Senegal’s Political Crisis: Towards Holding a Peaceful and Credible 2024 Election

Sall’s administration keeps facing criticism for the ways and manner in which the country’s economy is being handled, the skyrocketing corruption, and human rights abuses. Additionally, the opposition has accused President Sall of attempting to consolidate power by weakening democratic institutions and suppressing dissent.

In recent times, reports keep emerging about Senegal’s recurrent protests ahead of its 2024 election. Senegal has been known for its stability and democratic tradition, but it is currently in the midst of a political crisis that has been unfolding since early 2021. According to research, the crisis is rooted in a dispute between President Macky Sall’s administration and the opposition over the country’s electoral process and constitutional reform.

The constitutional reform was being marred in the country because it is going through a period of political uncertainty, marked by protests, clashes, and arrests. The crisis began in March 2021, when opposition leader Ousmane Sonko was arrested on charges of rape and libel. Sonko, who emerged third in the 2019 presidential election, denies the allegations, calling them politically motivated. His arrest sparked widespread protests across the country, with demonstrators calling for his release and demanding political and economic reforms.

Senegal has a multi-party democracy with a presidential system of government, where the president is elected to serve a five-year term. In 2019, President Macky Sall was re-elected for a second term, winning over 58% of the vote in a “perceived” peaceful and transparent election that was praised by international observers. Despite being perceived as a peaceful election, the election was not without controversy, with opposition parties alleging that irregularities and fraud marred the process. The opposition also criticised President Sall’s record on the economy and human rights, and accused him of attempting to consolidate power.

Sall’s administration keeps facing criticism for the ways and manner in which the country’s economy is being handled, the skyrocketing corruption, and human rights abuses. Additionally, the opposition has accused President Sall of attempting to consolidate power by weakening democratic institutions and suppressing dissent.

Crisis reaching climax

The government is alleged to be stepping up repression in the run-up to the 2024 presidential election by cracking down on human rights, limiting public space, outlawing protests, detaining journalists and opposition figures, and more.

The Senegalese tourism minister Mame Mbaye Niang filed a civil lawsuit against Ousmane Sonko on March 16, accusing him of defamation. Sonko is the head of the political opposition party, PASTEF. After a scuffle over his itinerary, police shot tear gas at Ousmane Sonko as he was on his way to the court. The police then forcibly removed Sonko from his car and drove him to the courthouse. Clashes between the police and Sonko-supporting protestors broke out in Dakar as the trial got underway. The trial was continued to March 30 by the tribunal a little while later.

Going further, a significant police deployment that began on March 15 has kept opposition leaders from visiting Ousmane Sonko and has prohibited him from leaving his residence. On the same date, Guy Marius Sagna, an opposition MP, was fired at with tear gas by the police when he tried to go see Ousmane Sonko at his house.

Following the adjournment of the trial, the opposition was prevented from organising a press conference by the police, which restricted access to the siege of the Republican Progress Party (PRP), where it was scheduled.

Consequently, the opposition attempted to hold a press conference after the trial was postponed, but was barred from doing so by the police, who had blocked entry to the Republican Progress Party (PRP) building where it was to be held.

The protests since early 2021 have turned violent, with clashes between demonstrators and security forces. According to Human Rights Watch, the security forces used excessive force, including tear gas, rubber bullets, and live ammunition, resulting in several deaths and injuries.

However, it was revealed that the government has been responding by cracking down on the protests and arresting opposition leaders, activists, and journalists. The authorities have also banned protests in certain parts of the country, including Dakar, the capital city.

International Community’s Response

The ongoing political crisis in Senegal has drawn the attention of the international community, with several countries and organizations expressing concern about the situation.

The African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have both called for dialogue and a peaceful resolution to the crisis. The United Nations (UN) has also expressed concern about the human rights situation in Senegal and called for an end to the violence, focusing primarily on Sahel Africa.

The international community has also urged the government to respect human rights and allow peaceful protests.

For emphasis, Amnesty International, an organisation that campaigns against incessant human rights abuses, also published a report on how freedom of assembly and expression were being restricted in Senegal, especially during a period of pre-electoral tension, leading to the authorities prohibiting several demonstrations by the opposition.

“Over the past months, dissenting voices, from the political class and the media, have been clamped down.

On March 9, former Prime Minister Hadjibou Soumaré was detained on charges of “defamation” after asking President Macky Sall in a public letter if he had donated 12 million euros to an unnamed French politician known for her “hatred and rejection of others—an allusion to Marine Le Pen’s visit to Senegal in January 2023.”

“…on 3 March, Pape Ndiaye, a journalist for Walf TV, was questioned and arrested by the police after speaking on TV about a rape case filed against Ousmane Sonko in February 2021. Ndiaye said most of the deputy prosecutors were in favour of the case against Sonko being dismissed.”

The report further stated that “over the past few months, several protests organised by political opposition have been banned, with the authorities citing a risk of “disturbing public order…nearly two years since the authorities unleashed a brutal crackdown on protests that turned violent in some locations in March 2021, there has been no investigation into the deaths of 14 people, including three children, during the protests. Of those who died, 12 were shot by bullets fired by security forces. In February 2023, two protesters were also severely wounded by security forces during protests in Bignona.”

Prominent Politicians and the 2024 Election

With the 2024 presidential election around the corner, the field of candidates has yet to take shape fully. However, several prominent politicians and parties are expected to compete for the presidency, including:

  • Macky Sall – The incumbent president is expected to run for a third term in office, despite the constitutional limit of two terms. Sall’s supporters argue that his first term in office should not count towards the limit, as he was elected under a different constitution.
  • Ousmane Sonko, a rising political star, is a member of the opposition PASTEF (Patriots of Senegal for Ethics, Work, and Fraternity) party, founded in 2014, which “gained traction among Senegalese youth with a more radical stance calling for the abolition of the West African Franc (CFA) and moving the Senegalese economy away from foreign corporations.” Sonko ran in the 2019 presidential election, finishing third. He is known for his populist rhetoric and has been critical of President Sall’s economic policies. He appeared to be the main challenger to Sall, who is purportedly seeking a third term.
  • Khalifa Sall. A former mayor of Dakar, Khalifa Sall, was seen as a potential challenger to President Sall in the 2019 election but was disqualified from running due to a corruption conviction. However, his supporters believe that he was unjustly targeted for political reasons and could make a comeback in 2024.
  • Abdoulaye Wade, a former president of Senegal, has been an influential figure in Senegalese politics for several decades. He is the leader of the opposition Democratic Party of Senegal (PDS) and has been a vocal critic of President Sall, too. As a prominent politician, it is expected that Karim Wade, who is President Wade’s son, convicted on March 23, 2015, by the Court for the Repression of Illicit Enrichment, may also rejuvenate.

Warming Up for the Election and the Challenges Ahead

The 2024 presidential election will face several challenges, including the issue of term limits, election transparency, and economic challenges.

  • Issue of Term Limit: The question of whether President Sall can run for a third term in office is likely to be a contentious issue in the election. The opposition argues that his candidacy would be unconstitutional, while his supporters argue that the constitution should be amended to allow him to run.
  • Election Transparency: Senegal’s electoral process has been criticized in the past for lacking transparency and fairness. The government will need to take steps to ensure that the 2024 election is free and fair and is perceived as such by the opposition and international observers.
  • Economic Challenges: Senegal has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the economy contracting in 2020. The government will need to address the economic challenges facing the country, including high unemployment and poverty, to win the support of voters.

What’s Next?

The 2024 presidential election in Senegal is shaping up to be a closely contested race, with several prominent politicians and parties expected to compete. However, if the election is free and fair and the government addresses the concerns of the opposition and the electorate, it could serve as an important milestone in Senegal’s democratic development.

Though the situation in Senegal remains tense, with protests and arrests continuing, the government must hold dialogue with the opposition and address their concerns. It is sacrosanct for all parties to engage in dialogue and seek a peaceful resolution. The government must respect the rights of its citizens to express their opinions and protest peacefully, while the opposition must also refrain from violence and seek to resolve its grievances through peaceful means.

The international community must also continue to monitor the situation and support efforts to resolve the crisis peacefully.

Conclusively, the ongoing political crisis in Senegal is a cause for concern, both for the country’s stability and for the future of democracy on the African continent. The opposition’s demands for constitutional reform and a more transparent electoral process are legitimate, and the government should work towards addressing these concerns through dialogue and compromise.

At the same time, the opposition must also refrain from violence and engage in constructive dialogue with the government to find a peaceful and democratic solution to the crisis.


Amnesty International, “Senegal: Authorities intensify repression ahead of 2024 election” retrieved

Africa Is A Country, “The future of Senegalese politics?” retrieved

Africanews, “Freedoms at stake in Senegal, year ahead of the presidential election” retrieved

Aljazeera, “Senegal protests poke holes in its longstanding image of stability” retrieved

Foreign Policy, “Senegal’s Democratic Backsliding Is a Threat to African Democracy” retrieved

Institute of Security Studies, “Senegal’s Political Turbulence Reveals a Justice System in Crisis” retrieved



Educator, writer and legal researcher at Alafarika for Studies and Consultancy.

Similar Topics