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Understanding Senegal’s youth protests

Last week Senegal’s protests deepened as president Macky Sall’s potential bid for a third term sparked outrage amongst thousands. According to local reports, three have died including a teen while more than thirty have been injured backing opposition leader Ousmane Sonko.

Senegal’s Gen Zers have taken to the streets in large numbers, expressing their vehement opposition to President Macky Sall’s intention to seek a third term in the upcoming 2024 elections.

Simultaneously, the ongoing situation surrounding opposition leader Ousmane Sonko has further fueled discontent among the nation’s young people.

For several weeks now, Senegal has witnessed a groundswell of protests, primarily led by young people who make up a significant portion of the population.

The demonstrations, organized under the banner of various youth organizations, have drawn crowds in major cities such as Dakar, Thies, and Kaolack. Schools and businesses have remained closed in most parts of these cities due to constant battles between protesters and the police.

Chanting slogans and waving placards, the protestors are demanding an end to President Sall’s perceived attempt to cling to power.

President Macky Sall, who came to power in 2012 and was reelected in 2019, had initially pledged to honor the country’s two-term limit set by the constitution.

However, his recent signals of a potential bid for a third term have sparked widespread outrage. Critics argue that a third term would undermine democratic principles and perpetuate a concentration of power.

The youth protesters argue that a fresh leadership approach is urgently needed, one that is accountable, transparent, and addresses their concerns, which include high unemployment rates, inadequate access to education and healthcare, and the need for broader civic engagement.

According to the World Bank statistics, unemployment among young people (15-24 years) is at 4.8%. Despite the recent decline, Senegalese youths still view President Sall’s potential third term as an obstacle to progress and a stifling of democratic change.

The protests have gained momentum in recent days following the arrest and ongoing legal troubles of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko. Sonko, a charismatic figure who rose to prominence during the 2019 elections, has been a vocal critic of President Sall’s administration.

He has faced allegations of rape, which he vehemently denies and claims are politically motivated to suppress his popularity in the country.

The situation surrounding Sonko has become a focal point for the protesters, who perceive it as an attack on opposition voices and a blatant manipulation of the justice system. They demand fair treatment and a transparent investigation into the allegations.

The government’s response to the protests has been mixed. While some officials have called for calm, others have deployed security forces to disperse the crowds, resulting in sporadic clashes between protesters and police.

Human rights organizations have expressed concern over the use of excessive force and the arrests of peaceful demonstrators.

Similarly, president Sall’s supporters plan to stage a pro-government demonstration at Place de la Nation (Place de l’Obelisque) in Dakar this weekend.

The newly formed Convergence of Democracies to Safeguard the Republic (S24) exists to promote the current government and show support for Sall’s re-election amid growing societal tensions.

International observers and foreign governments have been closely monitoring the situation in Senegal, emphasizing the importance of upholding democratic principles and respecting the will of the people.

The African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have called for restraint and dialogue, urging all parties to seek peaceful resolutions and ensure that the upcoming elections are free and fair.

According to Amnesty International, the government is already intensifying repression ahead of the 2024 elections by banning protests which are allowed by the constitution and suspending media stations such as the privately owned Walf Tv.

Similarly, Samira Daoud, Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Amnesty International through a statement said the Senegalese authorities are weakening human rights protection in the country.

As Senegal’s youth continue to voice their discontent, their determination remains unwavering. With the 2024 elections on the horizon, the country stands at a critical crossroads, where the aspirations of the younger generation collide with the entrenched political establishment.

The outcome of these protests and the nation’s response will undoubtedly shape Senegal’s political landscape for years to come.