In a dramatic turn of events, clashes erupted between supporters of Sonko and the police in several cities, resulting in the tragic loss of at least nine lives. The turmoil unfolded after Sonko, a prominent political figure, received a two-year jail sentence for immoral behavior, although he was cleared of rape charges. While Sonko was not present in court during the verdict, the justice minister issued a warning that he could be arrested at any moment, leading to heightened tension with police surrounding his residence in the capital.

The conviction has sent shockwaves through Sonko’s supporters, who fear that this legal setback may hinder his aspirations to run in next year’s presidential election. However, their attempts to rally around their leader have been met with significant obstacles. Hundreds of officers have cordoned off Sonko’s home in Dakar, preventing his supporters from reaching him. Even his legal team has faced difficulty in gaining access to their client.

Sonko’s political party, Pastef, called for the public to take to the streets following the court’s decision, sparking further unrest.

Ousmane Sonko. Pic credit Al Jazeera

In response, the government imposed restrictions on social media platforms to curb the spread of “hate and subversive messages,” a move that has stirred frustration among the populace. Popular apps such as Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, Telegram, TikTok, WhatsApp, and YouTube have been affected by the restrictions. While some individuals have found a workaround using virtual private networks (VPNs), many remain unaware of such software and its functionality.

The repercussions of the unrest have been felt across various districts, particularly in the heart of the capital, where the university campus became a flashpoint. Tear gas filled the air as vehicles burned, shrouding the area in black smoke. The resulting chaos led to the closure of numerous businesses, with some choosing to remain shut even on the following day.

Beyond Dakar, the southern city of Ziguinchor, where Sonko holds the position of mayor, also experienced outbreaks of violence. Sonko’s popularity among unemployed youth has propelled his meteoric rise in politics in recent years. After his dismissal as a tax inspector in 2016, he secured a parliamentary seat and assumed the mayoral role in Ziguinchor.

The government has staunchly denied allegations that the legal cases against Sonko, including the recent conviction, bear political motivations. However, these controversies, combined with the underlying tension surrounding President Macky Sall’s potential pursuit of an unconstitutional third term, have further heightened the political climate in the country. Despite no official statement from President Sall regarding a third term, the perception persists among the public.

As the nation grapples with the fallout from Sonko’s sentencing, the implications of this ongoing turmoil extend beyond individual cases and political ambitions. The stability and unity of the country are at stake, necessitating careful navigation and dialogue to ease tensions and ensure a peaceful path forward.