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The Senegalese political tragedy

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Manipulation of the people to further one’s political cause?

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By Diomaye Ndongo Faye

The history of the political development of human societies teaches us that tragedies have often occurred when two of the most prominent political leaders in a social entity put their personal interests above those of their peoples in their battle for preservation and/or conquest of power. These protagonists begin by identifying the sources of great fear, uncertainty and concern among their people and decide to use them as a rallying point for their camp. Each one poses as the one and only person capable of leading the people to the other shore where the causes that underlie these feelings will disappear thanks to the magician’s stick that only he is able to make good use of. If the institutions of this administrative space are strong enough, this tragedy can lead to their reinforcement, this was the case of the civil war of the United States from 1861 to 1865. Otherwise, it is possible to have an outcome like what is happening in Somalia today.

These two political leaders in Senegal today are President Macky Sall and the undisputed leader of the current Senegalese opposition Ousmane Sonko. These two people must look at themselves in the mirror and ask themselves the following question: would I like historians to attach my name to the decay of the Republic of Senegal?

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A historical precedence?

President Macky Sall and those around him are driven by a strong intention to keep power. They use all the means at their disposal, and they are enormous, to prevent any credible candidacy of their opposition to the presidential election of Senegal. First it was Karim Wade and Khalifa Sall and now it’s Ousmane Sonko. Regarding the first two people mentioned, it was on an accusation of embezzlement and personal use of state funds. I have no data to deny or confirm these accusations. What I do know, however, like any good Senegalese who follows national news religiously, is that there are several people who are not at all concerned by the Senegalese justice system under the Presidency of Macky Sall despite the damning reports on his Administration’s management of property of the Senegalese State and despite signs of a weaponisation of the judiciary.

Demonisation of Sonko and Pastef

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In the case of Ousmane Sonko, he was first accused of being a Salafist. Some people who are basically unaware of what Salafism is or are motivated by bad intentions attach this nickname to him to make him seem like a radical Islamist who will put an end to the secularism of our republic and impose Sharia on the Senegalese people as soon as he will accede to the supreme magistracy of the country. For those who don’t know, Salafism was nothing more than a movement to return to the teachings of the Prophet Mohammad (PSL) and the first four Khalifs Abu Bakr (632-634), Omar (634- 644), Ôthman (644-656) and Ali (656-661). In a way, a call for a return to authenticity and a rejection of the divergent interpretations that divided Muslims.

Based on the results of the last legislative elections, it became clear to Macky Sall and his APR and BBY companions that this demonization of Ousmane Sonko and his party, Pastef (African Patriots of Senegal for Work, Ethics and Fraternity), did not have the desired effect on the Senegalese people. The Pastef electoral score, which has nothing to envy to those obtained by all the political oppositions that followed one another during the regimes of Senghor, Diouf and Wade, is remarkable. This excellent performance by Ousmane Sonko’s party has certainly sufficiently demonstrated that the latter can indeed defeat in 2024 any candidate put forth by the APR and BBY (Alliance Pour la République) and (Benno Bokk Yaakar).

Since the demonisation did not produce the expected result, Macky Sall and his companions who are determined to stay in power had to ask themselves the following question: What can be done to break the momentum of Pastef and especially Ousmane Sonko in their march which seems to be unshakable towards the conquest of power?

Politically-motivated trials or instrumentalisation of the judiciary?

They first brought out the complaint of one of the leaders of Sall’s APR for defamation, accusing Sonko of a false claim that a state audit had revealed mismanagement of funds during the implementation of the Community Agricultural Development Programme. Ousmane Sonko was then quickly sentenced to a six-month suspended prison sentence at the end of this trial. Some thought that was enough to put him out of harm’s way to the APR and BBY’s ambition to retain power. But the lack of clarity of the consequences of this verdict on the eligibility of Ousmane Sonko did not put Macky Sall and his companions at ease. Certainly, the law clearly says that this verdict prevents Ousmane Sonko from registering on the electoral lists of Senegal. But given that the latter is already registered and that the law says nothing about eligibility, wanting to ban Ousmane Sonko from running for office in 2024 on the basis of this verdict will not be justifiable and/or credible. Thus, the suspended prison sentence did not effectively preclude him from seeking the presidency according to the articles (L 29 and L 30) of the electoral code.

The pending legal case against Ousmane Sonko, his accusation of rape and death threat by Adji Sarr, then became the spare tire. To eliminate the danger that a possible candidacy of Ousmane Sonko represents for the preservation of power by Macky Sall and his companions, everything had to be done so that the verdict of this trial puts him aside. But the dismissal of the rape accusation at the trial by Sitor Ndour and the lack of merit of the evidence presented by Adji Sarr and her lawyers very quickly showed the Prosecutor that a guilty verdict against Ousmane Sonko will not be at all credible in the eyes of public opinion of the Senegalese and global community which are watching this trial like milk on the fire. Thus, knowing that he was going to lose, the prosecutor asked the judge that, if he could not be convicted for what he was accused of, he should be incriminated for the offense of “youth corruption”. Based on the testimonies during the trial, especially that of the young girl who was with Adji Sarr in the massage room and whom the latter had asked to leave to leave her alone with Ousmane Sonko, no self-respecting judge was going to take the offer of the Prosecutor.

Despite these inconsistencies in the presentation of the evidence to prove that Mr. Sonko deserves a conviction by the Senegalese justice, the Judge decided to follow the prosecutor for reasons that only God and himself know. One thing is certain, the lightness of the evidence presented to him and the seriousness of the situation that would be created by a guilty verdict capable of preventing Ousmane Sonko from being a candidate for the presidential election of Senegal in 2024, should have caused the judge to be cautious. Certainly, force must remain with the law. But this force will have to be based on judicial decisions that suffer from no shadow of an objective doubt.

A heavy-handed clampdown on civil disobedience

The other thing that I blame Macky Sall and his companions for is the excessive use of force in the form of selective imprisonments on dubious grounds and which a self-respecting judge would never have approved. The case of Bassirou Diomaye Faye is a typical example. In matters of justice the procedure is as important as the evidence presented to convict a person. In the case of Diomaye Faye, the police at least violated the procedure. The time at which he was brought to the police station and the absence of an arrest warrant constitute procedural defects that the judge before whom he was presented had no right to ignore. Outright relaxation should have been his decision the first time he was presented in front of the latter. Not only is Diomaye Faye rotting away in jail with no idea when his trial will be, but the charge on which he was arrested would lack weight before any self-respecting judge who has the smallest grain of desire to prove that what Diomaye Faye said before in his Facebook text was unfounded. To say that a minority of decision-makers within the Senegalese judiciary are corrupt is an undeniable truth. It is, moreover, an evil from which all the judiciaries of the world suffer, regardless of the state of progress of the political development of their countries. No magistrate who respects himself and accepts the rule of law as the lifeblood of the republic would dream of condemning Diomaye Faye on the grounds of insulting the judiciary for having expressed such an opinion which has been a world truth for centuries. Pastef has, according to its leaders, more than 400 (four hundred) of its members in prison for reasons related to their political activities. Certainly, it is very likely that among the people included in this count of Pastef members there are individuals guilty of flagrante delicto of actions having caused material damage. It is, however, no exaggeration to say that the vast majority among these detainees are for what they said. Not seeing these people as political prisoners is certainly more than bizarre behaviour.

What about Ousmane Sonko and PASTEF?

Although my son, Bassirou Diomaye Faye is in the leadership of this party, I must say here that I am not a member of this party. In fact, although being an activist of the Senegalese left, I stopped being involved in a political party because I realised the real limits of their ability to get my country out of the neocolonial abyss.

Pastef’s political program is certainly commendable, but it should be remembered that this is not new to Senegal. Many political parties were born in this country and had offered excellent programs to the Senegalese people. But for various reasons they never reached the level of popularity of Pastef. The two big reasons behind the rapid success of Pastef are in my humble opinion:

1)         The level reached by the lack of hope to find work among a largely skilled and educated Senegalese youth, what economists call mismanagement of the demographic dividend by the Senegalese state.

2)         The development of social media and the extraordinary ability of the members of the PASTEF communication unit to put them at the service of their cause, where the hype on social networks amplifies “the Sonko effect”.

To be continued on Monday

Diomaye Ndongo Faye is a consultant in Political Strategy Development based in

Princeton, New Jersey, United States.

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