start of March were a late baptism by fire.
“We are all witnesses to the demonstrations of rare violence that have broken out in recent days in Dakar. Nothing, no cause, can justify these regrettable acts,” said the head of state on the evening of 8 March, in an impromptu speech intended to lower the tension.
Usually praised for its stability, the country of Teranga has made an unusual appearance on the front pages of international media because of this outbreak of discontent which also set other cities in the country ablaze, from Thies to Ziguinchor.
“We didn’t expect such demonstrations, we were taken by surprise,” says a minister. While one editor described it as a barricaded regime, some government ministers chose to lodge their families in hotels while waiting for a lull.
At the heart of this unprecedented wave of protests lies a legal case that could have remained confined to the news. It concerns an accusation of rape made by the employee of a Dakar massage parlour.
The only difference is that Ousmane Sonko, the 46-year-old politician targeted by the young woman, is now seen as one of the last surviving members of a Senegalese opposition weakened by successive scandals and accusations of corruption which have targeted several of its leaders.
These include Khalifa Sall, Dakar’s former mayor, who has been stripped of his post due to a judicial conviction and former minister Karim Wade, who has been exiled to Qatar since 2016 after a stay of more than three years in Rebeuss prison.