Senegalese Opposition Leader Charged Again After Dissolution Of Party


The Senegalese leader of the recently dissolved political party PASTEF, Ousmane Sonko, has been charged with theft and calling for insurrection after his arrest in Dakar on Friday. His lawyers were denied all communication with Sonko, apart from Me Cire Cledor Ly, who was able to petition for a meeting. Sonko’s lawyers denounced the actions of those who have prevented Sonko from counsel during what they allege is a non liquet, or a situation with no applicable law.

Ousmane Sonko’s situation is not straightforward. The public law graduate has had an eventful political career that began with his dismissal from tax inspection after publicly speaking out about tax evasion. He then joined the National Assembly and eventually became the mayor of Ziguinchor.

However, his controversial rape trial (acquitted of rape but charged with “corrupting youth”) waylaid his goals and promises during his tenure. Despite this, Sonko is widely popular with Senegalese youth due to his anti-corruption and anti-colonial power views. He also has a strong social media presence, utilizing platforms such as X (formerly known as Twitter) and Facebook.

Sonko’s political party Patriots of Senegal (PASTEF) has gained political momentum; they won 56 of 165 parliamentary seats in 2022, setting Sonko up as a viable candidate for presidency. However, his recent conviction threatens his position on the ballot according to the country’s electoral code. He may have applied for a retrial, but his recent arrest poses yet another barrier.

Protests have sparked in response to his arrest, as supporters allege that the charges are a strategy by President Macky Sall’s party to hound the opposition. As some demonstrations have grown violent, the government claims that Sonko and PASTEF are promoting chaos.

The Response

The Senegalese government’s handling of Sonko’s arrests and response to citizen’s protests has been lacking. Rather than addressing the claims that the arrests were made because of party interests, authorities blocked Senegalese citizens’ access to social media and the internet in an effort to prevent citizens from organizing protests. Communications Minister Moussa Bocar Thiam made a statement about the move; “due to the dissemination of hateful and subversive messages on social networks… mobile data internet is being temporarily suspended.” Rather than limit protests and stifle the criticism from Sonko’s supporters, the government’s actions have only added fuel to the fire; the opposition coalition called on citizens to march to the courthouse, and protesters blocked a major highway.

Apart from Sonko’s supporters, other Senegalese citizens are also displeased with the government’s internet restrictions. They can no longer access apps such as TikTok and WhatsApp, which many young people use for business and sales. Other internet and social media blocks have limited the information citizens can access about the government and elections. As these bans affect the entire country’s population, the internet crackdown is sowing unrest.

Moving Forward

Transparency in political and judicial processes is vital to maintain citizen’s trust in the government. Widespread public distrust can lead to groups acting in an irregular, violent, or lawless manner—a worsening of the current situation. Rather than making violent organization more difficult, cutting off the public’s communication will only cause further animosity towards political leaders. The government of Senegal must cease their disruption of the internet and instead utilize online journalistic sources to communicate their actions, reasonings, and interests with their citizens. If their claims are true, then transparency is the key to prove that the arrests and charges of Sonko are not a political power play borne of corruption.

If the government will not allow Senegalese citizens access to communication and internet service, then the public must seize their own means of spreading and receiving information. Blocking total or partial internet access has become an uncommon strategy for governments to quell protestors. However, there are many ways that individuals and organizations have learned to work around these obstacles—no matter the type.

Virtual private networks (VPNs) are easily accessible proxy servers that can allow a person to use a cell service based in another country. This can be particularly helpful during partial internet blockages, where the government is targeting specific websites or platforms. Private servers can also allow citizens to do the same thing but can bypass VPN-targeted blocks due to their decentralized nature.

Communication for groups can also be reestablished, even during total internal blockages. Mesh networks can utilize local radio waves (such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth) to transmit information from person to person. While there are proximity limits to this technology, it can be useful for organized demonstrations such as protests.

As technology progresses, there are increasingly more avenues to bypass restrictions on internet use. The first step in utilizing this technology is to educate populations about their existence. Human rights and other non-governmental organizations are key actors that can disseminate information about how to bypass an internet blockage—before it happens. Timely advocacy ensures that individuals have the opportunity to pre-download resources that are resistant to government censorship and have the knowledge to use those resources to regain internet access.

Access to the internet is vital for the daily lives of the Senegalese people. Government-ordered blockages disrupt the lives of the public and deepen the divide between citizens and their government. If states cannot be persuaded to rethink their strategies, then the people and the organizations supporting them must take action to protect their access to the internet they rely on. This advocacy cannot wait until the next blackout—we must act now.


Leave a Reply