[Sénégal] AfricTivistes stands against declining democracy in Senegal!

[Sénégal] AfricTivistes stands against declining democracy in Senegal!

05 février, 2024

The days when Senegal was held up as an example of democracy in West Africa seem to be fading fast. On Saturday 3 February, a few hours before the official opening of the electoral campaign, President Macky Sall, delivering a speech to the nation, decided by decree to cancel the February 25th  presidential election. This is the first time in Senegal’s political history that the country has been plunged into total uncertainty.

Macky Sall, who has been at the helm of Senegal for 12 years, justify this action citing a conflict that is said to have broken out between the Constitutional Council and the National Assembly following the court’s validation of 20 candidates and the elimination of nearly a hundred others. On Monday 5 February 2024, the members of the National Assembly are meeting in plenary session to debate the bill to amend article 31 of the Constitution. This news has led to strong reactions from outraged citizens and political players. Citizens’ demonstrations were violently repressed by the police on Sunday 4 February, the start of the election campaign, leading to the arrest of former Prime Minister Aminata Touré and presidential candidate Anta Babacar Ngom. They were released hours later.

The aim of the bill is to override paragraph 1 of article 31 of the Constitution regarding the deadline for convening the electoral body, thereby extending the electoral period for at least six months, until 25 August 2024. For many observers, this is an attempt by Macky Sall to extend his presidency against the will of the people and the principles of the rule of law. Macky Sall’s second and final term in office, after being elected in 2012 and re-elected in 2019, ends on 2 April 2024. 

Following these events, the Ministry of Communication, Telecommunications and the Digital Economy announced in a press release published on Sunday 4 February 2024 the temporary suspension of the mobile data internet network. The motive given was to stop “the dissemination of hateful and subversive messages relayed on social networks, against a backdrop of threats to public order”, it said. In a country where 98.86% of internet users use mobile internet for a variety of reasons, these measures have an impact on freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, access to information and the smooth running of economic activities that are heavily dependent on the internet. 

In addition, the licence of Walfadjiri television was withdrawn while they were coveraging national events following the announcement of the cancellation of the presidential election. ​​As a reminder, the media outlet has suffered several signal cuts in recent years. 

Consequently, AfricTivistes strongly condemns this blatant violation of the Constitution of Senegal, a country usually hailed for its democratic tradition in a sub-regional context plagued by successive coups d’état. It also reminds Macky Sall and his camp that an elected president cannot extend his term of office on his own initiative outside any legal framework. This decision to repeal decree 2023-2283 of 29 November 2023, which convened the electoral body, is a confiscation of the right of Senegalese citizens to choose their leaders on the dates set by law.

AfricTivistes reminds President Macky Sall that ECOWAS Protocol A/SP1/12/01 on Democracy and Good Governance, ratified by Senegal, prohibits any reform of the electoral law “in the six (6) months preceding the elections, without the consent of a large majority of political actors”. 

AfricTivistes considers that this ill-timed decision is no different from putting forward a third candidacy, which the Senegalese people have fiercely opposed on two occasions, and which has led to deplorable consequences. 

At the same time, AfricTivistes is outraged by the new suspension of mobile data, and points out that cutting off the internet and other forms of online restriction constitute a violation of freedom of expression and access to information.

This is not the government’s first attempt. On a number of occasions, the authorities restricted access to the internet via mobile data. In June-July-August 2023, these restrictions were put in place following the arrest of opposition politician Ousmane Sonko. A few weeks earlier then, the same government had restricted access to several social media platforms

We, AfricTivistes, as pro-democracy organisation promoting the responsible use of digital technologies for effective citizen participation, condemn all forms of internet censorship and interruption, in particular those that have an impact on fundamental rights, including freedom of expression, freedom of information and freedom of assembly, among other rights guaranteed by national, regional and international institutions.

Moreover, cyberspace censorship of any kind violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, which was drawn up in accordance with Article 45(1) of the ACHPR.

In the same Declaration, it is clearly stated that States may not restrict the right of individuals to seek, receive and impart information through digital means, unless this is justifiable under international law. The restrictions also violate Senegal’s commitments under the Open Government Partnership (OGP) to guarantee the right of access to information for its citizens.

We therefore call on the Constitutional Council, in accordance with its terms of reference, to guarantee the independence of the electoral process, to hold the elections on the date set and to uphold the foundations of the rule of law. 

Finally, we demand that the government of Senegal lift the suspension of mobile data and avoid using measures to restrict the internet or peaceful gatherings in order to control dissenting voices and legitimate protests. We stand by Senegalese people.

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