The citizen movement “Y en a Marre” and the democratic crisis in Senegal

Almost a year ago, on the occasion of the “Cities Defending Human Rights” Spring tour, the rapper Thiat, one of the founding members of the Senegalese citizen movement Y en a Marre, visited some of the Catalan municipalities participating in the project. The Senegalese human rights defender explained his activism, or as he prefers to define it, “raptivism”, a mix of rap with texts that urge to fight for democracy, for a free and plural civic space, for a citizenship that organizes itself and acts as an active watchdog of democracy. Between rap workshops, meetings with the Senegalese community in various cities and conferences, Thiat shared his experience as an activist marked by ups and downs, such as his arrests and the other risks he faced and continues to face. Nevertheless, in his interventions there was always space to share a positive vision, where his hope for a better future for his country and Senegal emerged.

Despite his commitment to this optimistic approach, after his stay in Catalonia the situation in Senegal has been deteriorating abruptly. A few months later, in June 2023, a wave of protests shook his country. The trigger: the imprisonment of Ousmane Sonko, leader of the opposition at the head of the Patriotes du Sénégal pour le travail, l’éthique et la fraternité party, an act that gave a glimpse of the authoritarian turn of Macky Sall, head of the Senegalese government since 2012. Until then, Senegal had been considered one of the most stable democracies on the African continent, in a region, that of West Africa, which in recent years has seen an increase in coups by military boards. The demonstrations, led mainly by the young population, were harshly repressed by the state forces. In addition to the excessive use of violence, internet blackouts and arbitrary arrests were also recorded. In this context of political tension, Aliou Sané, coordinator of Y en a Marre, was arbitrarily arrested, deprived of his freedom and imprisoned, while calls for his release by more than a hundred organizations and journalists were summing up . Only a few days ago, on February 15, he was finally released.

Thiat and other members of the Y en a Marre movement during a demonstration for the release of Aliou Sane and all political detainees, October 2023 / Source:

The repression of the protests was the beginning of a climax of authoritarian tendencies that culminated in the repeal, by Macky Sall, of the presidential elections, initially called for February 25. Although Sall had anticipated that he would not stand in the elections, renouncing a third – and unconstitutional – mandate, through a video message broadcasted on February 3, the President announced the postponement of the electoral appointment. In response to such an act, defined by many as an institutional coup, Y en a Marre published a press statement denouncing this authoritarian, illegal and illegitimate turn that “once again violates the fundamental charter of our country”, and asking the Constitutional Council to guarantee respect for the Constitution, the rule of law and the independence of the electoral process . After Sall’s announcement, a new wave of demonstrations shook the country, and a few days later, Amnesty International reported the death of 3 demonstrators. The Senegalese people continue to take to the streets demanding that Macky Sall’s mandate ends on April 2, as established by the Constitution.

One year after Thiat’s participation in the Cities Defending Human Rights programme, the struggle of the citizen movement Y en a Marre and its members proves to be vital for oppose the advancement of the authoritarian drift, for its capacity of social mobilization and for the fight for civil and political rights in Senegal..

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