Senegal’s democratic record on the line as presidential vote delay sparks crisis

Violent protests have roiled Senegal since President Macky Sall abruptly called off a planned election at the weekend, with just three weeks to go before the high-stakes vote. The crisis puts one of West Africa’s most stable democracies to the test at a time when the region faces democratic backsliding and a surge in military coups.

Senegal’s parliament voted on Monday to delay the country’s presidential election until December 15, two days after President Sall stunned the nation of 18 million people by calling off a planned February 25 vote.  

The bill adopted by the National Assembly effectively extends Sall’s 12-year tenure, which was due to end on April 2. It was passed near-unanimously, with 105 votes in favour and just one against, after several opposition lawmakers were forcibly removed from the chamber. 

Its passage came as police used tear gas to disperse protesters gathered outside the parliament building and as mobile internet services were suspended nationwide to counter the threat of “hateful and subversive messages on social media”. 

The controversial move marks the first time a Senegalese election is postponed since the introduction of multi-party democracy in 1974. It has triggered fierce protests in the West African nation, seen as a democratic bastion of stability in a volatile region roiled by successive military coups. 

‘Constitutional coup’

The decision to delay the vote, just hours before campaigning was officially set to begin, has exacerbated an already tense political climate, with Sall’s critics accusing him of cracking down on opponents and seeking to hold on to power.  

In a televised address on Saturday, the president cited a dispute between the parliament and the country’s Constitutional Council over the disqualification of some candidates, arguing that this had created a “sufficiently serious and confusing situation” to justify delaying the vote. 

His opponents, however, suspect the postponement is part of a plan to extend Sall’s term in office or influence whoever succeeds him. They claim he feared his chosen successor, Prime Minister Amadou Ba, was in danger of losing the election. 

Opposition figure Khalifa Sall, who is not related to the president, denounced “a constitutional coup”, while two opposition parties filed a court petition challenging the election delay. The president’s announcement also sparked the immediate resignation of cabinet minister Abdou Latif Coulibaly, who expressed his dismay at Sall’s move. 

“Maybe it’s just that when you’re in power, you think anything is possible,” Coulibaly told FRANCE 24’s sister radio station RFI. The president “cannot extend his term, it’s impossible”, he added.  

Senegal’s democratic credentials now hang in the balance, said political analyst Gilles Yabi, head of the Dakar-based think tank Wathi, pointing to a constitutional crisis brewing. 

“The situation is alarming because the Constitutional Council, which upholds the constitution and the separation of powers, has come under attack,” he said. “I fear we are entering a period of uncertainty and weakening of our institutions, starting with the one that is most important for protecting freedoms and the fundamental principles of democracy.” 

Echoes of deadly unrest 

Senegal’s political crisis has led to fears of the kind of violent unrest that broke out in March 2021 and June 2023, which resulted in dozens of deaths and hundreds of arrests.  

The catalyst for the unrest was the arrest and later sentencing of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko in a rape case his supporters claim was politically motivated. Sonko and other prominent opponents have denounced a drift towards authoritarianism and accuse the government of manipulating the justice system.  

In the run-up to the last presidential election in 2019, legal woes prevented opposition figures Khalifa Sall and Karim Wade from challenging Sall. Sonko was likewise barred from the forthcoming vote, though his back-up candidate Bassirou Faye is on the ballot. 

Speculation that the incumbent might seek a third term in office, despite a constitutional two-term limit, had further stoked unrest, until he announced in July that he would not stand again. 

“On April 2, 2024, God willing, I will hand over power to my successor,” Sall confirmed on December 31, in what should have been his final New Year address as Senegalese president. 

Accusations of hanging on to power mark an ironic twist for the incumbent, who had led the challenge against his predecessor Abdoulaye Wade in 2012, arguing that the latter’s bid for a third term in office was unconstitutional.  

“Sall himself had warned Wade that he could not stay one extra day as president,” said Yabi of the Wathi think tank. “Back then, he was very clear that any attempt to extend a mandate was contrary to the constitution.” 

A ‘democratic model’ for the West  

Sall eventually ousted Wade, his former mentor, in a run-off vote in 2012. Twelve years on, Senegal’s fifth president since independence prides himself on having transformed the country during his two terms at the helm. 

Sall has introduced sweeping reforms and launched major infrastructure projects, including motorways, industrial parks and a new airport. He has also sought to position himself as a respected and influential player on the international stage, championing the respect of constitutional order even as a wave of military coups swept the region, toppling democratically-elected governments one by one. 

His standing as the leader of a bastion of democracy in the region explains why Senegal’s international allies have expressed concern at the current crisis – but refrained from condemning Sall’s move. 

As a “model of democracy”, Senegal is of extreme importance to the West, said Douglas Yates, a West African politics expert at the American Graduate School in Paris.  

“American presidents visit Senegal precisely because it is a model of democracy,” he said. “And for France, it is one of the most democratic French-speaking countries left standing.”

In a statement on Monday, the US State Department said it was closely monitoring the situation in Dakar. It urged “all participants in Senegal’s political process to engage peacefully in the important effort to hold free, fair and timely elections”. 

On Tuesday, West African bloc ECOWAS, of which Senegal is a key member, expressed its “preoccupation”, encouraging Dakar to “urgently restore the electoral timetable”. 

Rights groups were more alarmist, with Human Rights Watch warning that the country’s status as “a beacon of democracy in the region (…) is now at risk”. 

The advocacy group wrote in a statement: “Authorities need to act to prevent violence, rein in abusive security forces, and end their assault on opposition and media. They should respect freedom of speech, expression, and assembly, and restore internet, putting Senegal back on its democratic course.” 

Despite the alarm, analysts have played down fears of a military takeover akin to the ones witnessed across West Africa in recent years. Senegal has never experienced a coup since gaining independence from France in 1960, making it a rare outlier in a troubled region. 

“Coups are a real concern given the pattern in the region, but Senegal is a unique case,” said Yates. “It’s had three peaceful transitions of power. It’s a consolidated democracy. Elections really are the only game in town.” 

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Senegal’s President Macky Sall postpones Feb 25 presidential elections indefinitely

Senegalese President Macky Sall on Saturday announced the indefinite postponement of the presidential election scheduled for February 25, just hours before official campaigning was due to start.

In an address to the nation, Sall said he had signed a decree abolishing a previous measure that set the date as lawmakers investigate two Constitutional Council judges whose integrity in the election process has been questioned. “I will begin an open national dialogue to bring together the conditions for a free, transparent and inclusive election,” Sall added without giving a new date.

Under the country’s election code, at least 80 days must pass between the publication of the decree and the election, which means the earliest it could now be held is late April.

It is the first time that Senegal has delayed a presidential vote. Its four largely peaceful transitions of power via the ballot box since independence from France in 1960 have built up its reputation as one of West Africa‘s most stable democracies.

Last month, the Constitutional Council approved 20 candidates but disqualified dozens of others from the race, including opposition leaders Ousmane Sonko and Karim Wade. Wade was barred from running because he allegedly also holds French citizenship, a decision he denounced as “scandalous”. 

Sall reiterated Saturday that he will not be a candidate. He had repeatedly said he would hand over power in early April to the winner of the vote. After announcing he would not run for a third term as president, Sall designated Prime Minister Amadou Ba from his party as his would-be successor. But with his party split over his candidacy, Ba faced possible defeat in the elections.

Just hours after Sall’s announcement, Abdou Latif Coulibaly, the Secretary General of the government who has acted as its spokesman, announced his resignation. He was quitting because he wanted to have “full and complete freedom” to defend his political convictions, Coulibaly said in a statement.

France calls for vote ‘as soon as possible’

The US State Department urged Senegal to “swiftly” set a date for a “timely, free and fair election” in a post on X, formerly Twitter. “We acknowledge allegations of irregularities, but we are deeply concerned about the disruption to the presidential electoral calendar,” the department’s Bureau of African Affairs posted.

France on Sunday echoed the US, saying that Senegal should end “uncertainty” and called for a vote “as soon as possible.

“We call on authorities to end the uncertainty about the electoral calendar so the vote can be held as soon as possible, under the rules of Senegalese democracy,” Paris’ foreign ministry said in a statement as Senegal’s political crisis deepens.

The intervention from Paris, the former colonial power in Senegal, came as opposition presidential candidates called for a Sunday afternoon demonstration in Dakar.

The European Union also said on Sunday that the postponement of Senegal’s presidential election opens a “period of uncertainty”. “The European Union… calls on all actors to work … for the staging of a transparent, inclusive and credible election as soon as possible,” EU spokesperson Nabila Massrali said in a statement.

The opposition Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS), whose candidate Karim Wade was among those excluded from running, had formally requested a postponement on Friday. 

But other oppposition figures have aleady expressed their disapproval of the president’s decision. Former mayor of Dakar Khalifa Sall – who has no relation to President Macky Sall – called for pro-democratic forces to unite against the decision. “All of Senegal must stand up,” he told journalists.”All democratic political forces and civil society should unite so that this project does not succeed.”

One opposition leader, Thierno Alassane Sall, denounced what he called “high treason towards the Republic” in a post on X, formerly Twitter. He called on “patriots and republicans” to oppose it.

El Malick Ndiaye, former spokesman of the now-disbanded opposition party once led by the now jailed Ousmane Sonko, also denounced the decision. “This is not a delay of the election, but a cancellation pure and simple,” he wrote on Facebook.

Inquiry on Constitutional Council

Senegal‘s parliament on Wednesday approved a commission of inquiry into the workings of the Constitutional Council – the body which both finalises the list of candidates and announces the winner of the election.

The excluded candidates, who include opposition firebrand Ousmane Sonko, say the rules for candidacy were not applied fairly. The authorities deny this.

Many MPs from the president’s own party unexpectedly voted in favour of the inquiry, fuelling speculation that they could be trying to delay a vote they fear losing.

The campaign to establish an inquiry was launched by disqualified candidate Wade. He has accused two of the seven members of the Constitutional Council of having links with presidential hopefuls, including Prime Minister Amadou Ba, endorsed by the outgoing president.

Before the president’s speech, the influential League of Imams and Preachers of Senegal on Saturday warned of the dangers of postponement and appealed directly to President Sall to take steps to avoid fuelling instability.

“Any attempt to postpone the elections would be fraught with pointless risks,” it said in a statement. “As Senegal is stable in all respects and on track for elections, the wisest decision for the head of state would be to do everything possible to ensure that free and transparent elections are held.”

Senegalese voters are due to choose a successor to President Sall, who is not seeking a third term. For the first time in Senegal’s history, the incumbent is not on the ballot. His handpicked successor, Prime Minister Amadou Ba, is among 20 candidates cleared by the constitutional council to run.

Meanwhile, Rose Wardini, one of only two women in the approved list of candidates, was detained Friday on charges of allegedly hiding her French citizenship, according to judicial sources.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP & Reuters)

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With ECOWAS exit, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger leave democratic transition in limbo

The announcement that Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso will withdraw from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) “without delay” has put an abrupt end to fractious talks on organising elections and reinstating civilian rule. With their emphasis on restoring “national sovereignty” and driving out terrorist groups, the three West African countries’ military governments have made it clear that organising elections is not their primary concern.   

Since successive coups in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has been trying to get the countries’ military leaders to commit to holding elections to reinstate civilian governments.  

Despite the heavy sanctions imposed, fractious negotiations between the three West African countries and ECOWAS have failed to produce tangible results. In their joint withdrawal announcement on January 28, the interim leaders of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger criticised the West African regional organisation for its lack of support in the fight against terrorism and for adopting “illegal, illegitimate and inhumane” punitive measures. Their exit marks the end of negotiations regarding each country’s electoral timetable, which the military governments had shown little inclination to put in place. 

In Mali, the first country to be affected by the wave of coups that has spread across West Africa in recent years, talks initiated by ECOWAS on the duration of the transition period have seen many twists and turns. Following the August 2020 coup that toppled President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, ECOWAS imposed an economic embargo, closing its borders with the country while maintaining deliveries of essential goods. The military then installed a civilian government committed to holding elections within two years, scheduled for February 27, 2022. However, a second putsch in May 2021 shattered this promise. 

Speaking to FRANCE 24 months after the second coup, Mali’s Prime Minister Choguel Maiga described the February 2022 deadline as unrealistic. “It is better to have a few more weeks, even a few more months” than to have another post-electoral crisis, like the one that led to the fall of President Keïta, he said.   

Since then, the length of the transition period has changed several times. At the end of December 2021, following a “national consultation”, Mali’s interim President Assimi Goïta proposed extending it by five years. This was later reduced to two years under pressure from ECOWAS. Before announcing their withdrawal from the West African regional organisation, the Malian authorities had again postponed the presidential election, scheduled for February 4, 2024, for “technical reasons”, without giving a new date. 

Prioritising fight against terrorism  

The electoral timetable established for Burkina Faso has also been consigned to oblivion. Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, who overthrew President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré in January 2022, had pledged to hold elections in July 2024 until he himself was overthrown by the young Captain Ibrahim Traoré in September 2022. Traoré initially said that he wanted to respect this timetable, but then changed his mind. “It’s not a priority, I’ll tell you that clearly, security is the priority,” he said, when asked about holding elections a year later.  

In Niger, which has been less affected by terrorist attacks by groups linked to al Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS) group, coup leaders have also justified their actions by citing the “deteriorating security situation”

Read moreNiger coup brings France’s complicated relationship with its former colonies into the spotlight

Following the July 2023 coup, ECOWAS once again entered into negotiations with a military junta to establish an electoral timetable. It threatened the new leaders with military intervention in order to re-establish constitutional order, but failed to bring them to heel.   

“These military regimes’ approach, which consists of prioritising the fight against terrorism over the question of democracy, effectively puts the return to constitutional order at risk, because no one knows when security will return,” said Abba Seidik, a journalist specialising in the Sahel. “It’s true that the situation in Burkina Faso is particularly difficult, but what about in Mali, where the authorities have regained control of Kidal [a town in northern Mali]? Or Niger, where it was possible to hold a presidential election at the end of 2020? Not all situations are identical. Although elections may not have been the primary reason why the three countries withdrew from ECOWAS, it is worth mentioning that [their exit from the group] removes any possibility of applying pressure in this area.” 

Military populism 

The three countries’ decision to leave ECOWAS is further evidence of the regional organisation’s failure to negotiate a return to civilian rule, said Thierry Vircoulon, a Sub-Saharan Africa expert at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI). 

“The commitments by Mali and Burkina Faso’s military governments to hold elections were part of a dialogue with ECOWAS that had already failed,” said Vircoulon. “The elections were already doomed and leaving ECOWAS is just the latest proof of this. These countries practise a form of populist militarism; they have no intention of facing up to election results and are organising popular mobilisations to legitimise themselves.” 

“Regional partners and the international community continue to press them to hold elections – as does a silent segment of their population, which we should not forget,” said Seidik. “But these people are living in a society where freedom of expression has been considerably curtailed. In Mali, critical positions expose people to online lynching campaigns, and it is even worse in Burkina Faso, where we have seen that people can be arrested for criticising the authorities.” 

In Mali’s capital Bamako, very few people spoke out against the decision to leave ECOWAS. The February 20 Coalition (Appel du 20 février), which includes opposition political parties and civil society movements critical of the transitional authorities, issued a press release, denouncing a decision “taken without any form of democratic debate”.  

Meanwhile, the military leaders of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger – united under the banner of the Alliance of Sahel States, a mutual defence pact established in September 2023 –organised “large mobilisations of support” on February 1 to celebrate a “courageous and historic” decision. 

In an interview with former RFI journalist Alain Foka shortly after the ECOWAS exit, Burkina Faso’s interim leader Traoré declined to commit to an election timetable. “There must be a minimum of security so that, if there is an electoral campaign, people can go anywhere in Burkina Faso to explain their ideas,” he said, before touting the army’s accomplishments. “You have to know how to awaken patriotism in a people, to give them confidence, to know that their homeland is the only thing they have left,” he added. “That’s what we’ve managed to do.”

This article has been translated from the original in French

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The Middle East is on fire: What you need to know about the Red Sea crisis

On October 7, Hamas fighters launched a bloody attack against Israel, using paragliders, speedboats and underground tunnels to carry out an offensive that killed almost 1,200 people and saw hundreds more taken back to the Gaza Strip as prisoners. 

Almost three months on, Israel’s massive military retaliation is reverberating around the region, with explosions in Lebanon and rebels from Yemen attacking shipping in the Red Sea. Meanwhile, Western countries are pumping military aid into Israel while deploying fleets to protect commercial shipping — risking confrontation with the Iranian navy.

That’s in line with a grim prediction made last year by Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, who said that Israel’s counteroffensive in Gaza meant an “expansion of the scope of the war has become inevitable,” and that further escalation across the Middle East should be expected. 

What’s happening?

The Israel Defense Forces are still fighting fierce battles for control of the Gaza Strip in what officials say is a mission to destroy Hamas. Troops have already occupied much of the north of the 365-square-kilometer territory, home to around 2.3 million Palestinians, and are now fighting fierce battles in the south.

Entire neighborhoods of densely-populated Gaza City have been levelled by intense Israeli shelling, rocket attacks and air strikes, rendering them uninhabitable. Although independent observers have been largely shut out, the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry claims more than 22,300 people have been killed, while the U.N. says 1.9 million people have been displaced.

On a visit to the front lines, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant warned that his country is in the fight for the long haul. “The feeling that we will stop soon is incorrect. Without a clear victory, we will not be able to live in the Middle East,” he said.

As the Gaza ground war intensifies, Hamas and its allies are increasingly looking to take the conflict to a far broader arena in order to put pressure on Israel.

According to Seth Frantzman, a regional analyst with the Jerusalem Post and adjunct fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, “Iran is certainly making a play here in terms of trying to isolate Israel [and] the U.S. and weaken U.S. influence, also showing that Israel doesn’t have the deterrence capabilities that it may have had in the past or at least thought it had.”

Northern front

On Tuesday a blast ripped through an office in Dahieh, a southern suburb of the Lebanese capital, Beirut — 130 kilometers from the border with Israel. Hamas confirmed that one of its most senior leaders, Saleh al-Arouri, was killed in the strike. 

Government officials in Jerusalem have refused to confirm Israeli forces were behind the killing, while simultaneously presenting it as a “surgical strike against the Hamas leadership” and insisting it was not an attack against Lebanon itself, despite a warning from Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati that the incident risked dragging his country into a wider regional war. 

Tensions between Israel and Lebanon have spiked in recent weeks, with fighters loyal to Hezbollah, the Shia Islamist militant group that controls the south of the country, firing hundreds of rockets across the frontier. Along with Hamas, Hezbollah is part of the Iranian-led “Axis of Resistance” that aims to destroy the state of Israel.

In a statement released on Tuesday, Iran’s foreign ministry said the death of al-Arouri, the most senior Hamas official confirmed to have died since October 7, will only embolden resistance against Israel, not only in the Palestinian territories but also in the wider Middle East.

“We’re talking about the death of a senior Hamas leader, not from Hezbollah or the [Iranian] Revolutionary Guards. Is it Iran who’s going to respond? Hezbollah? Hamas with rockets? Or will there be no response, with the various players waiting for the next assassination?” asked Héloïse Fayet, a researcher at the French Institute for International Relations.

In a much-anticipated speech on Wednesday evening, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah condemned the killing but did not announce a military response.

Red Sea boils over

For months now, sailors navigating the narrow Bab- el-Mandeb Strait that links Europe to Asia have faced a growing threat of drone strikes, missile attacks and even hijackings by Iran-backed Houthi militants operating off the coast of Yemen.

The Houthi movement, a Shia militant group supported by Iran in the Yemeni civil war against Saudi Arabia and its local allies, insists it is only targeting shipping with links to Israel in a bid to pressure it to end the war in Gaza. However, the busy trade route from the Suez Canal through the Red Sea has seen dozens of commercial vessels targeted or delayed, forcing Western nations to intervene.

Over the weekend, the U.S. Navy said it had intercepted two anti-ship missiles and sunk three boats carrying Houthi fighters in what it said was a hijacking attempt against the Maersk Hangzhou, a container ship. Danish shipping giant Maersk said Tuesday that it would “pause all transits through the Red Sea until further notice,” following a number of other cargo liners; energy giant BP is also suspending travel through the region.

On Wednesday the Houthis targeted a CMA CGM Tage container ship bound for Israel, according to the group’s military spokesperson Yahya Sarea. “Any U.S. attack will not pass without a response or punishment,” he added. 

“The sensible decision is one that the vast majority of shippers I think are now coming to, [which] is to transit through round the Cape of Good Hope,” said Marco Forgione, director general at the Institute of Export & International Trade. “But that in itself is not without heavy impact, it’s up to two weeks additional sailing time, adds over £1 million to the journey, and there are risks, particularly in West Africa, of piracy as well.” 

However, John Stawpert, a senior manager at the International Chamber of Shipping, noted that while “there has been disruption” and an “understandable nervousness about transiting these routes … trade is continuing to flow.”

“A major contributory factor to that has been the presence of military assets committed to defending shipping from these attacks,” he said. 

The impacts of the disruption, especially price hikes hitting consumers, will be seen “in the next couple of weeks,” according to Forgione. Oil and gas markets also risk taking a hit — the price of benchmark Brent crude rose by 3 percent to $78.22 a barrel on Wednesday. Almost 10 percent of the world’s oil and 7 percent of its gas flows through the Red Sea.

Western response

On Wednesday evening, the U.S., Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom issued an ultimatum calling the Houthi attacks “illegal, unacceptable, and profoundly destabilizing,” but with only vague threats of action.

“We call for the immediate end of these illegal attacks and release of unlawfully detained vessels and crews. The Houthis will bear the responsibility of the consequences should they continue to threaten lives, the global economy, and free flow of commerce in the region’s critical waterways,” the statement said.

Despite the tepid language, the U.S. has already struck back at militants from Iranian-backed groups such as Kataeb Hezbollah in Iraq and Syria after they carried out drone attacks that injured U.S. personnel.

The assumption in London is that airstrikes against the Houthis — if it came to that — would be U.S.-led with the U.K. as a partner. Other nations might also chip in.

Two French officials said Paris is not considering air strikes. The country’s position is to stick to self-defense, and that hasn’t changed, one of them said. French Armed Forces Minister Sébastien Lecornu confirmed that assessment, saying on Tuesday that “we’re continuing to act in self-defense.” 

“Would France, which is so proud of its third way and its position as a balancing power, be prepared to join an American-British coalition?” asked Fayet, the think tank researcher.

Iran looms large

Iran’s efforts to leverage its proxies in a below-the-radar battle against both Israel and the West appear to be well underway, and the conflict has already scuppered a long-awaited security deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

“Since 1979, Iran has been conducting asymmetrical proxy terrorism where they try to advance their foreign policy objectives while displacing the consequences, the counterpunches, onto someone else — usually Arabs,” said Bradley Bowman, senior director of Washington’s Center on Military and Political Power. “An increasingly effective regional security architecture, of the kind the U.S. and Saudi Arabia are trying to build, is a nightmare for Iran which, like a bully on the playground, wants to keep all the other kids divided and distracted.”

Despite Iran’s fiery rhetoric, it has stopped short of declaring all-out war on its enemies or inflicting massive casualties on Western forces in the region — which experts say reflects the fact it would be outgunned in a conventional conflict.

“Neither Iran nor the U.S. nor Israel is ready for that big war,” said Alex Vatanka, director of the Middle East Institute’s Iran program. “Israel is a nuclear state, Iran is a nuclear threshold state — and the U.S. speaks for itself on this front.”

Israel might be betting on a long fight in Gaza, but Iran is trying to make the conflict a global one, he added. “Nobody wants a war, so both sides have been gambling on the long term, hoping to kill the other guy through a thousand cuts.”

Emilio Casalicchio contributed reporting.

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Women’s rights take centre stage in DR Congo election

from our special correspondent in Kinshasa – Ahead of Monday’s election in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), women’s faces can be seen everywhere, pinned up on electoral posters throughout the country. During his five-year term, President Félix Tshisekedi demonstrated a commitment to women’s rights and better female representation in politics, but there is still a long way to go.

Days out from the DRC‘s presidential election, campaign clips play constantly on state broadcaster Congolese National Radio and Television (RTNC). One of the advertisements, from the campaign of President Félix Tshisekedi, known colloquially as “Fatshi béton”, highlights one of his flagship policies: free maternity care. 

Since being implemented in September 2023, the measure is gradually taking effect in public hospitals and health centres. At the Kinshasa General Hospital (still informally known as “Mama Yemo Hospital”, after the mother of ousted President Mobutu), Julie is receiving postnatal care after giving birth to her daughter, Yumi.

“This is my third child. I had a C-section. For the first two, I gave birth elsewhere and paid 40,000 Congolese francs, then 65,000 for the second (€14 and €22.60 at current exchange rates),” says Julie. “I am satisfied with the free maternity care because, this time, if I was made to pay for the C-section, I would have died. I couldn’t have afforded the operation (one million Congolese francs, or €340).”

Julie gave birth to a baby girl by Caesarean section and benefitted from free medical care for the first time. © David Gormezano, FRANCE 24

She still must pay for her painkillers and the medicine for her newborn’s fever, but the impact of the financial relief is evident. “Before free childbirth, if you didn’t pay, they kept you in the hospital until the bill was paid,” Julie says.

Women and hospitals alike

Still lying on her bed after giving birth to her son Vainqueur (“Winner”, in English), Pierrette Mayele Moseka praises the policy. “This is my sixth child. According to my husband, when I arrived, I was in agony. We came from very far away, and care was immediately provided at the hospital. We will all vote for President Fatshi.”

Despite its dilapidated buildings and very basic equipment, Kinshasa General has one of the best public maternity wards in Kinshasa. For doctors, the free care provided to mothers and their babies can mean the difference between the life and death of their patients.

The maternity ward at the
The maternity ward at the “Mama Yemo” general hospital in Kinshasa. © David Gormezano, FRANCE 24

“The measure allows us to free up beds more quickly. After two or three days, women can go home if there are no complications. It makes our job easier,” says Olenga Manga, one of the two medical interns, finishing his shift.

“Often, women would refuse C-sections because they couldn’t afford them. With the free service, maternal mortality has decreased. Today, we can intervene quickly. We no longer worry about whether a woman can pay. Infant mortality has also decreased,” he says, walking through the delivery room still under partial construction.

Progress or politics?

In his brand-new office, hospital director Dr Jean-Paul Divengi likewise praises President Tshisekedi’s policy but believes the responsibility to make effective use of the funding ultimately rests with care providers.

Indeed, the director explains that the free childbirth policy does not only affect the maternity ward. “This involves other departments: functional rehabilitation, resuscitation, anaesthesia, paediatric surgery, and also the morgue for unfortunate situations,” says Divengi. “It’s a significant step forward for women but also the hospital in general.”

Jean-Paul Divengi, medical director of the
Jean-Paul Divengi, medical director of the “Mama Yemo” general hospital. © David Gormezano, FRANCE 24

With free childbirth, instead of asking patients to front the bill, the hospitals invoice the health ministry for their care each month. This has put less pressure on finances, says Divengi.

“I was at the helm for three years [before the policy was implemented], and almost no bill was fully paid!” says Divengi. “For this program to develop successfully, technical and financial partners must also follow suit.”

However, not everyone is convinced. According to lawyer Arlette Ottia, a member of the party of former president Joseph Kabila (2001-2019), it is “a political and populist measure. In reality, you will hardly find women who have given birth for free. It’s only politicians who talk about it.”

Read moreNobel Prize winner Denis Mukwege unveils DR Congo presidential bid

After just three months, it is difficult to determine the status of the ambitious program. While several institutions in Kinshasa have implemented the initiative, few data are available to assess the DRC at large, with its more than 100 million inhabitants.

‘Feminist president’

At the presidential palace in Kinshasa situated on the banks of the Congo River, Tshisekedi is nowhere to be seen. With the election just days away, he is touring the enormous territory to rally support – from Katanga to Kivu to Kasaï.

Tina Salama, Tshisekedi’s spokesperson and a former journalist from respected outlet Radio Okapi, vehemently rejects accusations that the government’s promises are empty. “The president of the republic is a staunch defender of women’s rights. Under his presidency, the country has never done better.”

In the gardens of the Nation’s palace which has housed the “great men” of Congolese history, from Patrice Lumumba to Laurent-Désiré Kabila, Salama explains why she thinks her boss is a “feminist president”.

Tina Salama, former Okapi Radio journalist and spokesperson for President Félix Tshisekedi.
Tina Salama, former Okapi Radio journalist and spokesperson for President Félix Tshisekedi. © David Gormezano, FRANCE 24

“In 2019, we had 17 percent women in state administrations and public enterprises. In 2023, we have reached 32 percent,” says Salama. “It is the first time we see women in decision-making positions. We have a deputy chief of staff, and I am the first spokesperson. There is also a woman heading the Central Bank of Congo, a woman minister of the environment and another who is the minister of justice.”

Tshisekedi’s advocacy for women’s rights comes from his belief that female emancipation is key to social development in the DRC, Salama says. “Women have strongly influenced his life: his mother (Marthe Kasalu Jibikila, wife of Étienne Tshisekedi, a former prime minister under Mobutu known as an ‘eternal opposition figure’), his wife, and his four daughters. He says he takes great pleasure in being surrounded by all these women.”

A long road to emancipation

At the other end of Kinshasa, in the offices of the Jema’h Association, an organisation that promotes women’s rights through access to education and the labour market, a group of young girls record a podcast about the dangers of social media.

Despite the lack of air conditioning in the studio, the young panellists discuss the harassment women can face and the potential toxicity of trending influencers.

For Tolsaint Vangu, 23, the project is about “influencing women who are ignorant of their rights, their duties, telling them about what they can do with their lives. I would like to influence them to be independent.”

Marie-Joséphine Ntshaykolo, who led the Carter Center program which funded the creation of the recording studio, says there has been “significant progress” in women’s rights in the DRC. She does say, however, that the women’s conditions vary by province or whether they live in cities or rural areas.

“The obstacles to women’s emancipation, especially in public affairs, are primarily cultural. In Congo, there is generally male domination. Women are discriminated against due to customs, norms that are not favourable to them,” she says. “But there are more and more women candidates at the legislative level. In the government, there are more women.”

“There is a change. Today, we are heard, and what we have to say is considered,” says Ronie Kaniba, another participant in the podcast.

Women in office

As the Congolese prepare to head to the polls on December 20, Kaniba, who works as a nutritionist for a UNICEF program, tries to keep her distance from politics. “We avoid [discussing political subjects] because it can be dangerous. But there are things we can do. For example, I am an observer (for an independent election watchdog). You observe, you note, and you report. You don’t need to disclose you have done the job because it can be dangerous.” 

Ronny Kaniba, 29, during the recording of
Ronny Kaniba, 29, during the recording of her podcast “A toi la parole” in Kinshasa. © David Gormezano, FRANCE 24

In addition to the next president, the elections will also determine the national and provincial deputies as well as municipal councillors.

According to a report by UN Women, 29,096 women are candidates for these positions (compared to 71,273 men). The percentage of successful female candidates is expected to be revealed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) on December 31, a result that will indicate the progress of women’s representation in Congolese public life.

The last time the country went to the polls, in 2018, conditions were disastrous and the results were contested. A repeat would be bad news for both women and democracy in central Africa’s largest and most populous country.

This article was translated from the original in French.

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Climate action or distraction? Sweeping COP pledges won’t touch fossil fuel use

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A torrent of pollution-slashing pledges from governments and major oil companies sparked cries of “greenwashing” on Saturday, even before world leaders had boarded their flights home from this year’s global climate conference.  

After leaders wrapped two days of speeches filled with high-flying rhetoric and impassioned pleas for action, the Emirati presidency of the COP28 climate talks unleashed a series of initiatives aimed at cleaning up the world’s energy sector, the largest source of planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. 

The announcement, made at an hours-long event Saturday afternoon featuring U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, contained two main planks — a pledge by oil and gas companies to reduce emissions, and a commitment by 118 countries to triple the world’s renewable energy capacity and double energy savings efforts. 

It was, on its face, an impressive and ambitious reveal. 

COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber, the oil executive helming the talks, crowed that the package “aligns more countries and companies around the North Star of keeping 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach than ever before,” referring to the Paris Agreement target for limiting global warming. 

But many climate-vulnerable countries and non-government groups instantly cast an arched eyebrow toward the whole endeavor.

“The rapid acceleration of clean energy is needed, and we’ve called for the tripling of renewables. But it is only half the solution,” said Tina Stege, climate envoy for the Marshall Islands. “The pledge can’t greenwash countries that are simultaneously expanding fossil fuel production.” 

Carroll Muffett, president of the nonprofit Center for International Environmental Law, said: “The only way to ‘decarbonize’ carbon-based oil and gas is to stop producing it. … Anything short of this is just more industry greenwash.”

The divided reaction illustrates the fine line negotiators are trying to walk. The European Union has campaigned for months to win converts to the pledge on renewables and energy efficiency the U.S. and others signed up to on Saturday, even offering €2.3 billion to help. And the COP28 presidency has been on board. 

But Brussels, in theory, also wants these efforts to go hand in hand with a fossil fuel phaseout — a tough proposition for countries pulling in millions from the sector. The EU rhetoric often goes slightly beyond the U.S., even though the two allies officially support the end of “unabated” fossil fuel use, language that leaves the door open for continued oil and gas use as long as the emissions are captured — though such technology remains largely unproven.

Von der Leyen was seen trying to thread that needle on Saturday. She omitted fossil fuels altogether from her speech to leaders before slipping in a mention in a press release published hours later: “We are united by our common belief that to respect the 1.5°C goal … we need to phase out fossil fuels.” 

Harris on Saturday said the world “cannot afford to be incremental. We need transformative change and exponential impact.” 

But she did not mention phasing out fossil fuels in her speech, either. The U.S., the world’s top oil producer, has not made the goal a central pillar of its COP28 strategy. 

Flurry of pledges  

The EU and the UAE said 118 countries had signed up to the global energy goals.

The new fossil fuels agreement has been branded the “Oil and Gas Decarbonization Charter” and earned the signatures of 50 companies. The COP28 presidency said it had “launched” the deal with Saudi Arabia — the world’s largest oil exporter and one of the main obstacles to progress on international climate action.

Among the signatories was Saudi state energy company, Aramco, the world’s biggest energy firm — and second-biggest company of any sort, by revenue. Other global giants like ExxonMobil, Shell and TotalEnergies also signed.

They have committed to eliminate methane emissions by 2030, to end the routine flaring of gas by the same date, and to achieve net-zero emissions from their production operations by 2050. Adnan Amin, CEO of COP28, singled out the fact that, among the 50 firms, 29 are national oil companies.  

“That in itself is highly significant because you have not seen national oil companies so evident in these discussions before,” he told reporters.

The COP28 presidency could not disguise its glee at the flurry of announcements from the opening weekend of the conference.

“It already feels like an awful lot that we have delivered, but I am proud to say that this is just the beginning,” Majid al-Suwaidi, the COP28 director general, told reporters. 

Fred Krupp, president of the U.S.-based Environmental Defense Fund, predicted: “This will be the single most impactful day I’ve seen at any COP in 30 years in terms of slowing the rate of warming.” 

But other observers said the oil and gas commitments did not go far beyond commitments many companies already make. Research firm Zero Carbon Analytics noted the deal is “voluntary and broadly repeats previous pledges.”

Melanie Robinson, global climate program director at the World Resources Institute, said it was “encouraging that some national oil companies have set methane reduction targets for the first time.” 

But she added: “Most global oil and gas companies already have stringent requirements to cut methane emissions. … This charter is proof that voluntary commitments from the oil and gas industry will never foster the level of ambition necessary to tackle the climate crisis.” 

Some critics theorized that the COP28 presidency had deliberately launched the renewables and energy efficiency targets together with the oil and gas pledge. 

The combination, said David Tong, global industry campaign manager at advocacy group Oil Change International, “appears to be a calculated move to distract from the weakness of this industry pledge.”

The charter, he added, “is a trojan horse for Big Oil and Gas greenwash.” 

Beyond voluntary moves 

A push to speed up the phaseout of coal power garnered less attention — with French President Emmanuel Macron separately unveiling a new initiative and the United States joining a growing alliance of countries pledging to zero out coal emissions.

Macron’s “coal transition accelerator” focuses on ending private financing for coal, helping coal-dependent communities and scaling up clean energy. And Washington’s new commitment confirms its path to end all coal-fired power generation unless the emissions are first captured through technology. U.S. use of coal for power generation has already plummeted in the past decade. 

The U.S. pledge will put pressure on China, the world’s largest consumer and producer of coal, as well as countries like Japan, Turkey and Australia to give up on the high-polluting fuel, said Leo Roberts, program lead on fossil fuel transitions at think tank E3G. 

“It’s symbolic, the world’s biggest economy getting behind the shift away from the dirtiest fossil fuel, coal. And it’s sending a signal to … others who haven’t made the same commitment,” he said. 

The U.S. also unveiled new restrictions on methane emissions for its oil and gas sector on Saturday — a central plank of the Biden administration’s climate plans — and several leaders called for greater efforts to curb the potent greenhouse gas in their speeches. 

Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley called for a “global methane agreement” at COP28, warning that voluntary efforts hadn’t worked out. Von der Leyen, meanwhile, urged negotiators to enshrine the renewables and energy efficiency targets in the final summit text. 

Mohamed Adow, director of the think tank Power Shift Africa, warned delegates not to get distracted by nonbinding pledges. 

“We need to remember COP28 is not a trade show and a press conference,” he cautioned. “The talks are why we are here and getting an agreed fossil fuel phaseout date remains the biggest step countries need to take here in Dubai over the remaining days of the summit.”

Sara Schonhardt contributed reporting.

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From Pogba to potions: The secret world of witch doctors in France

“There’s a lot of jealousy in football,” said Sheikh Issa, holding up a piece of bark and a bottle of a yellowish potion.

Which is why many professional players beat a path to the African faith healer in the Paris suburbs looking for ways to ward off the “evil eye” and other afflictions.

Since World Cup winner Paul Pogba was sensationally accused of having spells cast on his French teammate Kylian Mbappe, the surprisingly influential role folk healers or “marabouts” play in the game has begun to come to light.

“This is what I use to treat a player who keeps getting injured in big games,” said Sheikh Issa, whose name we have changed at his request.

He was really low and “I had to clean his star”, said the Ivory Coast-born “traditional practitioner”, who claims to be able to “see both the past and the future”.

With so much money at stake, and careers that can end on a single tackle, elite sports people “regularly turn to witch doctors and to the paranormal”, said Joel Thibault, an evangelical pastor who is a spiritual advisor to French striker Olivier Giroud and other top athletes.

All this had been discreetly going out of the public eye until Pogba — whose parents come from Guinea — fell victim to an alleged extortion attempt by some of his entourage last year.

His brother later claimed Pogba paid a witch doctor to hex Mbappe, but both the former Manchester United star and the healer told police they did nothing of the kind.

The marabout said the substantial payments Pogba made to him were for “good works in Africa”.

In torment: Juventus’ French star Paul Pogba. © Marco Bertorello, AFP

With three out of 10 people in France prone to believe in some sort of sorcery, according to a 2020 survey, AFP has been investigating this closed world for the past year.

We discovered how faith healers are “half feared and half despised” — as one anthropologist put it — and why they hold such sway in some communities.

‘A gift’

Sheikh Issa wears jeans in the street, but when he welcomes his clients into his surgery he sports a long African boubou robe. “I don’t believe in gris-gris or amulets, I believe in the Koran and in plants,” said the 45-year-old, who also runs a cleaning business.

The tools of his trade are arranged around him in a couple of dozen bottles and plastic bags — tree bark that protects you from the “evil eye”, ground seeds that “keep you lucky”, and potions to “add sheen” and charisma to “politicians, lawyers and business people” who Sheikh Issa said come to him looking to “be loved and admired”.

African faith healer Sheikh Issa takes geomantic notes during a consultation near Paris
African faith healer Sheikh Issa takes geomantic notes during a consultation near Paris © Joel Saget, AFP

And, of course, remedies to enhance “sexual power”, he said pointing to another bottle. France is a “stressful country and some people are weak in bed”, added the sheikh, a little sheepishly. Afterwards they call and say, “Thank you, Sheikh.”

Sheikh Issa got “the gift” from his mother “who read shells” and his father, who is an imam. He trained with faith healers in West Africa — where people often consult marabouts — after studying at a koranic school.

He said his reputation took off when he “helped” a politician become a government minister. His three phones buzz constantly with messages.

Most of the sheikh’s clients — who he insists only pay the cost of importing his plants and his travel expenses — are mostly African and South Asian, although some come from both the French Caribbean and France itself.

One summer’s day when AFP visited his consulting room, a young Comorian woman “who lives with spirits and self harms” was waiting to see him along with “a Moroccan desperate” about his failing bakery.

“People don’t talk when they come for the first time,” he said. “I have to guess” what is wrong. Some are having trouble at home or at work, have health problems or are looking for “the love of their life”, he said.

African faith healer Sheikh Issa listens to a patient.
African faith healer Sheikh Issa listens to a patient. © Joel Saget, AFP

‘Everyone has a star’

The mostly West African witch doctors operating in France — who see themselves as healers of the soul — have learned to adapt to “malheurs” of their French clients.

Many go to them as others would go to a psychologist or a clairvoyant, experts say.

Anthropologist Liliane Kuczynski, author of the definitive book, “African marabouts in Paris”, found clients come from a wide social spectrum, from undocumented migrants to graduates and teachers.

“Far from being obscure and marginal, belief in superstitions and the paranormal has become a constantly rising majority phenomenon,” French polling company Ifop found in 2020.

Rosaries used by an African faith healer or 'marabout'.
Rosaries used by an African faith healer or ‘marabout’. © Joel Saget, AFP

“Marabouts are particularly gifted with emotional intelligence,” anthropologist Marie Miran-Guyon of the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences in Paris told AFP.

“And for some it works. Placebo effect or not, from the moment people believe it can make a difference,” it can, she added.

But Monsieur Fakoly, a Guinean healer working in Paris, who comes from a line of marabouts, had his own view of how it works.

“Every one of us has a star. If it is dirty, people fail and have bad luck. So you have to purify the soul,” he said.

“Prayers and advice will help the person feel better. We listen, we give medicine, but not the kind you get in a pharmacy!” said the healer, one of eight interviewed by AFP.

‘The spirits are working on me’

Raymond, 61, had just arrived in Sheikh Issa’s consulting room. The sheikh slowly shook his hand, pressing his thumb to “test the energy… I feel it’s angry, that things are not good.”

African faith healer Sheikh Issa tests the hand of his client Raymond before a consultation.
African faith healer Sheikh Issa tests the hand of his client Raymond before a consultation. © Joel Saget, AFP

Then Raymond picked up a pen and brought it to his lips without saying a word. In the silence, the sheikh wrote in his notebook, then traced some lines between the letters to evoke the “16 spirits” using a technique called geomancy.

“My ears are hot, I feel a bar in the middle of my forehead,” he told his client. “The spirits are working on me.”

Raymond — who asked that we not use his real name — was convinced his ex-wife had “cast a spell on him” after they divorced a decade ago. He was tired and in pain and “I went to work like a zombie”.

Rather than go to a doctor he sought succour at a prophetic African church, but to no avail. So he began to consult healers who read shells. “All they did was take my money,” he said.

A fellow construction worker recommended Sheikh Issa. “It was if he had lived alongside me all those years,” Raymond recalled. “He recounted my life from A to Z. I couldn’t believe it.”

The sheikh prepared him potions in West African jars called canaris. “Take the canari home wash yourself with the potion,” Raymond remembered him telling him.

Branches from the
Branches from the “djoro” tree used by African faith healers to ward off the “evil eye”. © Joel Saget, AFP

From that day on “I got my health back”, said Raymond.


“Some (marabouts) are like psychotherapists… while others are swindlers,” said anthropologist Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan of the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS).

Some come from a Sufi tradition with a deep “religious culture and desire to help”, he said, but others know little more than “a few surahs of the Koran and extract the maximum for their victims,” he added.

Anyone who says they have the gift and some knowledge of Islam, divination and miracle working can call themselves a marabout.

Some charge no more than a dozen euros for an appointment, though the price can go up to several hundred or thousands for a sacrifice, even tens of thousands in some cases.

Therapist Assa Djelou regularly receives clients who have been let down by marabouts.

She said some have a “dangerous” hold on people. Rather than “facing up to reality”, the healers convince people their problems “have been caused by spells cast on them, which can lead to anxiety and depression”.

The French police only get involved when there are complaints about fraud or practising medicine illegally. But such cases are rare and there’s a “taboo” about talking about it, said Djelou.

‘Dependent’ on witch doctors

In sport, where superstition is commonplace, things can also quickly get out of hand.

“Careers are short and the least injury” can be catastrophic, said Thibault, the pastor who has supported several top athletes. Sometimes they need help because they “do not have the inner strength to get over everything” thrown at them.

But “what these marabouts do is very dangerous”, he claimed.

Former footballer Cisse Baratte told AFP how he fell under the influence of witch doctors as a rising young player plucked from the Ivory Coast to play in France. Soon he had become “dependent” on the amulets, “protection belts” and sacrifices they made for him.

The legendary French football manager Claude Le Roy, who managed six African national teams, knows the problem well.

Legendary French football manager Claude Le Roy, who managed six African nations
Legendary French football manager Claude Le Roy, who managed six African nations © Ludovic Marin, AFP

He was even threatened and branded the “white sorcerer” for driving marabouts away from his staff and players.

“Some players have a need to talk with their marabouts, it can comfort them, and it is also a link with their homeland,” he added.

Even though he insists that “he doesn’t believe in the slightest” in their powers, Le Roy is still troubled by one incident.

In 1997, after a catastrophic away leg in the Champions League against Steaua Bucarest which they lost 3-0, Paris Saint-Germain had to win by four goals to go through.

Desperate for anything that might help, the club paid “a grand Malian marabout” 500 euros.

“He asked us for photos of the players and their numbers, and just before the home leg told us that number 18 would score the fourth goal in the 37th minute.”

PSG won 5-0, with its number 18 scoring the fourth goal in the 41st minute…


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‘In Senegal, homophobia follows you even after death’: Corpse exhumed, burned by mob

A mob in a small town in Senegal dug up the body of a man suspected of being gay, dragged his body through town and then burned it during the night of October 28, 2023. While there have been other instances of exhumations of people suspected of being gay, the incident that took place in Kaolack, a town 200 kilometres southeast of Dakar, is different because it was filmed and posted online, says our Observer, a member of a group dedicated to the upholding the human rights of LGBTQ Africans.

Issued on:

4 min


WARNING: This article contains descriptions of violence that some readers may find distressing. We have included screengrabs but have decided not to share the videos.

A number of videos posted on social media document a group of men digging up a man’s body, tying his remains with rope and dragging them on the ground, before burning them on a pyre made of old tyres and bales of hay. The footage shows men turning around the fire in a frenzy and throwing things into the flames in front of dozens of onlookers, who film the scene with their cellphones.

Out of respect for the victim, our team has decided not to share explicit images of the exhumed body. In one of the videos, shared as an Instagram livestream and then reposted on TikTok and X (formerly Twitter), a man explains to the camera in Wolof and then in French: “We caught a homosexual and we burned him,” as the body is seen behind him. 

This is a screengrab of a video widely shared on social media. In the foreground of the footage, you can see pyre of tires and hay bales where the exhumed body is being burned (though you cannot distinguish the body here.) In the background, you can see a crowd of onlookers filming the scene. You can see the light emitted by their phones. Observers

Other videos show a large crowd gathering in front of the cemetery of the Léona Niassène mosque, watching the scene. A number of these onlookers film the scene.  

This is a screengrab showing the crowd gathering in front of the fire where the body was burned in front of Léona Niassène cemetery.
This is a screengrab showing the crowd gathering in front of the fire where the body was burned in front of Léona Niassène cemetery. Observers

Senegalese officials have not released the name of the victim, who they refer to by his initials, “CF”. CF was in his 30s when he died and was interred by his family in the Léona Niassène cemetery on October 27. A mob dug up his body and burned it the very next day. 

‘You wouldn’t even treat an animal that way’

In many of the videos of the event circulating online, you can hear people saying “goor-jigeen”, which literally means “man-woman” in Wolof and is used to refer to gay men.

The people who carried out this extreme violence were motivated by rumours that the man was gay. Homosexuality is a crime in Senegal and carries a sentence of up to five years in prison.

Our team spoke to a member of the Idaho Committee, which works to protect LGBTQ rights in Africa. Our Observer wanted to remain anonymous for security reasons.

He and his team were able to get Facebook to take down a video showing the young man’s body being dragged out of his tomb.

This footage has had a terrible impact on the many members of the Senegalese LGBTQ community who have left the country. You wouldn’t even treat an animal this way – digging it up and burning it. Already, it is hard enough to protect the living. But here in Senegal, homophobia follows you even after death. 

Being gay in Senegal means being rejected by your family and losing your friends. If someone discovers your sexual orientation, then your social life is over. 

To my knowledge, this is the first time that a body has been burned in public and that the scene was filmed and shared like this on social media. But exhumations are sadly not new in Senegal. 

There have been a number of documented cases where groups of men have dug up a body and then brought the remains to the home of the victim’s mother.  The victims are people suspected of being gay or, even more commonly, people suspected of being HIV positive.

Senegal’s state prosecutor Abasse Yaya Wane released a statement on Sunday stating that an investigation into the matter had been opened. Four people were arrested on Monday, October 30. Authorities have reported that a fifth person, thought to be an instigator, is on the run. All of the men were identified through the videos posted online.

The religious leader of Léona Niassène mosque condemned the incident in a statement published on October 29. The statement also refuted “erroneous information” that the religious community in Léona Niassène had been involved.

“Our community condemns any kind of violence, intolerance and attack on people’s private lives,” the statement reads. 

“I commend the wise and humanist position of the khalif of Leona Niassène Serigne Cheikh Tidiane Niasse,” reads this post in French on X that features a statement made by the leader of the religious community.

Our Observer says that this kind of reaction is unprecedented:

We were surprised in the best way when we saw that the prosecutor had already opened an investigation. This, along with the statement from the religious leader condemning the act, are new positions. The khalif actually has stepped out of the fray and has even said that people should not get involved in the private lives of others. It’s quite courageous of him. 

Under Senegalese law, the maximum sentence for anyone found responsible for these acts would be one year in prison [Editor’s note: according to Article 354 of the Senegalese penal code]. I am calling on Senegalese authorities to increase the prison terms for people convicted for these kinds of acts. One year isn’t enough for what is barbarism carried out by a mob in a public space. There is nothing in the Koran or in Islam that says that gay people must be dug up and burned, which means the motivation isn’t religious, it is an inhuman act from human barbarism… What else could we call it?

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In it for the long run: Marathon man Eliud Kipchoge isn’t done yet

Over the past 20 years, Kenyan long-distance runner Eliud Kipchoge has shattered records and smashed preconceptions of what humans can achieve. Now aged 38, the marathon man has no plans to hang up his trainers yet.


Kenyan athlete Eliud Kipchoge has made himself a living legend in sport over the last 20 years, and he is showing no sign of stopping or slowing down.

The long-distance runner became the first human in history to run a sub-two-hour unofficial marathon in 2019 as part of the INEOS 1:59 Challenge, recording a staggering time of 1:59:40 in Vienna.

But now he is in the unusual position of being on the comeback trail, having had his official latest marathon record – of 2:01:09 in Berlin in September 2022 – broken by compatriot Kelvin Kiptum in October’s Chicago marathon in the US. 

Euronews spoke with Eliud Kipchoge about his greatest achievements, motivations, and future ambitions in sport and beyond.

Tokunbo Salako, Euronews:

“First of all, I just wanted to congratulate you on receiving the Princess of Asturias Award for Sport. How did you feel when you heard about it?”

Eliud Kipchoge, Athlete, Princess of Asturias Award for Sport winner:

“I was really overwhelmed to learn that I am among the few who will be actually awarded, especially in my field as far as sport is concerned, but specifically running.”

Tokunbo Salako:

“You’ve been variously described as a gift to sport, a gift to humanity. Some people say you’re the perfect marriage between mind and body, the athlete’s athlete. What does it feel like when you hear those types of descriptions talking about you and your illustrious career?”

Eliud Kipchoge:

“I feel really motivated. I feel inspired that I’ve been spared something in some way in this universe, and that’s a huge motivation. And, you know, we are living on this planet, and this planet belongs to all of us, and we need to inspire everybody in this world. We need to live in harmony. We need to live in peace. We need to enjoy living actually in this world. And that’s what hopefully I am working for.”

‘Real success is mastery of what you are doing’

Tokunbo Salako:

“Is that the secret of your success? This desire to want to inspire others because you’ve been at the top for 20 years? In any field that’s remarkable.”

Eliud Kipchoge:

“Oh, I think the real success [is] mastery of what you are doing. You know, I mastered what I am doing in running, and I realised the more I do better, the more I inspire someone. The more I do better, the more I send positive vibes to a kid. The more I do better, I might inspire someone to get out of the door in the morning and start running for themselves.”

Tokunbo Salako:

“You’re known for so many things Olympic titles, world championship titles, breaking marathon records, and quite recently in 2019, when you were the first person on earth in history to run a marathon in under two hours. What did that feel like?”


Eliud Kipchoge:

“It feels great to make history […] That signifies that there is no limit, as far as humanity is concerned. That’s why I always say no human is limited. So I’m showing people the way that you don’t have to be a real professional runner to break your limits. You might be a teacher, an educationalist, an engineer, or a lawyer, but you need to break your own limited circle in this world in order to enjoy life. I believe that life is about challenging yourself. I believe that life is about taking a nap the whole night and looking up in the morning as a new day approaches with a new challenge and handling that challenge and you know, pushing forward.”

‘It’s not about being awarded as a record holder, it’s about making history’

Tokunbo Salako:

“How did you feel then after breaking that record and then having the world athletic authorities not recognise it?”

Eliud Kipchoge:


“I was not running for the athletics bodies. I was running to help the human family. I trusted the six billion human family to have respect for what I am doing. It’s not about being awarded as a record holder, it’s about making history and making a change in this world. I’m happy I’ve made history in this sport. I’m happy because I’ve shown people that nothing is actually permanent in this world. I’m happy because I’ve injected a bit of inspiration to many, many billions of people in this world.”

‘Longevity is the key in sport’

Tokunbo Salako:

I don’t know if you’re wearing those shoes now, which are called the ‘super shoes‘ that so many athletes have been wearing over the last few years, breaking records. Your own marathon record was broken just earlier this month. Are you planning to get it back?

Eliud Kipchoge:

“Oh, I’m still hungry to run fast. I’m still hungry to show the world that I can run fast. I’m still hungry to show the next generation, the kids, that I still want to run for longer. Longevity is the key in sport. Longevity is the key in any profession. And you know, records are there to be broken. It shows the beauty of sport and that somebody somewhere is working for it.”


Tokunbo Salako:

“For people who are not familiar with these ‘super shoes’. Can you tell us a bit about them and a bit more about how they work?”

Eliud Kipchoge:

“Oh, the Super Shoes […] they prevent real impact from the asphalt or the tarmac to your muscles. The aim of running is to take care of your muscles. The aim of the people of the company is to make sure that you are becoming fit but at the same time taking care of your muscles.

‘I use fame and fortune to inspire young people’

Tokunbo Salako:


“Now away from the track and the road, how do you deal with the fame and fortune?”

Eliud Kipchoge:

“First I treat myself as a human being, and I know fame and fortune are things I collect when they are coming in. I say thank you for the fame and fortune. And I use the fame and fortune to inspire the young people.”

Tokunbo Salako:

“I know that you’ve put a lot of your fame and fortune into your foundation. Tell us more about that, how that started and its aims and achievements.”


Eliud Kipchoge:

“One time I was sat down thinking about where I came from and that we had a limited education. I know what made us not prosper was [a] lack of reach – that thing that could carry us towards a good education. 

“I also know that in sports we need good air. So, two things came to my mind, conservation of the environment and education. I formed the Eliud Kipchoge Foundation, which deals purely with these two factors. Education and taking care of our planet. Because I trusted that if we make our world clean, we would make our waters blue and we would have real clean air. I trust that education is the key to propel sport. I trust that education is the key to taking people to places around the world. I trust that education is what makes you actually mingle with people and develop a conscience and work towards making this world a running world, and a peaceful world. 

So, my foundation is building kindergartens, and libraries where small kids go because if you give children good groundwork, that’s the way.”

And after that if there’s a library in school, and it’s full of books, I trust the knowledge in books and kids can get knowledge.


Tokunbo Salako:

“That’s a fitting message on which to end this. We’re running out of time, but it would be remiss of me not to ask you. We already spoke about that record that you’re going for. What are your future ambitions?”

Eliud Kipchoge:

“My future ambition is to make this world a running world. I trust that if all of us can run in the world we can make this world a happy one. We can unite together and enjoy this one.”

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International school meal initiative wins 2023 Princess Asturias award

Mary’s Meals is a non-profit organization based in the little Scottish town of Dalmally. Operating in 18 countries, Mary’s Meals’ main objective is to provide daily meals to school children. This year, the initiative won the Princess of Asturias Concord Award for its work and we went to meet them.


I’m Charlotte Lam, here in Oviedo  Spain, for the 2023 Princess of Asturias Awards.

Today we’re talking to the winners in the ‘Concord’ categoryMary’s Meals, a non-profit organization based in the little Scottish town of Dalmally but the founder’s big heart, means it has an even bigger reach.  

Mary’s Meals’ main objective is to provide daily meals to school children. It operates in eighteen of the poorest countries in the world.

Joining me now are two of Mary’s Meals African directors – Amina Iddy Swedi, from Kenya and Panji Chipson Kajani, from Zambia.

Welcome to Euronews. First of all, congratulations. How does it feel to be recognised for such a prestigious award here in Spain?

Panji Chipson Kajani Mary’s Meals Zambia Director: At Mary’s Meals, we feel very honoured and we are humbled to be recognised for the Concord Award. We don’t take it for granted, it’s because of all of the support we get from all over the world, from different types of people.

Amina Iddy Swedi, Mary’s Meals Kenya Director: Just to add to what Panji said, I am also excited. The word concord means bringing people together and when you look at the model of Mary’s Meals, we work with communities and volunteers so I’m so excited because it is aligned with the name ‘concord’. I am glad to be here.

Charlotte Lam, Euronews: Now, the origins story of Mary’s is quite remarkable.CEO Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow was moved by what he saw unfolding in Bosnia in the 90s so he collected aid with his brother and they delivered it themselves to Bosnia. I want to know, what drew you to Mary’s and this line of work?

Amina Iddy Swedi, Mary’s Meals Kenya Director: Mary’s Meals has a very clear vision which is to provide one meal at a place of education. Normally when I am asked that question, I turn it around and say ‘What has made me stay after all these years?’ Where I am working at the moment in Kenya, it is a place that has been marginalised for many years. I’ve been able to see the impact in real time, since 2018 when we started in that particular region to now, so I’m really honoured to be with Mary’s Meals.

Charlotte Lam, Euronews: And you, Panji?

Panji Chipson Kajani Mary’s Meals Zambia Director: By training, I am an educator, so I get inspired always when there are interventions that want to bring education to the children. I am also Malawian by origin and Mary’s Meals school feeding started in Malawi and I saw the benefits firsthand. Also, this is one of the few interventions in the world whose results can be seen almost instantly and that has kept me going for the past 12 years.

Charlotte Lam, Euronews: Well speaking of results, the awards ceremony has recognised Mary’s Meals for its “innovative and effective operating model that allows for optimal use of resources”. Talk me through, what makes this non-profit’s model different to others.

Amina Iddy Swedi, Mary’s Meals Kenya Director: We pride ourselves in anchoring everything we do in community participation, which turns into, community ownership. I would like to state a good example of the recent year 2020, when COVID happened, all the schools had been locked down, right, and so we´re working in very marginalised communities and we knew that when we came back after COVID, we’d be coming back to a dead community. So we were a bit conflicted about how we would be able to go forward. So, what happened is that we partnered with the community. They were the ones who came up with a model that allowed us to continue to feed while the children were at home.

Charlotte Lam, Euronews: Well, that brings me to my next question. Panji, it’s been a tough couple of years globally. We know high levels of inflation and increased costs of living are contributing to worldwide hunger. How have recent global events, from the pandemic to the war in Ukraine, changed or impacted the mission of Mary’s Meals?

Panji Chipson Kajani Mary’s Meals Zambia Director: Fortunately because of the low-cost model we use and the good stewardship we have applied to the resources that we get, even though there has been this turbulence in the global economy, people still trusted us and because they still trust us, they still come forward with these little gifts and when we get them, we are still able to give our promise to the children. So, we are so grateful to people from all over the world for still trusting us even with the turbulence in the economy globally

Charlotte Lam, Euronews: The plight of food insecurity is increasing around the world. Even as we speak, there is a humanitarian crisis unfolding in the Middle East, so I want to know about the future of Mary’s Meals.

Amina Iddy Swedi, Mary’s Meals Kenya Director: Right now, in this space that we’re in, I’m glad you mentioned that. Crises and inflation are happening and our priority at Mary’s Meals is to keep the promise to the children we currently feed so we try and do that as much as possible. So for example, this year we experienced high inflation in food but our focus has been to keep the promise to these children. Our focus is also to grow, but our priority is to keep our promise to the children we currently feed at the moment.

Panji Chipson Kajani Mary’s Meals Zambia Director: So just to add to what Amina says, Mary’s Meals is a needs-focused programme. We recognise that there are a lot of children in need of food out there and because of that, we have to have a robust way of targeting so we can reach the most vulnerable. We believe that at the moment, we are reaching the most vulnerable. Because we want to reach the most vulnerable, we are continuously assessing and reassessing so, if there are opportunities and there are resources, indeed, we should reach those in need, like the situation we are talking about in Gaza. We do not have immediate plans to go there now but we are monitoring the situation very, very closely.


Charlotte Lam, Euronews: My last question is: with global issues like world hunger, there can be fatigue among those who aren’t directly impacted. They know it exists but not necessarily in their sphere. So does Mary’s Meals and how do you both individually, keep it at the forefront of the wider public’s mind?

Amina Iddy Swedi, Mary’s Meals Kenya Director: Our fundraising structure focuses on the grassroots people so individual donors like you and I, and we’ve seen sustainability in that as opposed to focusing mostly on institutional donors. We’ve seen that they get fatigued pretty quickly. So we have seen that our model of fundraising, really sees to it that we can be able to continue to inspire and you know, there is limited donor fatigue when you look at it that way.

Panji Chipson Kajani Mary’s Meals Zambia Director: The journey starts with one step but can end with thousands of miles. So what we desire is that we share this story. The story of joy, the story of joy that comes with school feeding. Feeding plus education is equal to hope and when we share that story, we create disciples like yourself and you go and create disciples like us. By continuously doing that, we are reinvigorating each other now and again to deal with the problem of fatigue.

Charlotte Lam, Euronews: And what a note to end on, Mary’s Meals African directors, Amina Iddy Swedi and Panji Chipson Kajani, congratulations once again and thank you so much for joining me on Euronews.

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