Thousands of Senegalese – both men and women – marched throughout the west African nation last week, protesting against the opposition leader’s arrest, Ousmane Sonko, who has been accused of rape. These protests are foreseen as the worst ever to hit the Senegalese community in almost a decade, in which at least eight civilians were killed.
WHO IS OUSMANE SONKO AND WHY WAS HE ARRESTED?
Sonko, a 46-year-old man known to be one of the country’s best opposition leaders, rose to relevancy during the 2019 presidential election after receiving over 15% of the popular vote. His speeches condemning government corruption and poverty won over the civilians in Senegal.
On March 3., Sonko was accused of a rape that took place in February and has denied the charges, persisting that all allegations were fabricated. On his way to the court appearance, Sonko was arrested for disturbing the public after hundreds of his supporters clashed with the police. Following his arrest, protestors took to the streets to shout their frustration.
ARE THE PROTESTORS REALLY FIGHTING ABOUT THE RAPE CASE?
Sonko’s supporters believe that Senegalese President Macky Sall is trying to hinder the opposition leader’s political future. If Sonko is convicted, he will face up to 10 years in jail and be prohibited from participating in the 2024 election. The Senegalese community knows that this is not the first time an opponent of the president has faced criminal charges ahead of elections. They worry that Sall will follow Ivory Coast’s footsteps.
HOW HAS SENEGAL’S PRESIDENT AND GOVERNMENT RESPONDED?
Late last Monday, Sall went on national television six days after the protests erupted in Senegal. He trimmed the nightly curfew by three hours after reconciling with the pain that many Senegalese are experiencing. However, he warned the protestors against continuing to foment unrest, saying, “When you ransack a business, you don’t create jobs, you destroy them.”
The government stationed riot police and security forces into the neighborhoods, shooting rubber bullets and tear gas at demonstrations. The government has restricted the use of social media and messaging apps, including Facebook, WhatsApp and Youtube as well as suspending two private broadcast television stations that covered the protests.
SO WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
Now, that Sonko has been released on bail on Monday pending trial, and some of his supporters have officially canceled future protests. Sonko is calling for an investigation into the allegations of police brutality during the protests. He has also called out the president to publicly reject the idea of running again for the 2024 presidential election. Instead of commenting publicly on his future plans, Sall declared a day of national mourning and announced that he would lift the COVID-19 restrictions. He has not addressed the several demonstrators who died at the hands of the Senegalese security forces.