Senegal heads to the polls next month, and the signs are not good.
President Macky Sall has promised elections on February 25 would be free and fair, but it’s hard to see how that can be done in the current climate. Authorities have spent the last three years cracking down on the opposition, media, and civil society – and filling prisons with political opponents.
As we highlighted in this newsletter in August, the country’s downward slide has been deeply troubling. The crackdown began in 2021 over court cases involving prominent opposition leader Ousmane Sonko and concerns Macky Sall might run for a constitution-challenging third term as president. It continued with the forcible dissolution of Sonko’s opposition party last year.
Human Rights Watch has documented how security forces have used excessive force, including live ammunition, to disperse thousands of protesters across the country in 2021 and 2023. At least 37 people have been killed in violent clashes since March 2021, and there has been no accountability. Perpetrators are literally getting away with murder.
Even though President Macky Sall is not running again, authorities have continued with the crackdown, and the crisis only seems to be accelerating as the election nears.
There has been a wave of arrests of political opposition figures and dissidents in recent months. According to civil society groups and opposition parties, up to 1,000 opposition members and activists have been arrested across the country since March 2021.
Restrictions on who can run for president have deepened public concern and outrage. Seventy-nine people submitted requests to the Constitutional Council to be presidential candidates, but only 20 survived the Council’s vetting process.
Macky Sall’s hand-picked successor, Senegal’s current prime minister Amadou Ba, made the cut. Ousmane Sonko, the jailed opposition leader of the forcibly dissolved opposition party, did not.
“Our leadership is in jail, our supporters are in jail, many of us are on provisional release or are monitored electronically like me,” said a spokesperson for Sonko’s party.
It’s hard to see how free and fair elections can happen without authorities reversing course quickly. They need to investigate violence by the security forces, release people wrongly detained, and guarantee the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly – all of which are essential to genuinely free and fair elections.
Of course, we hope Senegal’s authorities make this U-turn - but there is little time left before election day.