Civil unrest runs rife in Senegal following trial of opposition leader

Monday, March 8

By Ciarán Mather

Mass protests and riots have broken out throughout the African nation of Senegal, just as opposition leader Ousmane Sonko stands trial for an alleged rape charge.

As reported by Al Jazeera, people torched cars, looted shops and hurled stones at police during the protests, which largely concern poor living standards and economic exclusion.

Six police stations across the nation have also been reportedly ransacked by frustrated protestors.

A high unemployment rate and strict measures to control the COVID-19 that have only exacerbated economic stress are other reported factors that have prompted people to take to the streets against the government.

Ousmane Sonko, leader of the Pastef party, was arrested on Wednesday after he was accused of raping a woman who worked at a massage parlour.

Mr. Sonko has denied the allegations, saying that two other people were present while he was receiving a massage to treat his back pains.

He added that he believes the arrest and current trial is part of a political conspiracy against him by current President, Macky Sall.

According to news site Reuters, many people have taken Sonko's side and believe that his claims have merit, as two other top rivals of current President Sall were previously targeted by criminal charges — charges which prevented them from running for president in 2019, the year in which Sall was re-elected.

Sonko has previously said that while he would engage in the trial, it should not be seen as a sign of 'abdication' from him. 

At least five people, including a teenage boy, have died in the clashes between protestors and the Senegalese police over recent days.

Schools across the country, as well as a number of businesses, have been ordered to close for a week as a precautionary measure against the violence on the streets.

President Sall, who has held power since 2012, has yet to address the nation regarding its current crisis.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can call Samaritans Ireland at 116 123 or email, or you can contact the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre by clicking here.

Help is always at hand and there is always someone available to listen.