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Unraveling the Senegal riots: Assessing responsibility amid opposition leader’s conviction

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By Kejau Touray

Senegal, known for its stability and democratic values, experienced a wave of riots and civil unrest following the conviction of prominent opposition leader Ousmane Sonko on charges of corruption of a minor. The riots resulted in tragic deaths and widespread looting, shaking the nation’s foundations and raising questions about responsibility. This article aims to delve into the Senegal riots, examining the factors contributing to the violence and exploring the shared responsibility for the tragic consequences.

Background: The conviction of Ousmane Sonko

Ousmane Sonko, a vocal critic of the Senegalese government and leader of the opposition party Pastef, was found guilty of corruption of a minor. The charges stemmed from accusations made by a young woman who alleged that Sonko had engaged in inappropriate conduct. The court’s verdict and subsequent sentencing sparked outrage and dissent among Sonko’s supporters, leading to mass protests that quickly escalated into violent riots.

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Factors contributing to the riots

Political tensions: The conviction of Sonko occurred against a backdrop of simmering political tensions in Senegal. The opposition party, discontented with the current government, viewed the charges against Sonko as politically motivated. This perception exacerbated existing divisions and deepened societal fault lines.

Socio-economic factors: The riots also reflected the underlying socio-economic challenges faced by many Senegalese citizens. High youth unemployment rates, income inequality, and limited access to basic services contributed to a sense of frustration and disillusionment among the population. The conviction of a prominent opposition leader further exacerbated these grievances, fueling the anger that manifested during the riots.

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Responsibility for the deaths and looting

Rioters and instigators: Those directly involved in the violent acts and looting bear a significant portion of responsibility for the tragic consequences. While the initial protests may have been driven by legitimate grievances, the subsequent escalation into violence resulted in loss of life and property destruction. Individuals who engaged in violent acts must be held accountable for their actions.

Government response: The government’s response to the protests and riots also played a role in shaping the outcome. The use of force by security forces to quell the unrest has drawn criticism, with concerns raised about excessive use of violence and potential human rights abuses. It is essential for the government to uphold principles of proportionality, ensuring the protection of citizens’ rights while maintaining law and order.

Political leadership: Both the ruling government and the opposition bear responsibility for addressing the underlying issues that fueled the unrest. Political leaders must engage in constructive dialogue, promoting inclusivity and addressing the concerns of marginalised communities. Fostering an environment of trust and actively seeking solutions can help prevent future escalations of violence.


The Senegal riots following the conviction of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko highlighted the deep-seated political and socioeconomic challenges faced by the country. While the government’s response and the actions of rioters contributed to the tragic consequences, responsibility also lies with political leaders and society as a whole. Addressing the underlying issues, promoting dialogue, and ensuring the protection of citizens’ rights are crucial steps toward fostering a peaceful and inclusive society in Senegal. It is through a collective effort that Senegal can rebuild and work towards a brighter and more stable future.

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