Dakar - Opposition supporters in Senegal are planning a second day of protests Wednesday against what they say are "dictatorial" practices by President Macky Sall, which his government denies. They also accuse Sall's government of arbitrary arrests and his seeking an unconstitutional third term in next year's elections. More than 10,000 people hit the streets of Senegal's capital Tuesday for the first day of protests.
Opposition supporters adorned in Senegal flag-themed regalia streamed onto a field late Tuesday afternoon chanting "Macky Sall is a dictator."
Many wore T-shirts with messages of support for who they hope will be Senegal's next president: opposition leader Ousmane Sonko.
Protests have erupted throughout Senegal over the last year following crackdowns on protests and arrests of opposition leaders. (Annika Hammerschlag/VOA)
Sonko is facing libel charges in court Thursday for allegedly accusing the minister of tourism of embezzlement.
He's also facing separate charges for rape, which his supporters say were trumped up to stop him running again.
Sonko's arrest a year ago ignited a week of rioting that led to the deaths of 14 people.
Dabuche Niane, 36, was one of few female protesters at Tuesday's rally.
"We're very tired of Macky Sall. We want him to leave, no matter the price," Niane said. "The Senegalese people are tired - tired of suffering, of poverty, of unemployment. The economy is not working. All we have are problems."
Abdou Bara Mbodji was one of some 10,000 protesters who turned out to support Ousmane Sonko, March 14, 2023, in Dakar. (Annika Hammerschlag/VOA)
Abdou Bara Mbodji, 22, says he was mostly satisfied with Macky Sall's time in office, especially with his investments in infrastructure.
But he says that's not the point.
"It's not about whether or not we like Macky Sall," Mbodji said. "What bothers us is the fact that he wants to force a third term. That's the only issue."
President Sall has not yet said if he'll run for a third term in next year's election, which would go against the two-term limit set in Senegal's constitution.
Senegal Politics Heat Up as President Sall Stays Mum About Third Term
Sonko came in third in the 2019 presidential election and has since grown in popularity, mainly among Senegalese youth.
Senegal's government denies persecuting the opposition or moving away from democracy.
But protests have erupted at times throughout the country over the last year after government crackdowns on protests and arrests of opposition leaders.
Many protesters in Dakar were wearing T-shirts with messages of support for opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, March 14, 2023. (Annika Hammerschlag/VOA)
"What we are seeing in Senegal is an increasing restriction, of the reduction of the civic space," said Samira Daoud, regional director for Amnesty International's West and Central Africa office. "Senegal used to be seen as a model for democracy and freedom. So this authoritarian drift we are seeing is of course raising serious concerns."
West Africa has suffered a string of coups in the last few years and instability in Senegal - long considered the region's most solid democracy - could ripple beyond its borders.
Tensions are only expected to grow as the country gets closer to the presidential election, less than a year from now in February 2024.