Senegal's Sonko welcomes hard-left Mélenchon in symbolic visit to Dakar


French hard left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon is on a four-day visit to Senegal, where he became the first French political figure to be received by the new government under the leadership of Prime Minister Ousmane Sonko. 

Mélenchon's visit to Senegal is largely seen as symbolic, coming six weeks after Bassirou Diomaye Faye won the presidency.

Both Sonko and Faye had been imprisoned by under former Senegalese leader Macky Sall. They took their Pastef party to a landslide victory in April after regaining their freedom.

Mélenchon's France Unbowed party was a staunch supporter of the Pastef leaders when the party was in opposition – something Sonko was keen to point out.

"The France Unbowed movement has been very visible and everyone has been able to see the extent to which its support has been constant, with no ulterior motives," he said when Mélenchon arrived on Wednesday.

“In the name of defending freedom, the values we share, democracy, but also quite simply justice. Thank you, Mr Mélenchon." 

The first physical meeting between the two was also an opportunity for Mélenchon to praise Senegal and its democratic transition.

“Sonko occupies a special place on the African continent. The whole of Africa is watching you," Mélenchon said in Dakar.

“The Senegalese people – like all the other peoples of Africa – want to control their future and by taking action they have succeeded in doing so democratically by voting."

'Seduction of Africa'

Mélenchon and his delegation are in Senegal until Saturday on invitation from Pastef following France Unbowed's numerous declarations of support during the opposition's three-year tug-of-war with the former government.

According to Le Monde Afrique daily, Mélenchon's visit sees him continue "his operation of seduction in Africa".

Le Monde Afrique also wrote how the politician supported Faye and Sonko, including via a video conference in April 2023 just before the imprisonment of the man who is now president of the country.

“On the African scene, Jean-Luc Mélenchon is also cultivating his differences with the French government,” the daily noted.

Senegal's communications Minister Alioune Sall added: "There is no unease with the French authorities. We make a distinction between our special relations with friendly parties and our long-standing relations with France”.

'Sovereign aspirations'

Sonko was prevented from competing in Senegal's election and was replaced by runner-up Faye, who won in the first round by promising to break with the old system.

Both Sonko and Faye remained in prison until a few days before the polls.

Speaking to the press on Wednesday, Sonko thanked France Unbowed for its "unfailing and constant support throughout the persecution of our party".

Sonko has often attacked the political and economic stranglehold that he believes France continued to exert under Senegal's former government.

While Mélenchon has praised the conduct of the presidential election in Senegal, he has also supported the “sovereign aspirations” at work in many African countries – including Sahel states that have seen several military coups.

Since 2020, military juntas in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger have broken with their ties with France.

Pastef has said that Sonko is due to visit these countries soon, prompting speculation about a potential "parallel" diplomacy in Senegal shared between Faye and Sonko.

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Started: 02-07-2024 | Ends: 31-10-2024