See all those languages up there? We translate Global Voices stories to make the world's citizen media available to everyone.

Learn more about Lingua Translation  »

Senegal's Democratic Tradition Takes Worrisome Turn

[All links forward to French-language webpages unless otherwise noted.]

Senegal has a solid tradition of democracy and protection of freedom of expression and human rights. But recent months have seen the West African nation's reputation as a stronghold for democracy in Africa seriously damaged with the evictions of a Chadian journalist and Gambian dissident, both opponents of the governments in their home countries.

Chadian [en] blogger and journalist Makaila Nguebla [en], an opponent of his country's President Idriss Déby [en] who has ruled Chad for more than two decades, was deported on May 8, 2013 to neighboring Guinea. Nguebala runs a highly critical blog about his country's regime.

Well-known Gambian [en] opponent Kukoi Samba Sanyang [en], who led the 1981 rebellion against the regime of former President Dawda Kaïraba Diawara, was expelled April 17, 2013 to Mali.

Mamadou Oumar Ndiaye, author for the Senegalese weekly Le Témoin, detailed Senegal's democratic character, giving credit to the country's first President Leopold Sedar Senghor, a poet and intellectual who served from 1960 to 1980, in his post titled “Senegal, your excellent traditions are falling apart!“:

Le Sénégal n’a ni or (ou alors très peu, dans la région de Kédougou), ni diamants, encore moins du pétrole, du gaz ou de l’uranium … De plus, la pluviométrie n’y est pas abondante et la plupart de nos paysans ne travaillent que trois mois dans l’année … Malgré tout, notre pays tient une place honorable dans le concert des nations africaines. Et, à franchement parler, il a un niveau de développement que beaucoup de pays incroyablement gâtés par la nature nous envient. Cela est dû, bien sûr, à la qualité des ressources humaines du Sénégal produites par un système éducatif de qualité mis en place par le premier président de la République, le poète, agrégé de grammaire et académicien Léopold Sédar Senghor. Un système public d’éducation dont l’actuel Président est un pur produit, soit dit en passant. … Ce niveau de développement enviable, notre pays le doit aussi à sa stabilité politique légendaire qui a fait que, depuis l’indépendance en 1960, il n’a jamais connu de coup d’Etat militaire. En Afrique, notre pays est l’un des rares à avoir toujours été gouverné par un pouvoir civil. Et au moment où partout ailleurs, les pouvoirs militaires étaient la règle, le Sénégal a constitué une joyeuse exception, un îlot de démocratie dans un océan de dictatures … Bref, de quelque côté qu’on le prenne, le Sénégal a toujours fait figure d’exception en Afrique.

Senegal has neither gold (or very little, in the Kedougou region) nor diamonds, let alone oil, gas or uranium … In addition, rainfall is not abundant and most of our farmers only work three months per year … However, our country holds an honorable place among the African nations. And frankly speaking, Senegal has a level of development that many other countries with more natural blessings would envy. This is, of course, due to the quality of human resources in Senegal which is itself, a byproduct of the quality of the educational system established by the first President of the Republic of Senegal Leopold Sedar Senghor. Senghor was also a poet, a grammar scholar and the first African elected as a member of the Académie françaiseBy the way the current president is a pure product of this same public educational system. … This enviable standard of development, our country also owes it to its legendary political stability; since its independence in 1960, it has never experienced a military coup. In Africa, our country is one of the few to have only been governed by civil authorities. And when everywhere else, military authorities were the rule, Senegal was a happy exception; an island of democracy in a sea of dictatorships … Anyway, whichever way you see, Senegal has always been an exception in Africa.

But some consider that Senegal has moved away from that legacy left by Sedar Senghor. Last year, former President Abdoulaye Wade [en], who was accused during his tenure corruption, nepotism and curtailing freedom of the press, was defeated in his highly criticized bid for a third term [en] in office.

With Wade’s regime at an end, some expected a return to those democratic roots. But these recent measures taken by the current government raise questions about its commitment to do so.

Even Wade, who was much criticized [en] during his regime, was always respectful of Senegal's tradition as a host country for freedom of speech activists. The failure of Wade's government was not about free speech activists, but was not regularizing the situation of refugees.

As deported Chadian blogger Nguebala told Global Voices :

“Under Abdoulaye Wade's regime, I was never arrested once by the police”

A coalition called “Right of Asylum and Freedom of Expression” was created to demand Nguebla’s return. In the following video, the coalition unpacks the context of the evicitions and the risks that the bloggers are facing:

Boly BAH, journalist for La Gazette (a Senegalese website) called for the sliding of Senegal's democracy to be stopped in his post “The Deviant Turn of a Democracy“:

Une dérive à stopper. Qui est le prochain sur la liste ? En moins de deux mois, le Sénégal a chassé deux opposants africains de Dakar. … C’est une concession grave à des régimes anti-démocratiques … Cette expulsion d’un défenseur des droits humains et leader d’opinion vers la Guinée, un pays « non sûr » et en proie à des tensions politiques, laisse apparaître un deal entre les autorités politiques sénégalaises et tchadiennes, en vue d’extrader Makaila Nguebla au Tchad où sa vie est menacée.
Le combat sera mené jusqu’au retour de Makaila et de Kukoi Samba Sanyang. …

Les pays n’ont pas d’ami mais des intérêts. En procédant aux expulsions de Kukoi Samba Sanyang, le Sénégal défend peut-être les relations de bon voisinage avec la Gambie. Et fait un clin d’œil à Yaya Jammeh, président gambien au cœur du règlement du conflit de la Casamance. La Gambie avait même facilité la libération des otages sénégalais, il y a quelques mois. C’est peut-être compréhensible de lui renvoyer la monnaie en expulsant son opposant-rebelle, Kukoi Samba Sanyang. Avec le Tchad, certes, il n’y a pas cette grande amitié, mais la nouvelle posture africaine de Idrisss Deby Itno vaut peut-être cette largesse.

Deby a le vent en poupe et avec sa forte colonie militaire dans le désert malien, le président tchadien est en pleine puissance sous-régionale. Le Tchad contribue aussi au financement du procès d’Habré. Maintenant, si le jugement d’Habré participe au renforcement de l’indépendance judiciaire africaine, l’expulsion de Makaïla reste plutôt suspecte. Le blogueur était un combattant de la démocratie. Un relais entre son peuple et l’extérieur. Il était la voix des sans voix tchadiennes, il informait des dérives de Deby parce que bénéficiant de cette liberté d’expression qui fait défaut à ses confrères restés au pays.

This drifting away from our legacy has to be stopped. Who is next on the list? In less than two months, Senegal deported two African political activists. … This is a serious concession to all anti-democratic regimes… This deportation of a human rights activist and opinion leader to Guinea, an “unsafe” country plagued by political tensions suggests a deal between Senegalese and Chadian political authorities. Next might be the extradition of Makaila Nguebla back to Chad where his life is under threat.

This struggle will continue until both Makaila and Kukoi Samba Sanyang return. …

Countries do not have friends, they have interests. In carrying out the evictions of Kukoi Samba Sanyang, Senegal may be maintaining good relations with the Gambia. He might also reach out to Yaya Jammeh, the Gambian President who is at the heart of the conflict in Casamance. Gambia has even facilitated the release of some Senegalese hostages in Gambia a few months ago. It is perhaps understandable to pay him back by expelling his rebellious opponent, Kukoi Samba Sanyang. With Chad, of course, there is no such great friendship, but Idriss Deby’s new african posture (his involvment in Mali) might be worth it.

Deby is on the rise and with his strong military forces in the desert of Mali, Chad's president is showing his full might in the region. Chad also contributes to the financing of [former leader of Chad Hissène] Habré’s trial. Now the Habré trial may help strengthen African judicial independence but on the other hand, Makaila’s deportation is rather dubious. The blogger was an advocate of democracy, a bridge between his people and the outside world. He was the voice of those Chadians without a voice; he informed the world about Deby’s excess because he enjoyed freedom of expression that his colleagues back home could not have.

Another recent issue is also symptomatic of the worrisome turn taken by Senegal on the protection of human rights.

Taking advantage of the media circus in Senegal caused by these two cases, a member of parliament of the presidential majority wants to file a bill for the return of death penalty.  Senegal abolished the death penalty in 2004 and the last execution was held in 1967.

Even Fekke Maci Bolle, a political movement led Youssou N'Dour, the current Minister of Culture and Tourism, has come out against this bill. The movement published its stance on its Facebook page:

Celui ou celle qui affirme que l'on vit confortablement dans le couloir de la mort n'y a de toute évidence jamais mis les pieds … On voit rarement une personne riche ou aisée monter à la potence … La peine de mort est la négation absolue des droits humains. Il s’agit d'un meurtre commis par l'État, avec préméditation et de sang-froid. Ce châtiment cruel, inhumain et dégradant est infligé au nom de la justice.
Cette peine viole le droit à la vie inscrit dans la Déclaration universelle des droits de l'homme.
Amnesty International s'oppose à la peine de mort en toutes circonstances, quels que soient la nature du crime commis, les caractéristiques de son auteur ou la méthode utilisée par l'État pour l'exécuter.

Whoever says that one lives comfortably on death row has obviously never been there … You rarely see a rich or wealthy person being executed … Death penalty is the ultimate denial of human rights. It is a planned and cold-blooded murder committed by the State. This cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment is inflicted in the name of justice.
It violates the right to life enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all circumstances, regardless of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender, or how he committed the crime.

Receive great stories from around the world directly in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the best of Global Voices
* = required field
Email Frequency



No thanks, show me the site