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Senegal’s Fragile Future?

2023-12-05 14:11

Jan Záhořík

#Senegal2023 , #YouthInSenegal , #EUandAfrica , #SenegalMigration , #PoliticalUnrestSenegal , #OusmaneSonko , #SenegalProtests , #AfricaYouthMovement , #AntiFrenchSentiment , #WestAfricanChallenges,

Senegal’s Fragile Future?

"Senegal's Uncertain Future: Rising Migration, Political Unrest, and Youth Discontent Amidst a Changing West Africa."

This year, Senegal has attracted attention of international media more than is usual. In recent months, there has been a big increase in the number of migrants from Senegal, but unlike in the past, Senegalese are among them in large numbers. Frustration prevails among the young because they see no future here, these are the words of a bartender who responds to my questions. Senegal, Gambia and Mauritania in particular have long served as stepping stones for migrants from West Africa. Boats from Dakar in Senegal as well as Nouadhibou from Mauritania try to reach the Canary Islands in bigger numbers this year as is documented by the UN and international media. 




At the beginning of November 2023, it was reported that 32 thousand migrants reached Canary Islands from Senegal and most of them were Senegalese, small scale fishermen and low paid workers.[1] This is a huge challenge for the European Union (EU) whose southern countries are under pressure from migration waves across the Mediterranean or from West Africa to the Canary Islands. 


Nordic countries, on the other hand, realized that an era of open doors had its limits. On the other hand, in the words of one Nigerian female migrant, “no matter what Europe does, migrants will come anyway. It is impossible to stop them,”[2] and calls for stopping the European support to African leaders who, in her words are rich but do not care about the poor. And this remains a long term problem for Europe.[3]


Dakar is a kind of luxurious gateway to West Africa, with an important port, and the country also mines gold, zircon and other raw materials in addition to oil. The country has an ambition, according to the state-owned Société des pétroles du Sénégal (Petrosen), to become an oil and gas giant with several projects underway.[4] 


Senegal also has a population of around 17 million and has not experienced any brutal civil wars, although there has been an ongoing small-scale - and in a certain sense forgotten - conflict in Casamance.[5] Dakar and Senegalese coast in general is also a popular place for foreigners and especially French seniors prefer to move to Senegal due to cheaper life. According to French media outlets, there are 25 thousand French people living in Senegal which makes it an important place for France.[6]


However, anti-French sentiment is also evident here. "But here, there is no threat of a coup like the last one in Niger," adds my Senegalese colleague and friend, adding that although Senegal's political system has its flaws, it is still a promising country. "One of the main presidential candidates is now in jail, he has been accused of rape, but I think it's all just tailor-made for political reasons," he says when asked who has the best chance of winning the upcoming elections. 




Indeed, Ousmane Sonko, on whom the youth in particular have pinned their hopes, was sentenced to two years in prison, sparking massive protests in the country. 


"People here are already unhappy with Macky Sall,” tells me a taxi driver who takes me to the hotel. Others talk about Ousmane Sonko in a way that he is a populist who knows with what kind of language to address different audiences.  The anti-government protests this June were, from what I hear, very violent, and disaffected youths took their anger out on the police as well. "It's no surprise, this is basically a police state," a friend who has lived in Dakar for a long time tells me. In the meantime, it has been announced on the media that Ousmane Sonko has ended his hunger strike in prison while his collaborators indicated that this weapon can be used again in the future depending on the context.[7] 


This probably would not decrease frustration of Senegalese youth, dissatisfied by multiple factors, primarily socio-economic stagnation and continuous French influence materialized in the existence of West African currency, CFA, which many see as a neo-colonial tool.[8]




Migration from Senegal


The protests this summer and the arrest of presidential candidate Sonko combined with socio-economic frustration are some of the factors behind the increased migration towards the Canary Islands. Dakar and other cities, with the exception of Touba, witnessed large-scale protests with a number of dead and injured. Such demonstrations and violent reaction of the regime did not escape attention of international media.[9]


Even though Senegal, Gambia and Mauritania have increased controls at sea, Frontex (European Border and Coast Guard) expects the trend to continue, given the situation in Senegal and the discontent of Senegalese youth with the political situation and economic prospects. Dakar is also a centre of migration from West Africa, so it is not surprising to encounter Malian, Guinean, Ivorian or Nigerian people in various places. After the summer protests, a number of Senegalese young men who want to escape particularly to Spain increased significantly.[10]


Walking through does not give the impression that the country is in trouble. A new train station next to the port will soon be used for train journeys up north to Saint Louis, and the monumental Museum of African Civilisations, standing opposite the equally magnificent National Theatre, gives visitors a glimpse of Sino-African cooperation. The construction boom is in full swing here and at least the Senegalese coast is booming. 


Nevertheless, the youth in particular are not happy, and the occasional demonstrations are directed both against poverty and against the abuse of power, as the example of presidential candidate Sonko shows. "Africa in general has a very young population and the youth are simply no longer satisfied with the rule of the old and all-powerful who control all business through kinship lines," concludes a Senegalese colleague of mine.




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