Senegal goes to polls amid increasing political crisis

Macky Sall (Photo: CC)

This article was originally written after the outgoing Senegalese president, Macky Sall, suddenly postponed the presidential election set for February 25. Following mass opposition, the election is set to be held on March 24 and so this article has been updated.

On February 3, 2024, the current president of Senegal, Macky Sall, announced the postponement of the presidential election initially scheduled for February 25th. The Constitutional Council refused the postponement on 15 February, after having correctly described it as an “attempted institutional coup d’état”, especially as the government announced its intention to postpone the election to 15th December despite Sall’s term of office running out on April 2nd.

Since then, the political crisis has deepened and the government has been zig-zagging and manoeuvring. Finally, trying to outpace his opponents, Macky Sall announced, on Wednesday 6th March, a rapid organisation of the election, for two weeks later, on March 24th. Fuelling the confusion, Macky Sall dissolved the government to allow his former prime minister and favourite, Amadou Bâ, to campaign in the election.

However, the demonstrators, who are mobilizing against the rule of Macky Sall, and the government’s corruption, repressive policies and boundless devotion to the interests of capitalist multinationals (French, in particular, from Keolis-SNCF to Colas-Bouygues or Auchan, etc.) have not said their last word.

The flop of Macky Sall’s “national reconciliation”

Macky Sall announced a “national consultation” at the end of February. But as soon as it was announced, 17 of the 19 presidential candidates refused to participate in the “reconciliation” on 26 and 27 February. In a hurry, Sall pulled a “general amnesty” law out of his hat. Above all, it looks like a “self-amnesty”, to erase the abuses of power, and a tactic to keep control and give the impression of wanting to turn the page.

Unsurprisingly, the text was approved by the Assembly where the president’s party has a majority, with 94 votes in favour and 49 against. The opposition denounced this text, which aims to protect the perpetrators of serious acts, including homicides committed against opponents. It  then appeared likely that jailed opposition figures opposing Macky Sall would not be released from prison before the election. In the previous election in 2019, leading opposition candidates were excluded from standing. Now this applied to Ousmane Sonko, in particular, who was banned after disputed court conviction. And the exclusion also applies to Bassirou Diomaye Faye, Sonko’s surrogate candidate, who has been detained without trial since April 2023 on charges including inciting insurrection. But, faced with growing opposition, both Sonko and Faye were released from prison on March 14th to scenes of celebration in Dakar, the Senegalese capital. The majority of the population no longer wants this regime that thinks it is above everything.

Platforms for mobilization

Several platforms exist in the country bringing together the many oppositions. The citizens’ platform bringing together trade unions and citizens’ movements, Aar Sunu Election (“Protect our election”), the FC25 (Front of Candidates for the Presidential Election of 25-February) – a front of 16 candidates for the presidential election out of the 19 validated by the Constitutional Council. But there are also other platforms or groupings. This is the case of the F24 and the Front for the Defence of Democracy. There are also older movements, such as the “Y’en a marre” (“Fed up”) movement, created in 2011 after power cuts and price hikes.

These groups were created during these three years of government repression. The Cheikh-Anta-Diop University of Dakar (Ucad) has been closed since June 2023, after major protests and clashes erupted at Ucad following the sentencing of Ousmane Sonko to two years in prison for defamation.

Amnesty International has confirmed more than 60 deaths and cases of torture in connection with these movements in support of Ousmane Sonko, without any investigation or conviction. The amnesty law confirms that justice will only be done if this power has been ousted and replaced by a government that is not composed of politicians from the elites but truly at the service of the interests of the population. Four people died in February in protests against the postponement of the election.

A common front 

A large part of the population had the impression that the election was being stolen but also that Macky Sall was playing with fire. There was strong opposition to the election postponement, with the majority of organizations calling for elections before April 2, the official end date of the president’s term. The feeling was that Macky Sall had only repression and shenanigans to hold onto power. Mobilizations against the postponement intensified while the atmosphere pushed existing structures to work together.

On 27th February 2024, Aar Sunu Election organised a “dead day” in Dakar that affected schools, as teachers did not go to work; or symbolic elections on the initial date of the election on 25nd February.

On 29th February, the platform of the Aar Sunu Election was joined by the FC-25, the opposition coalition F24 and the Front for the Defence of Democracy. This common front of the opposition was formed in order to coordinate their actions on the holding of the election. This was an important step, although the question remained what basis would the mobilization be carried out. Clearly the call for a united front of workers, the poor and oppressed to fight this attempted coup was vital. But it is also necessary to oppose any attempts by pro-capitalist forces to limit the movement to working within capitalism. It is capitalism and its “democratic dictatorship” of profit that have kept Senegal at the mercy of imperialism; and as long as it stays in command it will forever prevent the country and its population having a government and an economy that will truly satisfy the needs of all.

Elections for what change in society?

The anger against Sall has taken shape over the electoral issue, but as we know, it goes much deeper in the face of the deterioration of daily living conditions. However, many candidates in the election, for example in the FC-25, just want the election but are not opponents of the regime or corruption. You can’t count on them: they would carry out much the same policies.

It is the involvement of workers, women, youth, and their organizations that will guarantee the holding of democratic elections, the total end of the arbitrary rule of Macky Sall/Amadou Bâ and prevent this or that politician from seizing power and just replacing Sall with another exploiter. Pro-capitalist forces will try to use the March 24 election as a means of controlling and ending the protests, as they fear what the masses could demand. We are in favour of free elections and also for fundamental change. A genuine left front would have used the election as a way to mobilise the masses, arguing that their problems can only be fundamentally solved by a workers and poor government which carries through a break with capitalism. Such a development would have an electrifying and win widespread support throughout west Africa which is suffering widespread crises.

Continuing the struggle after March 24

We need a mobilization that strongly marks the situation around the elections and afterwards. A mass mobilization that says: we will no longer accept this policy, we want democratic rights and an end to corruption, yes, but also the improvement of our living conditions, now! Living wages, free education for everyone, and well-paid jobs…

Workers and the population must organize independently of the schemers and politicians who defend the same system as the current Senegalese government. This includes providing the opportunity for workers and the population to discuss what happens after the election, the need to have their own party and the programme it should have to initiate real change. A new party that massively organizes the workers, the students, that puts at the heart of its programme: the wealth is ours and not the imperialists (whether French or others), the main companies must be nationalized/expropriated and without compensation, especially the banking system to get out of the CFA and cancel the debt. A party that fights against capitalism and to replace it with democratic socialism, in the hands of the workers and the people. Only socialism offers a system that can allow us to emancipate ourselves from the imperialists and to really develop the country by planning economic production according to needs, and thus put an end to unemployment, poverty and oppression.

In West Africa, dictators have a lot to worry about!

This would be an example and an inspiration to all the people who are struggling against corrupt regimes and military dictatorships (who claim to be anti-imperialist while keeping all the wealth for themselves and are just as much in league with the multinationals as their predecessors). Most of the media talk about West Africa only in terms of terrorist risks in the region and the difficulties that there would be since the ties with the power in France are weaker. It’s a colonial vision. All leaders who cling to power have something to worry about in Africa (and elsewhere!). Workers, women and youth in Africa are seeking to fight and rid themselves of injustice, so-called profit-driven social development and the absence of democratic rights. The fight for a socialist society is back on the agenda!

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March 2024