Since May, the West African country of Senegal has been rocked by a series of protests, counter protests, riots and upheaval. The reason for all the tension and chaos in the country has been the arrest and planned prosecution of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko.


There has been even more widespread condemnation and outcry after footage emerged showing police men confronting opposition supporters using an eight year old boy as a human shield.

An unclear image from the video showing Senegalese Policemen holding up an Eight Year old boy as a human shield. Credit: Le Monde

Mr. Sonko, president of the Pastef-les Patriotes party and also the Mayor of the southern city of Ziguinchor is planning to contest for the Presidential seat when the elections come around in February 2024. Sonko, who is very popular among the country’s unemployed youth and has undergone a meteoric political rise in the last few years, says the prosecution case against him is made up in a bid to keep him from contesting for the presidency.

Convicted of “corruption of youth,” Sonko was initially charged with rape by a former employee of a massage parlor. He boycotted the trial proceedings, but was forcibly returned to Dakar by the police recently, ahead of the verdict. His trial and particularly forcible return to the capital, sparked protests by his supporters, who took to the streets to denounce the charges against him. Like Sonko, his supporters argue the charges are politically motivated, which the authorities deny.

The prosecution claimed the 48-year-old politician sexually assaulted and made death threats against a woman, Adji Sarr, who worked in a massage parlor in 2021. Prosecutors were seeking a 10-year jail term for the politician. While Sonko admits he visited the “Sweet Beaute” salon in the capital, Dakar, for a massage for chronic back pain, he strongly denies any assault.

Opposition leader Ousmane Sonko and Mayor of Ziguinchor is seen as a star in Senegalese political circles. The general feeling is that the current administration is doing all it can to silence him. Credit:BBC

Senegal’s electoral laws bar individuals convicted of criminal offenses from running for political office.

Right now critics are pointing their fingers at incumbent President Macky Sall. Mr. Sall, elected in 2012 and re-elected in 2019 is believed to be engineering a way to remain in power beyond the end of his two terms.

President Macky Sall has not said a word about his intentions, but, for several weeks, those close to him have been doing so at leisure. In many cities across the country, meetings advocating the candidacy of the president for a third term have been organized.

The main entrance of the University of Dakar after it was shut down due to the riots and protests that spread into the school campus which left several cars burnt and people injured. Credit:

Naturally, protesters are angry that President Macky Sall has refused to rule out running for a third term while Senegal has a two-term presidential limit. The situation is even more appalling considering Sall was the immediate past chairperson of the African Union, Africa’s Continental body that preaches respect for rule of law and democratic stability to its member nations.

The death toll from anti-government protests in Senegal has risen to 25, police said on Saturday, as authorities in the capital Dakar began to clear up debris and secure looted shops after days of unrest.

Senegalese President Macky Sall. He has been accused of seeking a third term which is unconstitutional in Senegal and sponsoring attacks on the supporters of his opponents. Credit: AFP

Police officers have also been accused and roundly criticized of using children to protect themselves from demonstrators after a video showing two officers holding a young boy at arm’s length circulated on social media. Confronting the men in uniform, demonstrators demanded that the boy be released. “We invite the state to seek out and punish the perpetrators of acts compromising the safety and well-being of children,” UNICEF said in a statement recently.

Authorities have of course denied illegal policing had taken place. “The police can’t use a child as a human shield, it’s impossible. Manipulation on social media is commonplace. Who’s to say that this child wasn’t in the process of being saved or protected?” Interior Minister Diome said.

Speaking to the press recently as part of the government’s PR counter-offensive, Diome denounced “attacks by occult forces” and “foreign influence.” He withheld further information “for security reasons” but pointed out that he had seen online videos of “people with firearms shooting at the population even though they were not the forces of order and security.”

Security forces look at supporters of Senegal opposition leader Ousmane Sonko during clashes after Sonko was sentenced to prison, in Dakar, Senegal. Credit: REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

The United States of America has just officially spoken out on the situation in the country, since the conviction of Ousmane Sonko and the unrest that followed.

“As a friend and solid partner of Senegal, the United States is disturbed and saddened by the violence and damage that we have witnessed in many parts of the country,” the US State Department responded recently.

Protesters run from tear gas in Dakar, Senegal after they were gassed by federal police officers. Credit: AFP

In order to suppress the agitations of the visibly angry citizenry and to prevent the world from seeing the atrocities and the repression law enforcement and the thugs he has armed, are carrying out on the population the government has restricted access to the internet, shut down radio and tv stations and ordered most of the country’s tertiary institutions to shut down.

Amnesty International has called on the Senegalese government to cease arbitrary arrests, and unconditionally release all those being detained because of their political activities. The international community, including the neighboring country Gambia, ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States), the African Union, France and the USA, have made statements appealing to the Senegalese government to stop the violence and let everyone be free to express their point of views.

Amnesty International’s Seydi Gassama is alarmed by this climate. “The worst is surely yet to come. If Ousmane Sonko is arrested [he is currently under de facto house arrest at his home] and sent to prison, or if President Sall announces his candidacy [for a third term], the country could well go up in flames,” he said to reporters recently. Till then, the world watches on with keen interest.


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