In yet another blow to stability and democracy on the African continent, the Senegalese government has decided to dissolve the main opposition party, the African Patriots of Senegal for Work, Ethics and Fraternity (abbreviated in french as PASTEF), and arrested its leader, Ousmane Sonko. The Senegalese government is accusing Sonko of insurrection, conspiring against the state, and threatening national security. This is merely the most recent round of criminal accusations the Senegalese government is hurling at Sonko, who has been arrested a total of four times now, for charges ranging from rape to corrupting the youth, and now disturbing public order. Sonko’s supporters maintain that these charges are mere obstructions set up to prevent Sonko from running in the next election, rather than any credible criminal charges.
Soon after a judge ordered Sanko’s arrest, the Senegalese government, headed by incumbent Macky Sall, who seeks to change the constitution so he may run for a third term, dissolved PASTEF, accused the party of “frequently calling on its supporters to take part in insurrectionary movements”, referring to the mass protests and destructive riots that arose in response to Sonko’s numerous arrests. Antoine Diome, the Senegalese interior minister quoted with saying the previous statement, blamed the PASTEF leadership for causing loss of life and mass destruction of property during protests and riots in June, during Sonko’s most recent prosecution. The death toll of these clashes deviates between sources, with the Senegalese government reporting 16 deaths, Amnesty International reporting 24, and the opposition party reporting 30. Most of these deaths consist of students and young adults, as Sonko’s support base is largely made up of disaffected Senegalese youth.
The ramifications of this decision are immeasurable. Dissolving opposition parties sets the precedent for authoritarian, unchecked rule in the developing nation, and prevents Senegal from diverging from the long-standing trend of despotic African dictators ruling for decades. After the party’s dissolution, the PASTEF released a communiqué stating “In his despotic determination to hold on to power in Senegal, albeit by proxy, Macky Sall has just opened the floodgates to chaos by imprisoning, on spurious grounds, his main opponent Ousmane Sonko.” The incumbent government of Senegal, by consolidating their power, have also severely diminished any chance for significant economic development, as potential contributors will perceive Senegal as yet another corrupt and underdeveloped country on the continent, whose leaders will impede investment through looting and corruption, much in the same fashion as other nearby countries, such as in Equatorial Guinea under Teodoro Obiang-Mbasogo and the regime of Jean-Bedel Bokassa in the Central African Republic.
As it currently stands, Sonko is still eligible to run in the 2024 Presidential election, despite the fact that is currently awaiting trial from a jail cell in Sebikotane Prison, on the outskirts of Dakar. The fate of such a run is still dubious at best, as if he is convicted on these charges, he will subsequently not be eligible for a presidential run. There remains hope, however, as previous charges against Sonko have been dropped due to miscarriages of justice.
As it stands, the fate of one of the longest standing democracies in the region remains hanging by a thread, with potential instability on the horizon. PASTEF supporters have engaged in mass protests and deadly riots in the past, and a potential conviction of Sonko on dubious charges will almost guarantee another spark in conflict between the nation’s youth and the police.