In Senegal, the judicial stranglehold is tightening around opposition MP Ousmane Sonko, who came third in the 2019 presidential election and who is now being prosecuted for rape by the employee of a beauty salon in Dakar, where he was going to get a massage. Is it just a court case or is it a political conspiracy set up by President Macky Sall, as the accused shouts loud and clear? Moussa Diaw is a teacher-researcher at Gaston Berger University. On line from Saint-Louis in Senegal, he answers questions from Christophe Boisbouvier.
RFI: What do you think of this rape complaint against Senegalese opponent Ousmane Sonko?
Following this rape complaint, Ousmane Sonko cries out for the plot hatched against him by the head of state Macky Sall. He says that all this is done to ruin his plan to run for the 2024 presidential election.
Yes, he said so in his statement. And it is precisely following a statement that President Macky Sall had moreover held, saying that he will « reduce the opposition to its simplest expression ». And in this operation, in my opinion, there are two methods that are being used. The first method is political payback. That is to say, making it possible to recover, to integrate the leaders of the opposition into the majority. And it has succeeded in doing this, because recently the president of the Rewmi party -Idrissa Seck- joined the majority and was appointed to the post of president of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council. The second method, of course, is to hunt down opponents. Those who hinder him in his policies, those who are considered to be the radical opposition, those who challenge him, those who criticise his management, and those who are considered agents of bad governance, who embezzle public funds, etc.
Does this mean that, for you, Ousmane Sonko is a victim of the same political-judicial manoeuvre as Karim Wade or Khalifa Sall?
Yes, we can say that, because we have seen politicians who have been victims precisely because they announced their ambition to run for the presidential elections. And this, with the instrumentalisation of justice, because there is a problem of separation of powers. This is how it is perceived, because certain political figures have been involved in bad governance and have never been subject to the independent use of justice. So in the eyes of citizens and public opinion, these personalities are protected. There is perhaps a two-tier justice system and therefore a problem of confidence in the justice system.
And when you speak of people close to the head of state who would be protected, are you referring to his brother AliouneSall, who was implicated in an oil case two years ago?
Yes, and he is not the only one. There are other personalities who are involved in embezzlement cases. There has been talk of 94 billion [CFA francs] and this case has been closed. The prosecutor closed it, he wanted it closed as such, because there was not enough evidence. Looking at this, public opinion and citizens think, given that men who are very close to power or the majority are more or less spared and that the others are victims, precisely, of their governance, that there is a two-tier justice system: that which concerns politicians close to power who are spared and that which concerns leaders who have been hunted down, imprisoned, etc., and that there is a two-tier justice system.
Ousmane Sonko is the target of a complaint lodged by an employee of a beauty salon in Dakar, where he was going to get a massage. Can’t the authorities say that after all, if there is a complaint in court, it must be followed up?
Yes, if it weren’t for this situation, where certain personalities very close to the authorities are spared, perhaps we could have trusted the justice system. But we realise, from the citizens’ point of view, that there is a two-speed justice system. So there is a problem of trust in justice. That is why there is this strategy that was developed by Ousmane Sonko to defend himself.
Following the 2019 presidential election, the second runner-up, Idrissa Seck, has just come to power. And the third-placed candidate, Ousmane Sonko, is now in trouble with the law. Does this mean that the Senegalese opposition has been beheaded?
Last November, President Macky Sall dismissed from power personalities very close to him, such as Amadou Ba, Aly Ngouille-Ndiaye, Aminata Touré… Do you agree with the analyst Cheikh Oumar Diallo, who notes that « Macky Sall dismisses the ambitious within his own family and rallies to him the ambitious outside »?
Yes, we can analyse him as such, because he had given instructions not to mention the third term. In fact, the line of sight today is the third term, because the president does not want to make a clear statement. He had said this was his last term. He said it publicly. And over time, there has been a change in attitude, in statements… He doesn’t want to make a statement. He says that maybe yes, maybe no, he has an ambiguity, in view, of course, of what is happening in some African countries, such as Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire. All those who are close to the President of the Republic – when he had given instructions not to mention the mandate – some who are more or less ambitious have mentioned it. And from then on, they are targeted by the government and are pushed aside. This is what happened with these personalities who were very close to the President of the Republic, because he no longer wants us to talk about the question of a third term of office, whereas in the Constitution you cannot have more than two consecutive terms of office.
And if Ousmane Sonko is blocked by this lawsuit, what other opposition figures can emerge between now and 2024? We’re obviously thinking of Karim Wade and Khalifa Sall, but what chance do they have of being able to run?
Khalifa Sall has above him a judicial sword of Damocles, which has not yet been raised. He must be granted amnesty. Just like Karim Wade. Both of them cannot appear, because they have this judicial constraint. So I don’t see. If Ousmane Sonko is ever convicted, there are no other opponents. For the moment, in the Senegalese political landscape, we don’t see a political leader who can really represent the opposition in order to face the majority.
Macky Sall or the vacuum strategy?
For Macky Sall, in any case, it is precisely his strategy, it is to create a vacuum around him. And in my opinion, that’s a problem, because there are political actors. There is civil society in Senegal and there will be resistance. In my opinion, the best way is to try to respect the Constitution. After his second term, he should give way and someone else could continue.