A woman passes near a burned vehicle in Dakar on June 5, 2023, after four days of riots following the conviction of opponent Ousmane Sonko. JOHN WESSELS / AFP
Tribune. Like millions of Senegalese men and women, a deep sadness shook me during the events of early June. About twenty of our compatriots have died, an inestimable loss that nothing can justify. Why did Senegal find itself on the edge of the abyss when it was perceived as an island of peace, democracy and hospitality in a tormented Africa?
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The accession to power of Macky Sall, in 2012, meant for many the consecration of Senegalese democracy despite the battering of the regime of Abdoulaye Wade. However, the hopes of progress raised by the advent of Macky Sall were quickly dashed. More than a decade later, we are once again faced with a regime at the end of its course which agitates the possibility of a third mandate. To this is added a strategy of disqualification of opponents by the introduction of the opaque system of sponsorships, but also by the instrumentalization of justice, which annihilates the confidence of citizens with regard to the institutions.
It was because I had seen from the inside the serious attacks on Senegal’s strategic interests in the oil file, as well as the downhill slope that the regime of Macky Sall was fatally taking, that I had resigned from my post as minister in 2017. Today, as a deputy, I was once again able to see the President of the Republic’s contempt for democracy. I want proof of this in the unjustified closure of the National Assembly, in which he has a very narrow majority, for several months of this year.
A privileged minority
The dismantling of the traditional opposition has left a vacuum into which a new radical opposition has engulfed itself, making itself the spokesperson for a youth excluded from the dividends of growth so vaunted by the regime in place. This opposition makes excess in the denunciation of real or supposed embezzlement, its main line. Macky Sall, by having only his political adversaries tried, legitimized the feeling that only fierce resistance would make it possible to avoid political trials. He offered the pretext to an opponent to erase his share of responsibility in files putting him in contact with citizens because of his own mistakes.
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The Senegalese are exhausted, both socially and politically. The country, where more than 65% of the population is under 30 and in which many consider themselves castaways from the Republic, faces a high potential for violence. A tiny minority of the privileged benefit from growth sustained by excessive debt and investments in infrastructure that have little impact on the creation of wealth. The gaps in standard of living are widening between this minority and the majority, which bears the burden of the debt through the increase in the prices of basic necessities.
It has become obvious to all that the sudden wealth of some politicians is fueled by the misery of the Senegalese. When the Court of Auditors implicated several ministers and senior officials in the management of funds intended for the fight against Covid-19, few Senegalese were surprised. While justice is investigating this case at a slow pace, it is at the same time showing a strange speed in the case of the opponent Ousmane Sonko. What many of our fellow citizens see as proof of the liquidation of a political adversary.
The excesses of Macky Sall, as intolerable and excessive as they are, do not on their own explain Senegal’s descent into hell. Much of the intelligentsia has abandoned its role as scouts and has been replaced by a slew of people spreading nauseating ideas on social media. The normalization of physical violence, hate speech and the habit of seeing protesters or police die marks the beginning of a potentially fatal cycle.
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The current political crisis is exacerbated by political bipolarity. A significant part of civil society, opinion leaders, intellectuals, jurists, journalists, university professors have been engulfed in primary political antagonisms, thus plunging the nation into intellectual obscurity and discursive radicalism. . The debates are full of hatred and violence. Purge attempts are commonplace and no different thinking is tolerated anymore. Public debate is trapped by sectarianism and a political opposition that places the conquest of power above all else.
“The Africa World”
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It is our duty to face reality and to call for serenity and the return of the fundamental values which constitute our raison d’être: tolerance, “teranga” [« hospitalité », en wolof] and freedom of expression. I address a solemn appeal to all the actors of our nation, whose sacred mission is to preserve and strengthen our young democracy. I tell them: do not let Senegal sink. It is imperative to save our Republic. Our historical responsibility is at stake.
Thierno Alassane SallMember of the National Assembly of Senegal, President of the Republic of Values/Réewum Ngor party.