Senegalese Protesters Rally in Times Square, Call for End to ‘Dictatorship’ in Their Country

Two-term President Macky Sall appears to be seeking an illegal third term in office while forcing his top opponent off the ballot.

Mark Banchereau Feb 28, 2023

Around 50 protesters in Times Square called for an end to Senegalese President Macky Sall’s repression of his opposition on Saturday. 

“No to the dictatorship; no to a third term,” chanted the crowd.

Macky Sall is currently serving his second term; the next presidential elections will take place in February 2024. While a third term would be unconstitutional, Sall’s crackdown on opposition candidates has led to public suspicion that he might be trying to hold on to power.

“Macky Sall is like a boxer who says I’m gonna get in the ring, but only if I get to choose my opponent,” says Oumoul Diallo, a protester who came all the way from Kentucky.

The top opposition leader of the Patriots of Senegal party (PASTEF), Ousmane Sonko, is currently facing a trial for defamation after he accused the Minister of Tourism of corruption. For Sonko’s supporters, the lawsuit is an attempt by Sall’s government to disqualify the candidate from the upcoming presidential elections. 

“They are too scared to put him in jail because he is so widely popular, so they are trying to come up with minor charges to disqualify him,” said Moustapha Thiam, a member of PASTEF USA.

With more than 30,000 Senegalese citizens living in New York, many of them in the Little Senegal neighborhood of Harlem, the diaspora is a significant actor in Senegal’s economic and political life. 

In Dakar, police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of Sonko’s supporters on Thursday after he left the court in the capital, Dakar, where hearings are underway in the libel case against him.

Sonko, who is running on a pan-African, sovereignist platform, is particularly popular amongst Senegal’s youth. Some of his promises include a gradual exit out of the Franc CFA, the colonial-era currency created by the French that is still in place today, and renegotiating economic treaties with France.

“We don’t see Macky Sall as our president, we see him as a governor of France.” says Oumoul Diallo.

In March 2021, 14 protesters, many of them teenage boys, were killed by security forces during protests after Sonko was arbitrarily arrested for disrupting public order. While the Senegalese government promised that an impartial commission would be put in place to investigate the deaths, no judicial proceedings have been announced since.

“Senegal has already displayed enough red flags for the international community to see,” says Ibrahima Dramé, a coordinator for PASTEF. “Our message is clear: Do not wait until a civil war erupts and send peacekeepers. This is the time for preventive diplomacy.”

Senegalese New Yorkers already protested at the UN Headquarters in 2021 after Ousmane Sonko was arrested on charges of rape, which his supporters views as yet another political ploy.

With more than 30,000 Senegalese citizens living in New York, many of them in the Little Senegal neighborhood of Harlem, the diaspora is a significant actor in Senegal’s economic and political life. Remittances from Senegalese immigrants account for 10% of the country’s GDP and 15 of the 112 seats at the National Assembly are earmarked for the Senegalese diaspora. During the 2019 presidential elections, both Ousmane Sonko and Macky Sall made public appearances in New York City. In the elections next year, the Senegalese diaspora in the United States, which largely voted for Sonko in 2019, will once again be a coveted electorate.

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