At least three people were killed in Senegal on Tuesday during demonstrations in support of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko. The demonstrations took place before Sonko was scheduled to attend a rape trial in Dakar, which has since been postponed.
The judge in charge of the criminal chamber of the Dakar High Court decided to postpone the trial of Sonko in order to provide the attorneys for the key witnesses with additional time to review the case files. The decision to postpone the trial occurred after a period of turmoil in the West African nation that lasted for twenty-four hours and was connected to the case against a senior leader there.
Following the demonstrations, the bodies of two people were discovered in Dakar and Ziguinchor, and according to the ministry of the interior, a police officer was killed when an armored police car crashed into him by accident. During the violent rallies that took place on Monday night, buses were set on fire, several shops were attacked, and people clashed with the police in both the capital city of Dakar and in Sonko’s birthplace of Ziguinchor.
Abdoulay Sy, a Senegalese IT engineer who now resides in the United States, was surprised by the demonstrations while he was visiting his family in Keur Massar, on the outskirts of Dakar. “It’s politics that’s going on,” he said. The engineer, who is 35 years old, was quoted as saying, “This is our stuff; we pay taxes; this is our staff; if they burn it, they are destroying our things.” He also mentioned that every time there were elections, unrest and “bad things” occurred. He stated that the lack of possibilities for young people was another factor that fueled the demonstrations, and he urged all parties involved to work toward restoring peace.
During this time, Sonko stayed in Ziguinchor, the town he serves as mayor of and the location where the disturbance began on Monday. At that time, his followers were attempting to shield him from an impending arrest in order to ensure that he would be present in court. The accusation that Sonko abused a lady while she was employed at a massage parlor led to the filing of criminal charges against him. He has denied the allegations and stated that there was a plan to remove him from the race for the presidency.
Sonko may face up to ten years in prison and be disqualified from running for president in 2024 if he is found guilty of the charges against him. He was recently handed a 6-month suspended prison sentence in a slander case brought against the Minister of Tourism, Mame Mbaye Niang, to whom he must pay approximately $330,000 in restitution.
The head of the opposition announced that he will no longer answer court summonses going forward. In the 2019 presidential election in Senegal, Sonko ran against incumbent President Macky Sall. The previous year, he was also elected mayor of Ziguinchor. A heavy police presence was observed all around Senegal, including in Dakar, Ziguinchor, and other cities.