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The worsening crisis of chaos in Senegal

The worsening crisis of chaos in Senegal

The country which was the pride of Africa for its political stability and socio cultural avant garde and prestigious position has started to crumble. Senegalese and all those interested in Africa are taken aback. For years, during the presidency of Macky Sall the current leader of the country, several acts, that represent dictatorial measures, anti-democratic governance and naked violation of basic human rights, have taken place in the country. Senegal had, hitherto, been referred to as the citadel of excellent education (from secondary to higher education), contributing to the emergence of the first political leaders of ‘independent’ Africa. Above all, it was known as a country where no military coup or civil war had ever occurred. The army was well trained and disciplined, since its ‘independence’ in 1960 until now, peaceful transitions have been the tradition and as a result, Senegal was known as the beacon of democracy in Africa.

What cannot be denied is that France has always had a tight grip over the country, and Senegalese were said to take pride in their adoption of French ways. Although they succeeded in keeping the main features of their culture, the eating and dressing habits of the Senegalese generally follow the French tradition. A case which is mentioned over and over again is the fact Senghor, the first Senegalese president was the first and, so far, the only African who worked at the French Academy, the body that acts as the watchdog or gatekeeper for the French language. This shows how interconnected the French and Senegalese are, culturally and at several other levels.

Macky Sall’s presidency has shown more of French control over the country. He literally worked as the emissary of France and the European Union (EU) within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), so the interests of France and Europe are always safeguarded by the current Senegalese president, His Excellency Sall. A case in point was his action a few months ago at the Russia-Africa Summit. Macky Sall took everybody by surprise when he negotiated with Russian President Putin for the latter to allow grains to circulate out of the war zone (Russia, Ukraine, etc.). People thought that the negotiated cereals were destined to feed some African populations (as another manifestation of that ‘cup in hand’ shameful habit common to African leaders), and it was to everyone’s utmost surprise, when Russia agreed to allow the grains to circulate to certain European countries.  So, Europe used Sall to interfere for European interests. That gesture did not go down well with many Africans who openly castigated the Senegalese president and referred to him as a puppet of the West, the type that some would refer to precisely as a “French fried African president”.

The political turmoil which is currently shaking Senegal started about two years ago, when the reign of the current regime was coming to an end. Ousmane Sonko, the main opposition leader, who is known to be charismatic, popular and opposed to the French “remote-governance” practice was accused of several malpractices that ultimately proved to be unfounded. Despite his innocence, the opposition leader was jailed preventing him from contesting the elections to be held this month. The opposition party was stifled and muffled, but refused to give in. Most observers saw in this torment of the opposition an aggressive attempt to elect a pro-France president who would continue the policy that Sall spearheaded. The contention reached its crux with last week’s sudden and historic volte face when President Sall announced in early February that the presidential election initially scheduled to be held on February 25 this year was postponed, indefinitely. The reason behind his decision is a disagreement over the candidate list and allegations of disagreement among constitutional judges. The two-term tenure of Macky Sall was to have ended on 2 April 2024.

After the postponement was announced, opposition leaders and civil society groups who saw in this justification, “fallacious reasons”, a civilian coup protested, and the general opinion now is that Senegal is in crisis.  President Sall has been called a dictator, three protesters were allegedly killed, and former prime Minister Aminata Toure was arrested. Media outlets and other witnesses contended that the police fired tear gas shells to disperse the crowd which responded by throwing stones at them. Mobile internet access was suspended by the government and TV channels like private Walf TV had their signal suspended. The epitome of political stability in West Africa is gradually plunging into chaos, some analysts describe the situation as a “Napoleon coup style”, a constitutional crisis unfolding.

The ECOWAS was, once again, castigated. This situation shows how toothless the bloc is: They only promise moving in and assuring that discussion prevails. President Sall and his allies express the same rhetoric. After Burkina, Mali and Niger decided to leave the institution, many critics fear a violent expansion of this crisis. How far will the turmoil reach in Senegal itself, and what influence will the Senegalese crisis have over other West African countries, a region which has experienced much in terms of shake up? Aside the many coups, there were two coup attempts in Sierra Leone and Guinea Bissau. The political terrain in the subregion seems to be morphing at an unprecedented speed and moving in a completely new and almost unpredictable direction.

Moussa Traore is Associate Professor at the Department of English of the University of Cape Coast, Ghana.

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