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Thousands of Senegalese march in first authorised protest since elections postponed

In World
February 18, 2024

Thousands on Saturday joined the first authorised protest in Senegal’s capital since President Macky Sall postponed elections for his successor, only for a top court to overturn his ruling.

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In a sign of calming tensions in the West African country, the protests passed peacefully and police largely kept their distance.

Sall’s last-minute move to delay the February 25 poll triggered traditionally stable Senegal‘s worst crisis in decades.

The Constitutional Council intervened on Thursday and the president, under growing pressure at home and abroad, vowed to organise the elections “as soon as possible”, without any date being set.

On the streets of Dakar, demonstrators donned black T-shirts emblazoned with “Aar Sunu Election” (Protect our Election), the name of the civil society collective that organised the peaceful protest held in a festive atmosphere.

They held up placards reading “Free Senegal”, “Respect the election date” and “No to a constitutional coup d’Etat”.

Gendarmes were out in force around the march area, but they did not wear riot gear as they had during previous demonstrations.

Previous protests against the postponement of the ballot were all banned and ended in violence. Three people have been killed, and many arrested.

Tensions have eased since the council’s ruling and the authorities gave the go-ahead for Saturday’s march.

“Today’s watchword is mobilisation… Senegal has no room for error,” presidential candidate Malick Gakou said at the march.

Senegal must organise the election in March so that the handover of power to the new president can take place on April 2, the end of Sall’s official mandate, he said.

His decision to follow the council’s call “lifts a lot of stress”, said rapper El Maestro le Kangham, draped in a Senegal flag.

“I don’t trust him and I’m waiting to see if he keeps his word,” the 34-year-old demonstrator said.

‘United for same goal’ 

“I am proud to see that all Senegalese are united for the same goal, holding the elections as quickly as possible. We are ready to elect a new president,” added Cheikh Ahmed Tidiane Gueye.

At the end of the march, the Aar Sunu Election collective issued a communique calling on its members to “continue the mobilisation, to remain alert, and to monitor the republican process.” 

Sall, in power since 2012 but not running for a third term, said he called off the vote over disputes about the disqualification of potential candidates and concern about a return to unrest seen in 2021 and 2023.

The international community has voiced its concern over the unrest and called on Senegal to hold a vote as soon as possible, an appeal reiterated by African Union Commission chief Moussa Faki Mahamat on Saturday.

Despite Sall’s pledge to respect the Constitutional Council’s ruling, the new date for the election and the candidates are unclear.

Jailed opposition figurehead Ousmane Sonko was another major point of contention during Saturday’s protest, with marchers chanting “Free Sonko” and “Sonko, we miss you”.


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