This is in response to a Weekend Edition Sunday story on NPR Story on March 25, 2023
“NPR’s Miles Parks speaks with Ousmane Diallo, a researcher at Amnesty International, about the state of democracy in Senegal, amid government crackdowns on human rights and political opposition.”
The interview opens with Mr. Parks observing that Senegal has been held up as an example of a successful post-colonial democracy and then goes on to note that recent “crackdowns” on journalists and opposition leaders have caused some to conclude that Senegal is back-sliding away from democracy. He then asks Mr. Diallo to elaborate. While Mr. Diallo spoke the truth; he did not speak the whole truth so I would like to provide some additional context to help your listeners decide if it is the Senegalese government or the opposition that is being unreasonable.
Mr. Diallo noted that Ousmane Sonko was charged with rape but said nothing of his alleged victim.
Adji Sarr was a 12-year-old girl living in rural Senegal when her mother died, and she was left to her own devices. Being industrious, she moved to the big city of Dakar and began working as a domestic worker. Being very attractive, she was soon recruited to work in a massage parlour where she caught the eye of one of their more influential clients – the third-place finisher in the last presidential election.
Ousmane Sonko was a young, progressive politician willing to cross the officially former but still very influential colonial masters in Paris. He is an animated speaker and holds the grip of a cult leader on his followers. The work of an opposition leader is stressful and Sonko sought to alleviate his stress in the massage parlours of Dakar. He found a beautiful young woman working in one. He was smitten and sought her services almost every day. He told the young woman that he would make her his second wife and she could live in the palace when he won the presidency.
The normal massage parlour “happy ending” was not enough for Sonko who digitally penetrated his masseuse before sodomizing and eventually, vaginally penetrating her in spite of her protestations. He ejaculated and she sought medical care. The physician recovered semen for DNA testing, but Sonko has refused to cooperate.
Sonko was summoned to court for a 9:00 a.m. appearance and at noon he was still parading through rough neighbourhoods trying to recruit a band of followers to accompany him to the courthouse and create a distraction. He was arrested early in the afternoon and his loyalists followed the pre-set script, rioted, looted businesses, and burned transit buses and gas stations; it was a wonder that only 14 participants of this mayhem met their ends. It is not clear at all that their demise was the direct result of government action. The riots kept up until the government released Sonko in an effort to keep the peace and not appear to be conducting a political vendetta. That was in March of 2021. The regime is not eager to take the case to trial and the alleged victim, Adji Sarr, remains in “protective custody” that may as well be house arrest.
Where is the justice here? What message does it send to other women who are abused by powerful men? What does it say about our allegiance to the rule of law?
While the case of Adji Sarr may be he-said, she-said, the defamation case is all he said. Sonko publicly accused a government official of embezzling approximately $50M, saying that he had compelling evidence. The official sued for defamation and demanded that Sonko present his evidence. Rather than produce evidence, Sonko returned to his tactics of inciting his followers to create chaos and confusion.
Senegal has indeed had a tense political climate for the past two years, but the fault lies at the feet of Ousmane Sonko and his Trumpian playbook. Like Trump, Sonko calls any attempt to hold him accountable a politically motivated witch hunt. Like Trump, Sonko feeds lies to cult-like followers who think he can do no wrong.
The journalist, Pape Ndiaye, was charged with provocation of a gathering, contempt of court, intimidation, and reprisals against a member of the judiciary, discrediting a judicial act, dissemination of false news, and endangering the lives of others. Ndiaye and Sonko both think that they are above the law. Ndiaye because he is a journalist and Sonko because he is an opposition politician.
The laws of a republic must apply to all citizens, or it is not a republic at all.
Francoise Hélène Ditwiler Gaye
Président of Defense of Women’s and Children’s Rights (DWCR) and CODDAS.