The African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are facing mounting pressure to assume responsibility and address the intensifying situation in Senegal.
Senegal is grappling with an escalating crisis as protests persist following President Macky Sall’s controversial decision to postpone the presidential elections initially slated for February 25.
The new election date has been rescheduled for December 15, prompting opposition from activists and political parties who argue that Sall lacks the mandate to alter the initial schedule.
Civil society groups, both within Senegal and the broader West Africa bloc, are calling for action to end the crisis. The West African Civil Society Forum (Wacsof) has strongly condemned the government’s actions, asserting that it violates the African Union’s charter on democracy and Ecowas’s protocol on democracy and good governance.
“Wacsof calls on Ecowas and the African Union to side with the people by clearly and firmly taking their responsibilities while avoiding variable treatment in the face of any act of violation of the constitutional order, both civil and military,” the organization declared.
This more than 1,000-member organization serves as the umbrella network for civil society in West Africa, representing all 15 Ecowas countries.
By taking such action, Wacsof contends that the Sall administration has violated fundamental democratic principles, and its disregard for the constitution raises concerns about the country’s democracy, potentially undermining decades of progress in one of the few democratic nations in the region.
“Contempt for the constitution is one of the stages preceding dictatorship,” Wacsof said in a statement specifically addressed to the regional bodies and the Senegalese people.
The protests have resulted in two reported deaths and a growing number of arrests, including prominent politicians and activists. Among the detained are former Prime Minister and ex-Sall ally, Aminata Toure, and activist turned politician, Prof Daouda Ndiaye, also a presidential candidate and leader of a citizens’ movement.
Even lawmakers are not spared, with Guy Marius Sagna, an ally of opposition politician Ousmane Sonko, among those detained. The opposition is determined to prevent the extension of Sall’s mandate, leading to heightened tensions and clashes with security forces.
The death of a 29-year-old Dakar resident on Saturday, after being shot with a live bullet by security forces, brought the death toll to two since protests began following Sall’s announcement postponing the elections. The first death occurred in the northern city of Saint-Louis on Friday when a student succumbed to bullet injuries.
In Dakar, major roads, rail lines, and markets have been closed as a result of the unrest, with security forces firing tear gas to disperse protesters. Many parts of the capital and other regions across the country are experiencing street demonstrations, with protesters setting fire to properties in the face of charging armed security forces.
The response from the international community has included statements of condemnation and concern. The United States and European Union, along with Senegal’s former colonial master, France, have criticized the postponement of the elections.
Calls are now coming from Senegal’s neighbors, with the African Elections Observers Network (AfEONet) defending the actions of the protesters, noting that it resonated with the core principles of freedom and self-determination that the Network staunchly upholds.
“AfEONet vehemently denounces the postponement and forceful raid within the hallowed halls of the National Assembly, where armed personnel forcibly removed elected representatives voicing their opposition to the deferral of the electoral process,” AfEONet stated.
The Nigeria-based Electoral Forum, comprising African intellectuals and civil society activists working on elections integrity, called on the Senegalese government to stop the “constitutional coup” after a meeting it convened on Wednesday. It emphasized that the resistance from the Senegalese people is a common struggle for all Africans and democratic forces.
“We call on the Senegalese people to maintain their dogged struggle for the preservation of democracy,” the statement signed by 25 eminent academics and activists concluded.
The government’s response to the protests has also raised concerns about press freedom, with restrictions imposed on mobile internet and the clampdown on mainstream media.
The umbrella body of journalist associations in Senegal, the Coordination of Press Associations or CAP, has called on the Minister of Information, Moussa Bocar Thiam, to relax the restrictions and reverse the cancellation of the broadcasting license of Walfajri, a leading independent television station in Senegal.
“This act is a sneaky blow, a very serious attack on freedom of the press and expression in a country where the press has, for decades, always contributed to the consolidation of democracy, the rule of law, and freedom of expression,” CAP emphasized.
The organization expressed concern about the economic implications of the move on employees of the broadcaster and reminded the government of the resilience of journalists and media professionals in Senegal in the face of such challenges.
As Senegal grapples with internal strife, the implications of the crisis extend beyond its borders, raising concerns about democratic backsliding and potential regional instability.