Resolving the crisis in Senegal: "Religious leaders are the most influential and powerful civil society in our country". Spécial

In this interview, in which he answers questions from Célian Macé, a journalist with Libération, Dr Bakary Sambe, a specialist in religious issues in the Sahel, analyses the violent crisis that Senegal has been going through since the conviction of opposition politician Ousmane Sonko, and the traditional mediations being used to resolve it. Director of the Timbuktu Institute, Dr Bakary Sambe is a professor at the Centre for the Study of Religions at Gaston Berger University in Saint-Louis. He looks at the characteristics of this crisis, marked by a "new militant phenomenon", and the central role of traditional religious mediation in political conflicts in Senegal.

Are we witnessing a new cycle in the history of Senegalese political crises? Or is this a new confrontation?

The history of Senegal since independence has been marked by political crises, some of them very severe: the Dia-Senghor opposition of 1962, the student revolt of 1968, the post-electoral crisis of 1988, the bloody demonstration of 16 February 1994, the great protest of 2011... Most of these events were linked to an electoral deadline. The current crisis in Senegal is obviously linked to next year's presidential election. But it is characterised by an interweaving of the political and the judicial. This was the case with Khalifa Sall and Karim Wade [two opponents ruled out of the presidential race after being convicted, editor's note], but this time it's a matter of morality. In a highly religious society like Senegal, this is important and has made the situation explosive.

Can the national dialogue initiated by the government calm the situation?

At this stage, Pastef, Ousmane Sonko's party, is not taking part. There is a gap between the traditional political class, such as the opposition leaders who have accepted the dialogue, and Sonko's movement, which is outside the traditional Senegalese political socialisation framework. It mobilises young, urban people who are immersed in a sovereignist regional discourse, connected to the diaspora, fond of social networks, for whom hashtags have replaced placards. This is a new militant phenomenon, far removed from the practices and cultural substratum of parties, unions, associations or even social movements. They don't have the same codes. The demonstrations are more violent, sometimes turning to looting. No one was identifiable: for the first time, there was no recognisable figure in the street. The opposition saw this as a genuine popular uprising, while the authorities saw it as a dangerous riotous phenomenon.

Have religious leaders, who usually act as mediators in times of crisis, become obsolete?

I don't think so. But in this crisis, because of its nature, mediation is extremely prudent and discreet. In Senegal's history, the heads of the brotherhoods have always been the last bastions of peace and stability. Whether we like it or not, the most powerful civil society here are the religious! Back in 2021, when Sonko's arrest sparked off violent demonstrations in Dakar [killing at least 10 people], the Cadre unitaire de l'islam au Sénégal, which brings together representatives of all the currents of Islam in the country, calmed the situation by appealing for calm. They are now going back and forth, and have published a text calling for "renewed dialogue between all those involved". They are also testing the receptiveness of these new militants, who are no doubt less sensitive to the traditional networks of influence of confederate Islam.

What is the significance of President Macky Sall's visit to the Caliph General of the Mourides, Serigne Mountakha Mbacké, on Monday evening?

It's not unusual for the President of the Republic to meet the Caliph General at night. Opponents say he went to seek support because he is in trouble. On the contrary, supporters of the Head of State and analysts see it as a gesture of respect and wisdom at a critical time for the country. If the national dialogue were endorsed by the religious leaders, it would be a very favourable decision for the government. Macky Sall is a master of symbols and codes. He knows that in Senegalese culture, the person who is open to dialogue is always better regarded. Extremist positions have never flourished in our country. Macky Sall has also announced that he will speak on 25 June, at the end of the national dialogue. This is an interesting signal: it shows that he is following his own agenda, which is not dictated by the opposition or the street, and at the same time this deadline leaves the door open to Pastef: it is not too late to join the discussion. Macky Sall appears to be holding out his hand.

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Dernière modification le mercredi, 12 juillet 2023 11:01