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Senegal: The Spark That Was Missing



The month of March started with yet another country saying loud and clear: this world capitalist crisis, its consequences and the pandemic are unbearable. Workers, young people and poor people took to the streets of Senegal to say enough. The mainstream press says it is because of the arrest of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko. We believe that the Sonko affair was a spark that rekindled the fires of social struggles.

By: Ligue Populaire Sénégalaise

Now, in the month of March, the fire of the fights turned into fire, in the same flame of the uprisings seen in Angola against the authoritarianism of the government of João Lourenço of the MPLA and in Nigeria insurrection to the special police of the government of Buhari, the bloodthirsty SARS (Special Anti-Theft Squadron). Several days of clashes with the police, looting and fires in supermarkets, destruction of French-owned gas stations. March started with a clear demonstration of being against the Macky Sall government and against French domination in its new formats. For the activists, their five dead were not in vain.

The situation of the working class and the poor

In just over thirty years the quality of life of the Senegalese people has dropped dramatically. In 1990, Senegal’s Human Development Index placed him in 126th position. In 2019, in a process of steady decline, the country is in the 168th position of this index calculated by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), of the United Nations (UN). Almost 80% of the population has no access to doctors, life expectancy is 60 years and the major cause of deaths are: malaria, gastrointestinal diseases and premature births.

The modern French invasion:

Formally, the French colonization of the Republic of Senegal ended in the 1960s. Independence did not affect the property of the local bourgeoisie or the imperialist bourgeoisie, but we still see vestiges of French domination, under the cover of neo-colonialism, modifying the racist exploitation of the peoples. Africans as in Senegal. On the contrary, Senegal continued to be part of the French monetary system. A typical situation described by Karl Marx: “a partial, purely political revolution that leaves the building’s pillars standing”.

Then, we could exemplify the new model of Senegalese colonization based on four main facts: a) absence of own currency; b) fisheries agreement; c) monopolization of food distribution and d) oil policy.

Absence of currency: Sixty years after Independence, Senegal and seven other French-speaking countries continue to use the French franc as they have done since colonial times. The currency is pegged to the euro, and countries using it are obliged to keep 50% of their foreign exchange reserves in a French treasury account.

Fishing Agreement: theft of wealth, work, and food. Signed in October 2020, the agreement allows large European Union boats to fish by suction in Senegalese territorial waters. This high technological level of fishing prevents artisanal fishermen to continue fishing, thus the fishermen and their cooperatives lose this source of work. As there is no artisanal fishing, this important food on the Senegalese table becomes scarce and more expensive.

Monopolisation of food distribution: The French company Auchan set up shop in Senegal in 2014. Since then it has built 32 shops, has 1,700 employees and has become a leader in the food retail market. Auchan operates in 17 countries, has 350,000 employees and is the 11th largest food distributor in the world. The group’s total turnover in 2016 was €51.7 billion. Senegal’s GDP in 2019 was 21.1 billion euros. That is to say, the Auchan group’s turnover is two and a half times the Senegalese GDP. In these conditions of economic power Auchan can manipulate prices, defeat and break small businesses and finally determine food prices.

Oil discovery: Since 2014, when the UK company CAIRN Energy discovered the first deepwater oil well, the country has been adapting to this new colonial exploitation. First, the bourgeoisie bet its chips on Macky Sall, a geological engineer trained at the French Petroleum Institute, who received funding from the French oil company Total. It is even immoral that the World Bank, in 2017, lent $29 million to help strengthen business with the oil companies. In addition to being immoral, this and other loans have served to increase the public debt and favour the interests of the transnational corporations.

In an economy completely dependent on European imperialism and French imperialism in particular, with no industry to generate jobs, with commerce highly automated by foreign companies that also do not generate employment, with small-scale fishing destroyed by large European companies, young people have no other choice: emigrate or die of hunger.

The future of youth: emigrating and dying. And if you manage to survive, you could still be deported.

Youth has two major disjunctives. The first is to emigrate or starve to death. The second is to emigrate and die in the waters of the Atlantic towards the Canary Islands and other ports of welcome. In October last year, in a single wreck at least 140 people drowned in a single accident. The second death occurs when they enter European territory and are treated with racism, xenophobia, unemployment and the consequent hopelessness in face of life.

The central government of Spain has agreements for the return of immigrants with Morocco, Senegal and Mauritania. Until the first quarter of 2020, regular deportation flights were carried out to these countries. After more than six months at a standstill, these deportation flights resumed in September 2020.

The mood of the masses:

The Senegalese masses have been demonstrating for a few months that their mood is changing.

In January, when President Macky Sall decreed a curfew on behalf of COVID 19 without any guarantee of economic aid to the population, the reaction came with the first mobilizations of young people and residents of neighbourhoods facing off with security forces in Dakar. The population burned tires and erected barricades while the police released tear gas[1]. The main clashes took place in the Ngor district, while other incidents were reported in the areas of Medina and Yoff and in the suburbs of Pikine, Guediawaye and Thiaroye.

In February, there were new demonstrations against President Macky Sall who tried to use state agencies to criminalize oppositionist Sonko on a controversial sexual harassment charge. Dozens of protesters surrounded Sonko’s home and threw stones at the police who responded with tear gas. It would be a peaceful protest that ended clashes with the police. “We are here today to send a strong message to President Macky Sall. To tell him that we will not accept that Sonko be sacrificed today as we did with other opponents”, said protester Moustapha Diop[2].

The month of March marked a new period of mobilization. There were three days of fighting in the streets, in universities and in popular neighbourhoods. From Wednesday (03.03) to Friday (05.03) Senegal experienced an explosion of protest that was not seen for decades.

The bourgeoisie was really scared. The always staunch New York Times made a long story explaining that the reason for the spark was the arrest of an opposing leader, but that the masses took to the streets to protest against President Macky Sall.

“Senegal is bursting with protests. The spark was an accusation of rape. After an important opposition figure, Ousmane Sonko, was accused of rape, protesters in one of the most stable countries in West Africa took to the streets to express their complaints to the president”[3].

An important part of the mainstream media explained the wave of protests over the arrest of Ousmane. We consider this to be a partial view. Several cars were set on fire and police stations were raided, destroyed and set on fire. But an issue that calls the question a lot: conscious or unconscious, many actions were intricately linked to the economic activities of French imperialism in Senegal.

  1. a) Fishermen: at the beginning of this text we talk about the Fisheries Agreement and how much it is harmful to fishermen and consumers. In Ngor, which is a fishing village, protesters took to the streets, built barricades and made bonfires with tires and smoke was visible in various parts of Dakar.
  2. b) The Auchan supermarket chain also paid its tribute for the monopolization of food distribution and for its imperialist origin. Of its 32 supermarkets, 14 were invaded, looted and burned. On Saturday people could still be seen scouring the burning shop the day before looking for something useful.
  3. c) The oil issue: The network of gas stations has a strong presence in the French TOTAL. And it was this network of posts that suffered most attacks, destruction and fires.

From the three points above, we see that the centre of the angry attacks by the Senegalese masses was against French companies or as a result of exploitation as in the case of fishing.

The demonstrations also had a feeling against the government of Macky Sall, accused of being a dictator and using state organs to keep out electoral contestants. In the 2019 election he had already used this mechanism to exclude two presidential candidates. Now for the upcoming election he tried to do the same with Ousmane Sonko. One of the main slogans shouted was: Trop c’est trop, which means enough is enough. The LeSoleil newspaper and the pro-government RFM radio were attacked and destroyed.

Sonko’s prison is the last straw that made the vase overflow. The Covid-19 pandemic is the reason for the impact of the flow of the national economy. Senegal sank in hunger, youth unemployment and poverty due to the crisis of the entire world economy, but also to the misappropriation of billions released to help families during the pandemic, diverted by the authorities responsible for their management, without being worried or ashamed for his approach to the president.

The arrest of Ousmane Sonko:

Ousmane’s arrest led to indignation and the consequent explosion of the Senegalese masses. The indignation is due to the fact that Macky Sall is using the state apparatus to drive out his competitors. In this sense, Sell’s dictatorial methods must be denounced and confronted in the streets.

On the other hand, there is an accusation of rape against Sonko and we advocate the deepest and most serious investigation. The outcome may be acquittal or conviction, but the most important thing is not to let an accusation of sexual violence go unchallenged. We stand for independent investigations over Sall and Sonko.

Only Sonko’s freedom has temporarily calmed the situation for the moment, but he is under judicial control to allow the investigation to determine whether the charges are real or false. So the mobilization is on alert as it also demands the release of all political prisoners who number almost a hundred.

Sonko is no alternative for workers

Ousmane Sonko began his militancy when he founded the Autonomous Union of Tax and Securities Agents, of which he was General Secretary from 2005 to 2012. In January 2014 he created and is the President of the party PASTEF – Les Patriotes: Patriotes du Sénégal pour l’Éthique, le Travail et la Fraternité (PASTEF – The Patriots: “Patriots of Senegal for Ethics, Work and Fraternity). He was elected Member of Parliament in 2017 and in 2019 he was a candidate for President of the Republic, he obtained 16% of the vote and came in third place.

The Pastef – The Patriots is a party composed of the young petty-bourgeois, liberal professionals and some trade union leaders. Its programme is rather limited. For example, part of the elaborations on oil policy are spelled out in the book “Pétrole et gaz au Sénégal: Chronique d’une spoliation” in which the centre of the debate is around Sall’s business and without questioning the imperialist character of the oil concession. It is a book against corruption. The denunciation is strong and well sustained against the president and his brother. But nothing that questions imperialism, on the contrary, the USA and England look favourably on these denunciations against Sall, the ally of French imperialism. Dream himself stated: “I myself was received twice here at the US Embassy and was heard at length by the prosecutor who was following the matter”[4].

The program of Pastef – Os Patriotas, affirms that “globalization is an opportunity if we know how to explore its immense possibilities, because it can shorten the time of rebirth (of the country). It will be a tomb if we are not able to adapt to its immense challenges, because it can accelerate the time of decline”. Simply put, in an era dominated by imperialist capitalism. Pastef – The Patriots – argues that globalization is an opportunity to get out of time. Defending the homeland in times of globalization cannot be called a patriot.

Building a workers’ and socialist alternative

The working class needs to build its own alternative. It is necessary to build an organization rooted in the working class, the unemployed, the fishermen and the poor people. We need a proletarian organization. But it is not enough to be a proletarian, it is necessary to have a program and a direction that moves towards the nationalization of natural wealth, expropriation of the commercial, financial bourgeoisie of national and foreign origin. In other words, a program and direction that aims to build a socialist society, without national or foreign bosses.

* Macky Sall and his group of agents of French imperialism must fall!

* End of persecution of Sonko and independent investigation of rape charges.

* Auchan must fall. Total must fall. End of the Fisheries Agreement. Senegal for Senegalese!

* For a government of workers and poor people!





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