Senegal: Civil society, opposition step up protests to break political deadlock

By Melissa Chemam with RFI
FEB 27, 2024 LISTEN

Several hundred people demonstrated in the Senegalese capital Dakar on Saturday calling on President Macky Sall to set a date to elect his successor before his term ends on 2 April. Meanwhile, researchers, teachers, economists and analysts have been gathering to try and break the political stalemate.

Earlier this week, President Macky Sall promised to step down when his mandate ends on 2 April, but he said he could not yet set a new date for an election.

Pressure is increasing for him to end a three-week electoral crisis that has fuelled unrest and fears of democratic backsliding.

Instead, Sall invited political parties and civil society to take part in talks scheduled for Monday and Tuesday.

This proposal has already been rejected by 15 of the 19 presidential candidates.

"By his actions, he is destroying the constitution and tailoring it to his needs," said a spokesperson for opposition candidate Khalifa Sall, calling on Sall to announce the election date as soon as possible.

Nation's future 'held hostage'

"I categorically reject this sham of a dialogue," said fellow contender Anta Babacar in a statement. "You cannot hold a nation's future hostage."

Journalists and members of the civil society also decry the president's lack of concrete action, while he took off to Abuja to attend the Ecowas' summit.

In Dakar, civil society and opposition parties under the initiative of the F24 grouping took to the streets on Saturday and have organised more protests for the whole weekend and a "dead city" operation for Tuesday.

   "We want elections", protesters in Dakar chanted, draped in national flags. "Macky Sall dictator."

Concern for Senegalese institutions and economy

Meanwhile, calls for political leaders to focus on people's needs and the economy are intesifying.

Taxi drivers and shop owners deplore the crash of the tourism industry, while students complain about the closure of some of their dorms and classes.

Universities and schools had to close for days, and the economy runs at a very slow pace.

The Academic Council of Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar met yesterday Friday, and finally decided to resume face-to-face teaching from next Monday.

On Friday as well, researchers from Wathi, a Dakar-based West African think tank, held a roundtable to share good practices and discuss solutions to the multifactorial crisis. 

They presented priority projects for Senegal over the next five years, with researchers from different public universities in Senegal.

Wathi founder Gilles Yabi said that university researchers have "the responsibility of training the future political, economic, scientific and cultural decision-makers of the country", and that of "producing knowledge which should guide major decisions in all areas."

An example in West Africa 

Most participants agree that the executive power, and especially President Sall, has too much power and that this slows down the administrative process, which is bad for many economic sectors, including energy, transport, education and trade.

Zainab Kane, doctor and researcher in public law at the Alioune Diop University in Bambey, also a women's rights activist and member of the Association of Senegalese Lawyers, said she believes that institutional reforms are essential too.

"Institutions must be strengthened to make them more democratic, so that they serve the populations for whom they were created."

A guest at the event, Timbuktu Institute researcher Boubacar Ndiaye told RFI English that "people really feel that this election is now a priority, as much as food and connectivity." 

"It is now very important for all Senegalese that this election takes place as soon as possible," he added. "Luckily, everything went through the legal process, and according to the rule of law. And, despite all the tension, there was no violence. This is why I hope that in the end Senegal will experience another peaceful political transition, which is a rare product in West Africa right now."

 The new election date is now expected to be known on Tuesday.