By Oumy Sambou

Authoritarian inclinations within Senegal have taken root with the precision of missiles striking a wheat field at the height of harvest.

The recent sweeping arrests of leaders and activists affiliated with the Pastef party, totalling more than 700 detainees according to the party’s own count, mark just the initial stages of the incumbent regime’s strategic agenda to quash its primary adversary before the forthcoming 2024 presidential election.

In a meticulously choreographed sequence, the detention of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko and the formal dissolution of his political party have been executed within the span of a mere 24 hours.

The perceptible signs of the regime’s intent to dismantle the Pastef have been manifesting for several months, evident in the rhetoric espoused by various high-ranking officials who have levelled allegations of subversive conduct against the party and its membership.

As of March 24, 2023, Abou Abel Thiam, the erstwhile spokesperson for the President of the Republic, a custodian of the Alliance for the Republic (APR), and concurrently the president of the College of Delegates of the Telecommunications and Postal Regulatory Agency (Artp), publicly advocated for the dissolution of Ousmane Sonko’s party during an interview with the Senegalese publication Bes Bi.

He enunciated with resolute clarity, “We must dissolve the Pastef.”

On July 13, 2023, in response to plans for public congregations scheduled for July 15 and 16, 2023, as declared by political figures from the Pastef party, the Governor of Dakar invoked a statement attributed to Ousmane Sonko to rationalize the prohibition of these gatherings.

The Governor attributed to Sonko a desire to foment chaos within the nation. According to the Governor’s official communication, “These forthcoming assemblies are predicated upon statements emanating from the party’s leader, widely disseminated by the media, wherein commitments were made to ‘instigate chaos within the nation.’

Moreover, online exhortations have implored adherents of the party to participate in pivotal markets across Dakar and other strategic venues for public congregation.

However, in response to a similar call for a demonstration in early June 2023, certain individuals embarked upon acts of vandalism against public and private property, enterprises, and other establishments whose sole transgression was to seek sustenance through industrious labour.”

On July 28, immediately following the arrest of opposition figure Ousmane Sonko, the chief prosecutor in Dakar released an official statement delineating the underpinning rationale behind the arrest.

The Dakar chief prosecutor enunciated, “Over an extended period, a panorama of actions, declarations, writings, visual representations, and strategic manoeuvres across diverse media and contexts have come to the fore involving Mr Ousmane Sonko. These elements, beyond their consequential implications for public order, private holdings, and individual lives, constitute actions that carry criminal culpability.”

Subsequent to a succinct conference with the Dean of investigating judges on July 31, 2023, Ousmane Sonko was promptly remanded into custody, with subsequent relocation to Sébikotane prison.

In a matter of hours, the Minister of the Interior released an official communique pronouncing the disbandment of the primary opposition entity, the Pastef, as formalized through a presidential decree.

The Minister, in a discourse mirroring the grounds articulated by the Governor of Dakar in March and the allegations proffered against Ousmane Sonko by the chief prosecutor, expounded upon the rationale for this dissolution.

The Minister averred, “The political entity known as Pastef, via its leadership and representatives, has on numerous occasions fomented insurrectionary endeavours among its adherents, resulting in grave consequences including loss of life, extensive injuries, alongside incidents of pillaging and despoliation of public and private holdings. The most recent manifestations culminated in severe disruptions of public order experienced during the initial week of June 2023, following a parallel episode in March 2021.”

The Minister then appended, “In light of these events, which represent a fundamental and persistent breach of political party responsibilities as mandated by Article 4 of the Constitution and Article 4 of Law No. 81-17 dated May 6, 1981, governing political parties and subsequently amended by Law No. 89-36 dated October 12, 1989, the political entity Pastef is formally dissolved through Decree No. 2023-1407 dated July 31, 2023.”

Subsequent to this dissolution, the Senegalese government, without prior notice, directed law enforcement agencies to enter the premises of the Pastef party headquarters situated on the VDN and to remove the display bearing the visage of Ousmane Sonko.

This process was replicated at multiple party offices across the Senegalese capital.

The official communication regarding the dissolution of Pastef did not reach the party’s administrator, Biram Souley Diop, until August 4, 2023.

This notification was conveyed through official minutes drafted on August 3 by Commissioner Bara Sangharé of Urban Security.

It is important to underscore that neither Ousmane Sonko nor the scores of activists who were detained and prosecuted on grounds cited for the party’s dissolution have undergone trial or been subject to verdict in a Senegalese court of law.

Consequently, the presumption of innocence remains intact.

This article was first published in the French language segment of this website. Translation by Daniel Okoth

Cover photo courtesy of PASTEF website