Vatican News English Africa Service
Violent demonstrations rocked Senegal after the arrest of a popular opposition leader, Ousmane Sonko.
Bishops saddened by deaths
In a message first reported by La Croix Africa, Senegalese Bishops have spoken of their sadness following deadly demonstrations in which eight persons died. The Bishops are now calling for national dialogue and an end to the tense atmosphere that led to the violent protests.
“Human lives have been snatched away… public and private property … plundered, destroyed and stolen, without any moral or ethical consideration, defying all justice and making the situation of many workers and their families even more precarious,” said Benjamin Ndiaye, the Archbishop of Dakar on behalf of other Bishops.
According to Amnesty International, protests and violent clashes erupted in Senegal after Ousmane Sonko, a leading opposition figure, was arrested on 3 March and charged with disturbing public order and participating in an unauthorised demonstration while on his way to court to respond to a summons from a judge in a separate criminal case.
After his arrest, Sonko appeared before a judge without his lawyers on 5 March. He was charged with “calling for an insurrection.”
Investigate the deaths
Samira Daoud, Amnesty International West and Central Africa Director, has since called for investigations into the deaths of protesters.
“We reiterate our call on the authorities to launch impartial investigations into the circumstances of these deaths, and we urge them to ensure people can safely exercise their right to peaceful assembly, as protected under the country’s constitution and international law.” Daoud added, “Members of the security forces who use excessive force or unlawful lethal force must be prosecuted according to law.”
Sonko’s political future
Sonko was released from custody Monday. He has accused Senegalese President Macky Sall of trying to derail his political future. The criminal charge of rape facing Sonko carries a 10-year sentence if convicted.
Some political analysts in Dakar similarly point to President Sall’s questionable use of the judicial system to fix perceived opponents by charging them with criminal cases. They point to former presidential aspirants such as Karim Wade and the former Mayor of Dakar, Khalifa Sall, as examples.
Who is Ousmane Sonko?
Ousmane Sonko is a former chief tax inspector known for tax justice advocacy. He is a popular opposition politician who rose to prominence during Senegal’s 2019 presidential election. He is 46 years old. In the presidential election, Sonko finished third with 15% of the total electoral vote. However, his fiery speeches condemning government corruption and collusion with French interests at the expense of the poor have resonated with ordinary Senegalese whose livelihoods have been destroyed by the government’s crippling Covid-19 measures.
In particular, Senegal’s young people have found, in Sonko, a voice and the much-longed-for political space. Sonko is seen as a rising star of Senegalese politics. He insisted, this week, that he is not trying to topple the government through a popular uprising