Senegal’s Political Crisis: A Need for Socialist Alternative
Senegal is in political crisis following a deadly crackdown on protesters by Macky Sall government forces in early June, 2023. The protests which started early June 2023 followed the conviction of the opposition figure, Ousmane Sonko, by a Senegalese court for a nebulous charge of ‘corrupting youth’. While Sonko, of Patriots for Work, Ethics, and Fraternity (PASTEF) party, was charged with rape of a lady working in a massage salon and making a death threat, he was however discharged of this but then convicted on amended charge of ‘corrupting the youth’. Sonko, who contested the last presidential election in 2019, and came third with 15 percent of ballot, is seen by a wide layer of youth as a rallying point against the repressive and capitalist Macky Sall government.
By Kola Ibrahim
The sentencing of Sonko officially put him out of presidential contest next year. The protests were met with repression by the government, which led to the death of 15 persons according to official source, and more than 30, according to the opposition. Several others were injured while hundreds more were arrested and detained. The internet was also partially shut down. This shows the frenetic attempt of the Sall government to prevent a revolt.
More than being just a protest against the sentencing of Sonko, the political turmoil also boils down to the widespread opposition to Macky Sall government by the population, especially the youth, who have had to bear the brunt of capitalist economic policies that have worsened their conditions. More importantly, the protests are linked to the possibility of Macky Sall’s attempt at manipulating the constitution to secure a third term. The protests were however able to force him to backtrack.
Economic privation met political repression
Behind the general disapproval of Sall’s attempt for a third term is the growing economic deprivation for wide layer of Senegalese, especially the youth. Unemployment and underemployment is at 31.5%, with most employed people in the low-paying informal sector. Poverty has also increased significantly, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, with 50.8 percent of the population being multidimensionally poor (UNCTAD, 2023). Inflation increased from 2.2% in 2021 to 14.9% on November 2022, with food inflation reaching over 15.5% (FAO, 2023). This has further eroded the living standards of many families, 70 percent of whom are poor.
Alongside this is the pervasive corruption, which criticism by Sonko has echoed among wide layer of the population. While the regime is quick to arrest and prosecute dissent voices and protesters, it however stalls on cases of official corruption. Added to the economic deprivation and corruption is the growing repression. All of these have made the Sall government more unpopular.
The rise of Ousmane Sonko
The failure of the Macky Sall government, despite the initial enthusiasm from mass of Senegalese working people, led to search for alternative, especially outside of the traditional and old political structure. Ousmane Sonko, who is 48, is seen as representing this new alternative by many young people. A former tax inspector, who was sacked for his critical comments on corruption in the country, became a popular voice among wide layer of young people and workers in Senegal. He was once quoted saying, “theoretically, no politician in Senegal should be very, very rich, because we know, often, where the wealth of politicians come from…It’s wealth which comes from embezzlement of public funds.” (France24, March 5, 2021)
He was elected a member of the parliament in 2017 on the platform of his party, PASTEF, which he founded in 2014. He became the face of anti-establishment politics, when he ran for president in 2019, coming in third place with 15 percent of the votes. This is significant for a new entrant with limited traditional political structure. It also reflects the growing quest for a radical political alternative to the existing pro-capitalist political structure.
His anti-CFA position can also upset Senegal’s relationship with France. This version of the French franc is the legal tender in Senegal, and its continuous use has directly tied the economy of Senegal and that of many francophone African countries to the apron-string of French capitalism. It has also sustained the colonial legacy of French in Africa. However, replacing CFA with another currency, without ending the capitalist economic system for which the currency is used as a means of exchange, will sustain the same economic relations that have ensured underdevelopment for Senegal and poor living conditions for majority of its working people and youth. Only by ending the capitalist economic relation, and in its stead, establishing a socialist system that rest on nationalization of the mainstay of the economy under the democratic control and management of the working people, youth and elected representatives of professional groups, it can be possible to liberate huge resources of Senegal for the development of the society and its people.
Fractured Opposition held Sonko
One thing that is also working for Sonko, aside the general dissatisfaction with the regime, is the political degeneration of many of the opposition parties. In the period leading up to the 2019 elections, Sonko led his political coalition Liberate the People, which includes PASTEF and other parties, to form alliance with Save Senegal coalition led by the former president, Abdoulaye Wade, whose regime was renowned for massive graft and who was ousted by mass movement in 2012. The alliance led to the Macky Sall ruling coalition losing its majority in the parliament for the first time in Senegal’s political history.
However, the opposition alliance lacked a serious ideological alternative to Macky Sall’s government, and subsequently fractured. Abdoulaye Wade’s coalition subsequently collaborated with Sall’s government in a national dialogue. While the opposition alliance failed, Sonko also gained politically from the volte-face of Abdoulaye Wade and Khalifa Sall, as he became increasingly seen as being different. While Idrissa Seck came second with about 20 percent of the votes in the 2019 presidential election, and will be vying for presidency again in 2024, his association with past government (he was a former Prime Minister during Abdoulaye Wade’s first term) and allegation of corruption, further pushed Sonko forward as a more anti-establishment candidate. Seck hopes to profit from Macky Sall not contesting for third term and Sonko conviction. Given the increasing popularity of Sonko, Seck has had to tag along by declaring support for Sonko’s right to contest.
While Macky Sall has been compelled by growing massive movement to shelf his third term agenda, Sonko is being prevented from running by the conviction. Sonko has warned of massive chaos if he is prevented from running. Currently, he is under house arrest since May 28. Obviously, the ruling class in Senegal, and of course the French imperialism fear the mass movement behind Sonko than they fear even Sonko himself.
History being repeated?
However, without standing on a different political and economic programme, Sonko himself, if he eventually contest and win, may become another Macky Sall or Abdoulaye Wade. It will be recalled that similar movements fought to stop Abdoulaye Wade from seeking third term in 2012. Also, mass movement of Senegalese ended the long-reigning Abdou Diouf regime. Yet, both Wade and Sall also sought to become sit-tights. This clearly exposes the false narrative of the bourgeois pundits that Senegal is a stable democracy and a standard. If anything, Senegal is a standard for unrelenting mass opposition to sit-tights.
Left to the western imperialisms, Macky Sall can go ahead to seek as many terms as possible, if he could have his way. They only backtracked because of the spreading mass movement that threatens not just Macky Sall but capitalism in Senegal; a movement that can spread across Africa. Obviously, capitalist ruling class will be looking for mean to either prevent Sonko from contesting or dousing the movement around him. If he eventually wins, without standing on a clearly anti-capitalist programmes, he may be consumed just like his predecessors, who were also enthroned by mass movements.
Socialist Alternative is the way forward
As we noted in our analysis in 2012 when Macky Sall emerged, “Only revolutionary movements of the working and people, organized under their independent political platforms, which will establish working people’s governments premised on the foundation of revolutionary, democratic socialism can give a way out of the capitalist quagmire in the continent. With public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy (and resources of the continent) under the democratic control and management of the working and oppressed people, the enormous resources and potential of the continent can be harnessed on national and continental basis, in the interests of the toiling and poor people of Africa. This underlines the necessity for the rebuilding the mass organizations of the working and oppressed people including trade unions, to serve as revolutionary platform for change.” (Senegal Elections: No Hope in pro-capitalist Sall, 13/04/2012) This holds true for today as for when it was written.