By Lisa Vives
Calm has abandoned Senegal, a country in West Africa. The young people are rising up against the “wealth hoarding” political class. In Central Africa, the Republic of Congo, the opposition is seething as the 77-year-old President seeks another term. In another Central African country, Equatorial Guinea, a series of four explosions in the commercial hub, Bata, left a huge plume of smoke hanging over the city. Some 20 have reportedly died.
For centuries, Senegal was called the “country of teranga” or “country of hospitality.” But the mask of hospitality has been lifted to expose the frustration of thousands of young Senegalese fed up with government corruption and what was called “wealth hoarding by the political class.”
Protestors are also demanding the release of political prisoners and reform of the criminal justice system.
“Trop c’est trop! Enough is enough! We won’t move back,” read one online tweet under the hashtag #Free Senegal as demonstrators clashed with police, converting Dakar into a war zone, according to an observer.
“I don’t think things will be calm. People are rising up,” 24-year-old fashion worker Souleymane Diallo told Reuters. The spark for the protest was the arrest of prominent opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, in what protestors claimed was a trumped-up charge.
At least five people have died in the protest which started March 3. It has been called one of the worst outbreaks of political unrest in years but not unexpected in a country lacking opportunities for youth.
Shops, gas stations and banks are closed, and long lines formed for gas and groceries on March 7.
Independent radio and television stations saw their signals cut while pressure mounted on President Mackey Sall, whose is said to be considering to extend his rule beyond the allotted two-term limit.
Sonko has accused President Sall of trying to remove potential opponents ahead of the 2024 polls. Two other opposition leaders were excluded from the 2019 election after being convicted on charges which they say were politically motivated.
“In an effort to silence the people,” wrote “Aisha Fall” on Twitter, “the Senegalese government has restricted access to social media platforms… Educate yourself about Senegal’s current situation…”
The economic devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, a nightly curfew to contain its spread and a ban on mopeds and motorcycles have only stoked frustrations. But the rape charge has created a gender gap in the protest movement. Some have called Sonko’s accuser a liar and a tool of the government and she is reportedly receiving death threats.
“When a woman speaks out and says that she was raped, we need to listen to her seriously,” said Coumba Touré, of Africans Rising, a pan-African group focused on social justice.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International has raised concerns about opposition leaders facing unfair trials, lengthy detentions and uneven access to lawyers. The opposition Movement to Defend Democracy (M2D) coalition called for three days of nationwide protests beginning on March 8.
“M2D … calls on the Senegalese people to pursue its mobilization and peaceful struggle by using all of its constitutional rights to reject the dictatorship of Macky Sall,” the group said.
Republic of the Congo
Denis Sassou Nguesso, president of the Republic of the Congo, has declared his intention to seek yet another term in office. He has held that position for 36 years, making him one of the longest serving presidents in Africa. Elections are scheduled for March 21.
He faces seven challengers though the main opposition party says it will boycott the event. They faulted the president for the short run-up to the polls.
‘’Can’t the elections be postponed for two or three months to allow time for the competent bodies to organize the pre-election operations?’’, Crepin Gouala, leader of the opposition Alliance pour l’République a la d démocratie (ARD) asked.
For independent candidate, Pandi Ngouari ‘’this kind of injustice is imposed on us by the same generation as a soccer team that trains for years even though we are aware that the referee is not always fair, but we are forced to go and beat this team on its own field with its own referee’’, he said.
Ruling party members defended the choice of the 76-year-old leader. “We said the choice of Denis Sassou Nguesso is an inevitable choice,” party leader Leonidas Mottom told the French news agency AFP.
“It’s the choice of change in continuity, it’s the choice of stability and the choice of peace,” said Mottom.
Sassou Nguesso’s political history has been marked by controversy. After coming to power in 1979, he headed a single-party regime for 12 years.
Political pluralism was introduced in 1991 and the following year Sassou Nguesso lost his presidential bid. He returned to power in October 1997 after his rebel forces ousted the president at the time, Pascal Lissouba of UPADS, and a two-year civil war ensued.
Presidential elections were held in 2002 that Sessou Nguesso controversially won. He was re-elected in July 2009 in a poll boycotted by the main opposition candidates.
A new constitution, approved by referendum, enabled him to stand again in 2016, and he won by a first-round majority, a result that again was contested by the opposition.
His re-election in 2016 triggered unrest in Brazzaville and armed conflict in the fertile region of Pool that cut off freight trains on the vital rail line between the capital and Pointe-Noire.
President Nguesso’s rivals in 2016, former general Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko and former minister Andre Okombi Salissa remain in jail today.
They had disputed the election results, were then arrested, put on trial and each handed 20 years in jail on charges of undermining state security.
Concern is growing in the Congo over the nation’s deep economic crisis triggered by the slump in oil prices and worsened by long-standing debt.
A series of four explosions heard in Equatorial Guinea’s commercial hub, Bata, left a huge plume of smoke hanging over the city.
News reports say 20 have died and there is significant damage. Health workers have been asked to report to the city’s hospitals, says the Spanish news agency EFE.
The TVGE channel broadcast footage of wrecked and burning buildings, with people — including children — being pulled from the rubble and the wounded lying on a hospital floor. Video posted on social media of the aftermath show a chaotic scene of distressed people fleeing from the site of the explosions.
The blasts were caused by “negligence” relating to the storage of dynamite at the barracks, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema was reported to say. The impact of the explosion “caused damage in almost all the houses and buildings in Bata”, he added, and called for international help with aid.
The camp houses elements of the army’s special forces and the paramilitary gendarmerie, a journalist said.
Bata is the largest city in the oil- and gas-rich nation, with around 800,000 of the nation’s 1.4 million population living there — most of them in poverty.
The president’s son, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, a vice president with responsibility for defence and security, has appeared in television footage at the scene of the blasts inspecting the damage, accompanied by his Israeli bodyguards, the French news service AFP reports.