Senegalese activist Papito Kara found dead after trying to cross Mediterranean

By Melissa Chemam with RFI
Senegal  AP - Zane Irwin
NOV 3, 2023 LISTEN
© AP - Zane Irwin

The Senegalese activist Pape Ibra Guèye, known as “Papito Kara”, has died at sea while trying to reach Spain. Relatives in Dakar told RFI he feared being arrested.

The 31-year-old was known for his role within Pastef, the country's main opposition party, led by Ousmane Sonko.

Papito Kara died while trying to reach the the Spanish Canary Islands illegally on board a canoe, with dozens of others. Five other people are reported dead.

He had left without telling anyone from Kayar, a small port north of Dakar, on 24 October.

Known for his humorous press reviews on social media and television, Papito Kara was highly critical of the government led by President Macky Sall.

“He was a public figure, he had his whole future ahead of him,” Daouda Mbaye, a colleague from private channel Leral TV, told RFI correspondent Théa Ollivier in Dakar.

Fear of arrest

The activist was arrested last summer for spreading “false news”, according to the authorities, and finally released under judicial supervision in January 2023.

“He left because he was discouraged,” said his older brother, Mamadou Gueye.

“In Dakar, it was complicated for him; he had been afraid of being arrested again since his release from prison,” said Matar Ndiaye, another of his brothers. 

“He fought for the good of his country,” he added.

Dangerous escape route

The number of people leaving from Senegal on unsafe wooden boats has surged over the past year.

Nearly 1,000 migrants died while trying to reach Spain by sea in the first six months of 2023, according to the NGO Walking Borders.

Factors such as youth unemployment, political unrest and the impact of climate change push people to risk their lives on overcrowded boats.

Papito Kara “is the symbol of the never-ending tragedy that continues to unfold amid the total indifference of the people running the country”, wrote former prime minister Aminata Touré on Facebook.