Senegal’s presidential election: A look at the four main candidates

After a political crisis with many twists and turns, Senegalese voters go to the polls on Sunday to choose their new president. Seventeen contenders are hoping to succeed President Macky Sall. FRANCE 24 examines the political backgrounds and main proposals of  four candidates: Amadou Ba, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, Idrissa Seck and Khalifa Sall.

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A fast-paced electoral campaign is coming to an end for 17 Senegalese presidential candidates. Over just two weeks, they have been striving to convince voters to support them at the polls on Sunday.

This extraordinary campaign was cut short by the political crisis that began on February 3, when Sall cancelled the election that had been scheduled for February 25. Senegalese lawmakers voted to postpone the vote to December 15, but the Constitutional Council voided the cancellation and the postponement and forced Sall to set a new date. 

Read moreHow Senegal’s presidential election was postponed, reinstated and moved up

Sall is nearing the end of two terms (2012-2024) at the head of one of West Africa’s most stable countries. The constitution doesn’t allow him to run for a third mandate.

On March 9, two days after the council confirmed the March 24 vote, Senegal’s presidential candidates launched their campaigns. The 17 hopefuls have increased their trips and public meetings over the last few days to boost visibility and present their ideas on issues including sovereignty, civil liberties, emigration, schools, unemployment and a fishing industry crisis.

Here’s a look at the four main candidates’ key proposals:

  • Amadou Ba, the continuity candidate

Senegalese Prime Minister Amadou Ba speaks in Dakar on December 21, 2023. © Seyllou, AFP

Prime Minister Amadou Ba, 62, is a ruling party candidate and Sall’s preferred successor. The former minister of economy and finance and then foreign affairs, Ba presents himself as a candidate for stability and the continuity of the incumbent’s economic record, while also promising a return to calm after months of political crisis.

Ba focused his campaign programme on youth employment in a country where three-quarters of the population is under 35. His key promise: to create 1 million jobs by 2028 through public/private partnerships and investment in agriculture, industry, infrastructure and renewable energies.

He also calls for updating “conventions and contracts signed by the state of Senegal in the field of natural resources”, providing a minimum financial allowance to the elderly and accelerating the construction of a national school of cultural arts and crafts.

  • Bassirou Diomaye Faye, the anti-system candidate
Senegalese presidential candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye gestures during a press conference in Dakar on March 15, 2024.
Senegalese presidential candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye gestures during a press conference in Dakar on March 15, 2024. © John Wessels, AFP

Bassirou Diomaye Faye, 44, a replacement for opposition leader Ousmane Sonko who was excluded from the presidential race in January, has had even less time than other candidates to campaign in person. The cofounder of the opposition Pastef party, who was released from prison along with Sonko on March 14, is campaigning against the country’s political class and promises to reclaim Senegal’s “sovereignty”, a term used 18 times in his electoral platform.

To this end, Faye proposes getting rid of the CFA franc inherited from the colonial era to introduce a new currency, and to make the teaching of  English widespread in a country where the official language is French. He also says he wants to renegotiate mining and hydrocarbon contracts as well as defence agreements.

The Pastef platform also aims for institutional reform with the creation of the role of vice president and safeguards to check the power of the president, including potential removal from office.

  • Idrissa Seck, the veteran candidate
Idrissa Seck, founder of the Rewmi party, is seen during an opposition press conference in Dakar on January 15, 2019. Seck was also a candidate in Senegal’s 2019 presidential election.
Idrissa Seck, founder of the Rewmi party, is seen during an opposition press conference in Dakar on January 15, 2019. Seck was also a candidate in Senegal’s 2019 presidential election. © Seyllou, AFP

Former prime minister Idrissa Seck, who served under ex-president Abdoulaye Wade between 2002 and 2004, is running in a fourth consecutive presidential race. The 64-year-old former Sall opponent, who long maintained the suspense surrounding his eventual candidacy, has put his political experience and knowledge of the inner workings of government to use in his bid to win over voters.

Among his signature proposals are compulsory military service, the creation of a common currency for West African countries and a fund financed by oil and gas companies to compensate for damage to the fishing industry. 

The founder of Senegal’s Rewmi party also proposes to devote 60 percent of public investment to areas outside the Dakar region.

  • Khalifa Sall, the comeback candidate
Presidential candidate Khalifa Sall greets supporters during a tour of several areas in Senegal’s capital Dakar on March 9, 2024.
Presidential candidate Khalifa Sall greets supporters during a tour of several areas in Senegal’s capital Dakar on March 9, 2024. © Seyllou, AFP

Khalifa Sall (no relation to the outgoing president) is another Senegalese political heavyweight trying his luck in the race. Sentenced to five years in prison and a fine of 5 million CFA francs for fraud and embezzlement of public funds in 2018, the leader of the Taxawu Senegal coalition was barred from entering the 2019 presidential contest. Macky Sall’s rival has since returned to politics thanks to a presidential pardon and a law authorising the restoration of civil rights for convicted people who were amnestied following a national dialogue initiated by the government in May 2023.

In this election, the 68-year-old Sall is presenting himself as the candidate to heal a “damaged” country. The man who sees himself as the heir to Senegal’s socialist party promises to institute a citizen-initiated referendum. He also pledges to devote at least 1,000 billion CFA francs (1.5 billion euros) of the annual national budget to agriculture.

Sall’s foreign policy programme aims to “diversify and rebalance” diplomatic and economic partnerships by “strengthening (global) south-south cooperation and cooperation with emerging countries”.

This article is a translation of the original in French.


The 17 candidates in Senegal’s presidential election

Anta Babacar Ngom

Amadou Ba

Boubacar Camara

Déthié Fall

Daouda Ndiaye

Khalifa Sall

Idrissa Seck

Mame Boye Diao

Mouhamed Boun Abdallah Dionne

Aliou Mamadou Dia

Malick Gackou

Aly Ngouille Ndiaye

Mamadou Lamine Diallo

Serigne Mboup

Pape Djibril Fall

Bassirou Diomaye Faye

Thierno Allassane Sall

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How Senegal’s presidential election was postponed, reinstated and moved up

Voters in Senegal go to the polls on Sunday to elect a new president in the most wide-open election in the country’s history. The vote comes a few weeks after the explosion of a profound political crisis triggered by its cancellation and then delay by President Macky Sall. FRANCE 24 takes a look back at recent events.

Senegal is set to experience a new stage in its electoral drama on Sunday as some 7 million voters go to the polls across the West African country to elect their next president.

The election is remarkable in several ways, not least because it marks the end of President Macky Sall’s 12 years in power. And with 17 candidates vying to succeed him, it is the most wide-open presidential vote since Senegal gained independence from France in 1960.

It also marks the culmination of an intense political battle over the date of the polls, which began when Sall cancelled the election three weeks before its initial date of February 25, sending shock waves throughout Senegal. FRANCE 24 traces the key developments during the democratic crisis that ensued. 

Postponement of the vote

Sall announced that the ballot would be postponed indefinitely while speaking on national television on February 3, just a few hours before the start of the presidential campaign.

“For the past few days, our country has been faced with a dispute between the National Assembly and the Constitutional Council, in open conflict over an alleged case of corruption of judges,” he said, arguing that this situation threatened the credibility of the vote.

FRANCE 24 Special Edition: Senegal vote postponed ‘indefinitely’

Senegalese President Macky Sall postponed the country’s presidential elections © FRANCE 24 screengrab

Senegalese lawmakers four days earlier approved a parliamentary inquiry into how some potential candidates’ applications to enter the race had been invalidated. The inquiry was called for by the party of Karim Wade, who was excluded from the contest due to his French citizenship, as only citizens of exclusively Senegalese nationality are allowed to run. Wade’s supporters said they suspected two Constitutional Council judges of having “dubious connections” with some candidates, notably Prime Minister Amadou Ba, Sall’s preferred successor.

At the same time, police took presidential candidate Rose Wardini, whose application had been validated by the Constitutional Council, into custody on charges of “forgery, use of forgery and fraud” on suspicion of having dual French-Senegalese nationality.

A political manoeuvre?

Sall said on national TV that “these troubled conditions” could “sow the seeds of pre- and post-electoral dispute”.

“Our country cannot afford a new crisis” after episodes of violence in March 2021 and June 2023, he said.

Sall announced the establishment of a “national dialogue” for “a free, transparent and inclusive election”, while reaffirming his commitment not to stand for a third consecutive term.

But Sall’s decision to postpone the vote sparked many questions in Senegal, not least because ruling party MPs themselves had voted in favour of the parliamentary inquiry. While these legislators said they wanted to clear the name of their candidate Amadou Ba, the opposition blasted a manoeuvre designed to torpedo the election and prevent his defeat. 

Ba is also facing two dissident candidates from within his own camp: former prime minister Mahammed Boun Abdallah Dionne and former interior minister Aly Ngouille Ndiaye.

But general opinion in Senegal holds that Bassirou Diomaye Faye, a candidate chosen by opposition leader Ousmane Sonko to replace him after his own candidacy was invalidated, poses the main threat to the outgoing president’s preferred candidate.

Reacting to Sall’s decision to postpone the election, lawyer and Faye supporter Amadou Ba (not to be confused with the prime minister) criticised the president’s arguments as “incredibly unserious”, pointing out that the parliamentary commission of inquiry was set up only on “mere suspicions” of corruption.

The day after Sall’s televised speech, hundreds of Senegalese demonstrated in the capital Dakar, where clashes broke out with police.

Lawmakers approve December polls

To cancel the February 25 election, Sall repealed a decree summoning the electorate. All that remained was to set a new date. Wade’s coalition called for a six-month postponement and submitted a bill to parliament. During a particularly tense session, lawmakers on February 5 approved December 15 as the new election date, judging the initially proposed date of August 25 to be unfit due to the rainy season.

The new deadline meant that Sall’s mandate, due to end on April 2, would be extended by 10 months. Many people in Senegal objected, denouncing a “constitutional coup d’état” enabling the president to hold on to power. 

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

Several presidential candidates lodged appeals with the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Council to block the postponement of the vote. 

Tensions quickly escalated in the streets. Police cracked down on demonstrations organised across Senegal on February 9 and in the days that followed. Four people died in Dakar, Saint-Louis and Ziguinchor – the southern town where Sonko was elected mayor in 2022 – in connection with the protests, the worst outbreak of violence during the election crisis.

Constitutional Council rules against postponement

The Constitutional Council on February 15 delivered its verdict on the appeal of the election postponement, and it was a clear blow to Sall: the court annulled his decree abrogating the vote for lack of legal basis. The council also found that the law adopted by parliament to postpone the vote violated the constitution, a second no-go.

Noting “the impossibility of organising the presidential election on the initially scheduled date” of February 25, the Constitutional Council asked “the competent authorities to hold it as soon as possible”.

The “national dialogue” organised by Sall but boycotted by the opposition recommended in early March that the delayed vote take place on June 2. In that scenario, Sall would remain in office until the inauguration of Senegal’s fifth president. The proposal was rejected by the Constitutional Council, which ruled that the election must occur before the end of Sall’s term on April 2.

The president and the council on March 7 finally agreed to hold Senegal’s election on March 24. The new date has the advantage of not falling on the Easter holiday, but meant that the presidential campaign unfolded during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan – a first in Senegal’s history. The campaign period was also shortened from 21 to 17 days.

As part of an amnesty law passed by parliament a week earlier, Sonko and his replacement candidate Faye were released from prison on March 14 to rapturous celebrations by their supporters in the streets of Dakar.

On the following day, a final petition from Wade’s camp seeking to ban the ballot on the grounds that it would occur too soon was rejected by the Supreme Court, thus removing the last potential obstacle to the presidential election on Sunday.

This article is a translation of the original in French.

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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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Hallucinations, thirst and desperation: How Senegalese migrants endured 36 days at sea


The voyage from the struggling Senegalese fishing town of Fass Boye to Spain’s Canary Islands, a gateway to the European Union where they hoped to find work, was supposed to take a week.

But the wooden boat carrying 101 men and boys was getting blown further and further away from its destination.

No land was in sight. Yet four men believed — or hallucinated — they could swim to shore. They picked up empty water containers and wooden planks — anything to help them float. And one by one, they leapt.

Papa Dieye, 19, center right, talks to his father Badara Dieye as they look through photographs of his rescue on a cellphone, surrounded by other relatives, in Diogo, Senegal.
| Photo Credit:

Dozens more would do the same before disappearing into the ocean. The migrants still in the boat watched as their brothers faded. Those who died onboard were tossed into the ocean until the survivors had no energy left and bodies began accumulating.

On day 36, a Spanish fishing vessel spotted them. It was Aug. 14 and they were 290 kilometers (180 miles) northeast of Cape Verde, the last cluster of islands in the eastern central Atlantic Ocean before the vast nothingness that separates West Africa from the Caribbean.

For 38 men and boys, it was salvation. For the other 63, it was too late.

Too often, migrants disappear without a trace, without witnesses, without memory.

As the number of people leaving Senegal for Spain this year surged to record levels, The Associated Press spoke to dozens of survivors, rescuers, aid workers and officials to understand what the men endured at sea, and why many are willing to risk their lives again. Theirs is a rare chronicle of the treacherous migration route from West Africa to Europe.

Senegalese fisherman Papa Dieye was struggling to survive on earnings of 20,000 CFA francs ($33) a month. “There are no fish left in the ocean,” he laments.

Years of overfishing by industrial vessels from Europe, China and Russia had wiped out Senegalese fishermen’s livelihoods — pushing them to desperate measures.

“We want to work to build houses for our mothers, little brothers and sisters,” he explains.

For the first few days, the voyage proceeded slowly but smoothly. On day five, the winds rebelled.

Papa Dieye, 19, prays in his father’s home in Diogo, Senegal.

Papa Dieye, 19, prays in his father’s home in Diogo, Senegal.
| Photo Credit:

Tensions on board rose, explains Ngouda Boye, 30, another fisherman from Fass Boye. “When we could almost see Spain, the fuel ran out,” Dieye says. It was day 10.

Back in Fass Boye, relatives were beginning to grow anxious. The 1,500-kilometer voyage from Senegal to the Canaries normally takes a week. Ten days later, they had no news.

Migrant arrivals to the Canaries hit a record 35,000 people this year, more than double the previous year. For others, the migration journey has ended in tragedy. Entire boats have gone missing in the Atlantic, becoming what are known as “invisible shipwrecks.”

Spanish authorities routinely fly over a massive area of the Atlantic around the Canary Islands looking for lost migrants. But the vast distances, volatile weather conditions and relatively small boats mean they are easily missed.

The relatives of survivors and victims of the pirogue that was found adrift in the Atlantic Ocean on Aug. 14, gather on the beach in Fass Boye, Senegal, Monday, Aug. 28, 2023.

The relatives of survivors and victims of the pirogue that was found adrift in the Atlantic Ocean on Aug. 14, gather on the beach in Fass Boye, Senegal, Monday, Aug. 28, 2023.
| Photo Credit:

Massive cargo ships passed the would-be migrants by almost every day, destabilizing their shaky wooden canoe-like boat, known as a pirogue. No one came to their rescue. Under international law, captains are required “to render assistance to any person found at sea in danger of being lost.” But the law is hard to enforce.

It didn’t take long for passengers to start pointing fingers at the captain, who was not a native of Fass Boye. “He did things like a sorcerer. He spoke gibberish,” Mr. Dieye recounts. Belief in witchcraft and the power of curses is strong across West Africa.

“They tied him up,” Mr. Dieye says. “He was the first to die.”

Into their third week, they ran out of water. There was nothing left but the ocean. Those who tried to quench their thirst with saltwater died. Those who took only tiny sips survived. The hunger tortured them as much as the thirst.

“Sometimes I sat at the ledge of the pirogue,” Bathie Gaye, a 31-year-old survivor from Diogo Sur Mer, Senegal, recalls, “so if I died, I wouldn’t have to tire the others — they could just push me over.”

Fernando Ncula, a 22-year-old from Guinea-Bissau, was one of only two foreigners on board. His friend succumbed to thirst and hunger around day 25, Ncula recalls.

When he opened his eyes the next morning, his friend’s body was gone. Others had thrown it in the ocean. He was the only outsider left, and became terrified he would be thrown overboard, too.

“Why are you not tired like the rest of us?” Mr. Ncula remembers being interrogated. They tied him up.

Unable to move, and without food or water, he fell in and out of consciousness for two days. Finally, an older man took pity on him and cut him loose. His savior later died, too.

Death seemed inevitable; waiting for it was unbearable. As they reached the one-month mark, people started to jump in a desperate attempt to swim to safety, or perhaps to put themselves out of misery. Thirty men and boys died that way, survivors say.

Two nights after the last men jumped, lights appeared in the sky. It was the Zillarri, a Belize-flagged, Spanish-owned tuna fishing support vessel.

“They were so skinny. I saw their eyes and teeth and only bones,” Abdou Aziz Niang, a Senegalese mechanic working on the ship, remembers. “How long have you been here?” he asked them.

It had been 36 days. Now these men — who were fleeing for Europe because industrial overfishing had made their livelihoods untenable — were being rescued by a European fishing vessel.

Finally, the ship received instructions: Take the rescued people to the closest port, Palmeira, on the island of Sal in Cape Verde, 290 kilometers (180 miles) away.

They were alive, yes. But at what cost? Relatives had invested in their journey to Europe, selling possessions to pay for their trip, hoping the young men would get jobs and send money back home. Instead, they would return with empty hands and terrible news.

Without jobs, the survivors are back where they started. They are still looking for ways out — even if that means gambling their lives again.

Among them is Boye. Boarding another boat could leave his wife a widow and his two children fatherless. But “when you have no work,” he says, “it’s better to leave and try your luck.”

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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.

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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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Amateur videos show Turkish police violence against African migrants

Amateur videos sent to the FRANCE 24 Observers team show police in Turkey stopping and questioning African migrants as part of a crackdown on illegal immigration. The videos, sent in by migrants from Senegal, Cameroon, Guinea and Angola, show officers shouting at the migrants and in some cases using physical violence against them. A Senegalese man seen in one of the videos being slapped by a police officer told the FRANCE 24 Observers he was in Turkey legally.

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Turkish authorities launched the crackdown at the beginning of July. Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said in an interview published July 9 that fighting illegal immigration is one of his main priorities, and that police in Istanbul and all of Turkey’s 81 provinces were intensifying their efforts to stop and detain people in the country illegally.

In Istanbul, police on July 4 started a series of evening and nighttime sweeps focusing on entertainment venues and public spaces. They reported detaining 3,535 people in the first week on suspicion of entering Turkey illegally, working without authorisation, or overstaying their visas.

Videos sent to The Observers by African migrants living in Turkey suggest that the police conduct is often violent and discriminatory.  

One video sent by migrants from Senegal and Guinea shows the police pinning down an African man in the middle of a crowd. The officers were not wearing uniforms, but they had handcuffs on them. The victim asked for his phone several times which angered the policeman holding him down. The officer shouted at him and then slapped him.


In this video, sent by African migrants to the France 24 Observers via WhatsApp and also posted on Twitter, a Senegalese hair salon owner is seen being slapped by a Turkish police officer after being stopped for an immigration check. The Senegalese man told the France 24 Observers his residency permit was being renewed.




The incident took place in Istanbul on July 19. By using Google Maps imagery, the Observers team managed to determine that it took place at the entrance to the underground mall AVM. Several Western African migrants living in Istanbul confirmed the location. 

The surrounding neighbourhood, Aksaray, is known for the abundance of African-run clothes shops and markets. 

‘Every time policemen see me they ask for my papers’

The Observers team managed to identify and contact the man seen in the video: Mohamed Preira is originally from Senegal, he moved to Turkey in 2019 and now owns a hair salon in Aksaray. He said he was on his way to his salon when he was stopped by the police. He told them he did not have a residency permit on him because it was being renewed. 

They took my phone, my money. They put me in a car and drove me to a spot where they let me go. Even they themselves know that they don’t have the right to arrest me. I can’t even file a complaint against them.

I filed my documents [to renew my residency status] and I was given a receipt. I am in the process of getting the documents so I have the right to live here. 

It’s not the first time I’ve been stopped. Every time policemen see me they ask for my papers. But these policemen were just racist. Now my whole body hurts. 

I have my own hair salon in Istanbul. I pay my rent. But they still harass me. It’s gotten worse. There are more and more check-ups. Now I’m thinking of going back to Senegal. Living in another country without peace, without money, it’s too hard.

The Observers received multiple videos showing the use of force by the police. One of the videos, also posted on Twitter, shows two uniformed policemen holding an African migrant while a third officer can be seen pushing his head downwards. As they walk him away, the third policeman apparently mocks the victim, clapping in his face. 

Several African migrants told The Observers that the incident took place in the Esenyurt neighbourhood of Istanbul. Satellite imagery appears to confirm the location, but the FRANCE 24 Observers team was unable to contact the man who was detained.

‘We were treated like criminals for not having the papers they refused to give us’

In November 2022 a report by Human Rights Watch found that migrants detained in Turkey without papers were often held in overcrowded detention centres, with inadequate access to legal support and their families. 

“Cédric,” a Cameroonian man who spoke to the FRANCE 24 Observers on condition of anonymity, was arrested in Istanbul in December 2022 while awaiting an update of his residency status. He provided the following account: 

There were 12 of us being held in rooms designed for six people. We were supposed to have the right to talk to our families, but they took our phones. The conditions were horrible. I saw a lot of suicides. We were treated like criminals for not having the papers they refused to give us. They don’t let you have your own lawyers. They only allow you to see their lawyers.

Cédric said he was allowed to leave the centre after two months and was given a document that only allowed him to live in Bartin, a small town 400km from Istanbul. But he didn’t stay: “There were no opportunities there and the people were racist, so I went back to Istanbul.”

‘Migrants of all nationalities face many human rights violations’

Mahmut Kaçan, a Turkish lawyer specialised in migration, says the country’s immigration system has become more restrictive in the past two years. 

For the past two years, whether you are a regular or an irregular migrant, asylum applications have not been accepted

In the past few years, and during the [May 2023] elections there has been a debate. The current government as well as the opposition claim that they will deport all refugees. 

Migrants of all nationalities face many human rights violations. I receive such complaints but since they are not properly registered, they are not able to file complaints and contact NGOs.

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Who are the armed men in civilian clothes seen with police in Senegal protests?

During a press conference on June 4, Senegalese police showed the press a series of video clips that they claimed documented the presence of armed protesters at recent demonstrations. However, the full videos, which have been widely circulating on social media, show the same armed individuals alongside the police. So who are these armed men? And whose side are they on?

“On this recording, you can see a man armed with a military weapon. He knows what he is doing, he knows how to use his weapon. You can see that he isn’t there to protest.” These were the words of the Senegalese head of police Mohamadou Gueye to the press as he showed them videos filmed during recent protests at a press conference held on June 4. The footage shows a man wearing a red jersey with a white “9” on it, firing at a target off-screen. Another man, also in civilian clothes, throws a projectile in the same direction.

The Senegalese police are claiming that this footage shows violent, armed people among the protesters. Police Chief Mohamadou Gueye said the man in red was “with a weapon, facing security forces”. © Observers

This is proof, according to Senegalese police, that these protests in support of opposition figure Ousmane Sonko were infiltrated by people “accustomed” to using military-grade weapons.

Deadly protests broke out at the end of last week after Sonko, the leader of the PASTEF party, was sentenced on June 1 to two years in prison for “corrupting youth”. Sonko has already announced his bid for president in 2024, which he obviously couldn’t do if he is in prison. Protests in support of him quickly turned deadly, killing 16 and injuring 350, according to the Red Cross. 

Senegalese police blamed the clashes on “violent protesters who aren’t trying to express their opinion but are engaged in subversive activities”, in the words of the head of Public Safety Ibrahima Diop during the press conference on June 4. 

During the same conference, the police showed excerpts from three videos showing what they said were armed men amongst the protesters. Police Chief Gueye that these men came to “cause damage”. 

“They will shoot at civilians and then blame the security forces,” Gueye alleged. 

However, two of the clips shown by police at the press conference show something else. In the longer versions of the videos, which were widely circulated on social media, you can see these men in civilian gear, bearing arms, interacting with and seemingly working alongside armed police. 

 A man ‘face to face with security forces’ spotted in the back of a police pick-up 

Let’s start by looking at the example of the man wearing a red jacket marked with the number nine. The video shown by Senegalese police (at 7:53) stops after showing the individual firing his weapon and then running into a small street. However, a longer version does exist. In this version, taken from a series of stories published by a user of the Snapchat app, you can see the man in the red jersey in a white pickup, being driven by a man in a striped tee-shirt. He is riding alongside four other men wearing riot gear labelled “police”. 

In this full version of the video, first published in a Snapchat story, you can see the scene where the man wearing a red shirt with a number 9 on it shoots off screen— what police showed in their press conference. However, this longer version contains more crucial footage. At the end of the video, you can see the same man getting into a pickup truck full of police.
In this full version of the video, first published in a Snapchat story, you can see the scene where the man wearing a red shirt with a number 9 on it shoots off screen— what police showed in their press conference. However, this longer version contains more crucial footage. At the end of the video, you can see the same man getting into a pickup truck full of police. © Observers

Another video, widely shared on social media, also shows this man in red, followed by the white pick-up, just a few metres behind him. The four officers aren’t trying to arrest him and don’t react when he fires his weapon.

This other video, published the evening of June 3, places the incident at the roundabout near the Grand Yoff city hill, an area in the north of Dakar. You can see the same man with the number 9 jersey. He is being followed by a pick-up truck, with four police officers in the back. The driver, wearing a striped shirt, is also visible.
This other video, published the evening of June 3, places the incident at the roundabout near the Grand Yoff city hill, an area in the north of Dakar. You can see the same man with the number 9 jersey. He is being followed by a pick-up truck, with four police officers in the back. The driver, wearing a striped shirt, is also visible. © Observers

However, during the press conference, Police Commissioner Mohamadou Gueye insisted that the man in the red jersey was “facing off with the security forces”. The footage of the same man alongside police had been removed in the edited version shown to journalists. 

Another armed individual alongside security forces 

The same goes for the second video, which Gueye claimed shows “a person carrying an automatic pistol” (at 7:14). The man, wearing civilian clothes including a distinctive white bandana, has his back against a wall. Next to him is another man, also wearing civilian clothes but carrying a riot helmet.

The commissioner said:

If you look closely, you’ll see that he isn’t used to carrying this weapon. You can tell by the way he is shooting it. That could result in an accident that could hurt both himself or others. It’s really dangerous to protesters.

Senegalese police say that this image shows an armed individual with an automatic pistol who “doesn’t know how to manage his weapon”.
Senegalese police say that this image shows an armed individual with an automatic pistol who “doesn’t know how to manage his weapon”. © Observers

However, this video clip is just an excerpt.  The full version of the video, published on June 3, includes a wide shot that lasts about two seconds. That crucial shot shows the armed man standing just a few metres away from two men in police uniforms.

The post sharing this footage, published on June 3, states that the incident took place in Bargny, a neighborhood in southeastern Dakar. You can see the man in the white bandana, who appeared in the video shown by police during the press conference (in yellow.) But that video was just an excerpt and was missing a crucial part. In the longer, original video, the first few seconds show the man standing next to two men in uniforms (in blue) who aren’t doing anything to stop him.
The post sharing this footage, published on June 3, states that the incident took place in Bargny, a neighborhood in southeastern Dakar. You can see the man in the white bandana, who appeared in the video shown by police during the press conference (in yellow.) But that video was just an excerpt and was missing a crucial part. In the longer, original video, the first few seconds show the man standing next to two men in uniforms (in blue) who aren’t doing anything to stop him. © Observers

These officers aren’t making the slightest move to stop the armed man, even though his weapon is visible. The fact that the two officers are looking in the same direction as the armed civilians and the positions they are maintaining would indicate that they are surveilling the right part of the street and acting in a coordinated fashion. The riot helmet visible in the images – which has both a visor and an element to protect someone’s neck – is very similar to those used by police. 

If you compare it to recent photos of Senegalese police uniforms, you can see that the helmet worn by a man in civilian clothes— a blue tee-shirt— looks a lot like the helmets worn by security forces. It has the same viser with a metallic clip, the same neck protection and the same way of attaching on the side.
If you compare it to recent photos of Senegalese police uniforms, you can see that the helmet worn by a man in civilian clothes— a blue tee-shirt— looks a lot like the helmets worn by security forces. It has the same viser with a metallic clip, the same neck protection and the same way of attaching on the side. © AFP

The spokesperson for the Senegalese ministry of the interior supports the police version of events 

The FRANCE 24 Observers team contacted the spokesperson for the Senegalese Minister of the Interior Maham Ka. We provided Ka with our findings, but he still supported the version of events presented by police during the June 4 press conference. 

“What’s important for us is that what the police say is truthful,” he said: 

If the police say that they were confronted with armed people on the ground who did not come to protest and that they published video to support their statements, then, for us, this is the truth.

So how does Ka explain the presence of individuals in plain clothes alongside the police in two of these videos? Ka says that the people wearing anti-riot helmets and police vests may not be part of the security forces.  

Seeing people in police uniform in these videos is not proof that they are members of the police. In fact, it is something we’ve seen in the past in Senegal. I don’t want to go into detail, because investigations are underway. But if the police showed this footage to the press, then what’s certain is that these people are not police

In the full version of the second video showing the man in the red jersey, you can see someone in a police uniform opening fire with what looks like a riot gun. Our team contacted a Twitter account specialised in arms called “Calibre Obscura”. They explained that the shape of the weapon and the way it was shooting make them believe it is a Cougar launcher, designed by the French firm Alsetex for use by security forces in crowd control situations.

In these two screengrabs, taken from two videos where you can see the man in the red jersey, you can also see security forces using what looks like a less-lethal grenade launcher. An arms expert identified the weapon being used as a Cougar grenade launcher manufactured by the French company Alsetex.
In these two screengrabs, taken from two videos where you can see the man in the red jersey, you can also see security forces using what looks like a less-lethal grenade launcher. An arms expert identified the weapon being used as a Cougar grenade launcher manufactured by the French company Alsetex. ©

Who are the men who appear alongside the security forces?

There are a number of publications on social media that accuse these armed men in civilian gear of being “nervis”, a term for young men hired by political parties to shut down protests by force. There have been documented cases of these men – usually wearing civilian gear and moving around in a pickup – in Senegal in the past during different moments of social tension, especially back in 2021.

Dozens of videos showing convoys of white four-door pickups, carrying men in civilian clothes, sometimes armed with batons, have been circulating on TikTok and Facebook (examples here, here and here): the models shown in these images resemble the pickup that appears in the videos of the man wearing the red number 9 jersey. 

Numerous videos of convoys of white pickups published by Senegalese social media accounts, like these images from June 4, show vehicles that look like those visible in the videos of the man in the red number 9 jersey.
Numerous videos of convoys of white pickups published by Senegalese social media accounts, like these images from June 4, show vehicles that look like those visible in the videos of the man in the red number 9 jersey. © Observers

We spoke to a young man, who wanted to remain anonymous, who said that he saw, on June 3, a convoy of this type in his neighbourhood, Parcelles Assainies: 

There were eight pickups: seven white ones and one dark one. Inside, there were men in uniform that looked like a police intervention brigade.

There were people in the back of the white pickups. Some had sticks on the truck bed. Most of the people looked young.  

This young man, who says that he is “politically, more pro-government” is convinced that he encountered “nervis”. 

But where do these white pickups come from? Several Facebook posts say that a large number of vehicles of this type were visible in front of the headquarters of the political party that President Macky Sall belongs to – l’Alliance pour la République (Alliance for the Republic, or APR). The information was also confirmed by RFI in Dakar

Pape Mahawa Diouf, an official from the ruling coalition, said that the presence of these vehicles was not strange. 

There are all kinds of vehicles in front of the headquarters, especially those belonging to party supporters, who gathered there during the protests. We hold conferences there, people gather there.

I don’t think that the supporters participated in the protests. I don’t know about any of this.

It’s hard for the time being to establish clear links between the security forces and these young “nervis”. However, while violence from the protesters did indeed occur during protests, the videos shown as “proof” during the press conference on Sunday, June 4 seem to actually show the presence of armed men in civilian clothes alongside police. 

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A police station or a high school? Deadly clashes in Senegal as locals and gendarmes dispute land use

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Violent clashes between the gendarmerie and the Lebu community erupted on May 8 and 9 in Ngor, a district of Senegal’s capital Dakar. The conflict began over a land dispute: the gendarmes want a police station while locals want to build a high school. According to four eyewitnesses who spoke to the FRANCE 24 Observers team, the gendarmes fired live bullets during protests. A 15-year-old girl lost her life, in circumstances that remain under investigation.

Images shared on social networks show violent clashes on May 8 and 9 in Ngor. The conflict broke out between the Lebu people, who have lived in the area for centuries, and the gendarmes, local police.

It began on the main street in Ngor, where residents had gathered to protest the evening of May 8.

Photo taken in the evening of May 8, 2023 on the main road of Ngor, Dakar, where clashes between the population and the gendarmes took place. Photo provided to the FRANCE 24 Observers team

‘We had to evacuate the injured by canoe’

The next day, clashes continued on the same street as well as a nearby beach. The FRANCE 24 Observers team spoke with several protesters who requested to stay anonymous for their security. They said the police used live ammunition against protesters.

Malick (not his real name) told us more:

When we arrived on the beach, reinforcements came. The gendarmes wanted to surround us. Some of the protesters got stuck and started to retreat into the water to avoid being caught. Some of us were able to swim, I was able to take refuge on a boat. The gendarmes first fired tear gas, then live ammunition.

Several videos taken on the beach show tear gas grenades exploding. In one video, at least five shots can be heard, though a ballistics expert we spoke to said it is impossible to determine from this video whether they were live rounds.

Video shared on social networks showing the clashes that took place on May 9, 2023 on the beach of Ngor, Senegal.
Video shared on social networks showing the clashes that took place on May 9, 2023 on the beach of Ngor, Senegal. © Observers

Death of a 15-year-old girl

A 15-year-old girl was killed during the clashes. A statement issued on Wednesday, May 10, 2023 by the Senegalese ministry of the interior said that the girl had been “fatally hit while in the water, probably by the propeller of a canoe”.

The ministry has not yet responded to our request for comment.

However, several of our Observers who witnessed the scene say the girl was in fact hit by a police bullet while she was taking refuge in the water. 

During the confrontation, several protesters were seriously injured and had to be evacuated, explains Habib (not his real name), another protester:

The emergency services could not enter the village because the gendarmerie had blocked the way. We had to evacuate the injured by canoe to the surrounding communes, such as Yoff, thanks to the help of the Red Cross.

Video showing the evacuation of the injured on Ngor beach, on Tuesday May 9, 2023.
Video showing the evacuation of the injured on Ngor beach, on Tuesday May 9, 2023. © Observers

Several videos taken by residents, such as this one taken near the beach, also show officers violently beating residents.

Vidéo partagée sur les réseaux sociaux, montrant une personne à terre violemment frappée par des gendarmes, à proximité de la plage de Ngor, mardi 9 mai 2023.
Vidéo partagée sur les réseaux sociaux, montrant une personne à terre violemment frappée par des gendarmes, à proximité de la plage de Ngor, mardi 9 mai 2023. ©

Residents also claim that gendarmes entered houses and discharged tear gas grenades.

‘We need to change the way we think about policing’

Thirty people were reportedly wounded in the clashes. Images provided to the FRANCE 24 Observers team by protesters attest to significant injuries.

In a statement issued on May 11, 2023, Amnesty International denounced “the excessive use of force by the gendarmerie in Ngor” and called “on the authorities to investigate the use of lethal weapons by the police“.

Locals, such as Mamadou Ndiaye, president of the citizen movement Ngor Debout, denounced the repression carried out by the police:

The gendarmes have beaten up protesters, shot at people, entered homes. This is not law and order. We don’t deserve that in a country like Senegal. We need to change the way we think about policing, to stop using grenades and live ammunition. We need more diplomacy when people demand things.

‘Ngor is the only district in Dakar that does not have a high school’

At the root of these tensions is a 6,000 m2 plot of land located in the heart of the village. Since the beginning of March, the gendarmerie has voiced its desire to set up a police station there, while the community wants to build a high school.

On Monday, May 8 the day before the clashes, the state said it would give 4,000 m2 to the gendarmes and 2,000 m2 to the municipality for a high school. Many residents, including our observer Habib, felt this decision was unfair:

Ngor really needs a high school: it’s the only district in Dakar that doesn’t have a high school and a CEM [Editor’s note: for Collège d’enseignement moyen, the equivalent of a secondary school]. Young people have to leave Ngor to study. Most people don’t have a car: they have to take transport. And they also have to eat at lunchtime. All this is expensive. Many stop going to school at 13 or 14 years old because of this. Education should be a priority. 

‘The indigenous population gradually had to give up their land’

Oumar (not his real name), a resident of Ngor, says that the indigenous Lebu population has gradually had to cede its land to the state:

The indigenous population of Ngor originally lived from agriculture, but gradually had to give up their land. For example, the posh district of Almadies was built on agricultural land. Now ministers, deputies and colonels live there. 

Now there are no more fields. The local people have fallen back on fishing, but even fishing doesn’t work like it used to because of the pollution. Poverty is increasing. And there is no more space, people are forced to build new floors to be able to have housing.

The land at the heart of the dispute is all the more important in the eyes of the residents as it has a spiritual value. It is known as “Arrêt Mame Tamsir”, in reference to El Hadji Tamsir Mamadou Ndiaye, an important imam for the Lebu population of Ngor.

Following the clashes, Senegalese President Macky Sall announced that the land would be split in half and granted in equal parts to the gendarmerie and the municipality. The decision put a halt to protests for the moment, but several residents we spoke to say they “want to continue fighting”.

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‘Tirailleurs’: France’s forgotten colonial soldiers step out of the shadows

The last surviving African soldiers who fought for colonial-era France will be able to live out their final days in their home countries following the French government’s U-turn on their pension rights. The decision coincides with the cinema release of a film highlighting the untold sacrifices made by African “tirailleurs” on France’s battlefields during World War I.

In November 1998, just months after France’s multiracial football team lifted its first World Cup title, another legacy of the country’s colonial history passed away quietly in a faraway village north of Dakar, Senegal. 

Abdoulaye Ndiaye, who died aged 104, was the last of the tirailleurs, the African riflemen who fought for their colonial masters in the trenches of northern France during World War I. He died just one day before France’s then-president, Jacques Chirac, was due to decorate him with the Legion of Honour in belated recognition of his services. 

The failure to acknowledge Ndiaye’s sacrifice during his lifetime has stuck with French director Mathieu Vadepied ever since, inspiring a long-gestating project that has come to completion this week with the release in France and Senegal of his film “Tirailleurs” – whose English version is titled “Father & Soldier”. 

“It felt like a symbol of France’s failure to recognise the tirailleurs and tell their story,” said the director following his film’s premiere at the Cannes Film Festival last year. 

Vadepied, who has travelled and worked in Senegal and elsewhere in Africa, said he felt a duty to exhume the history of the tirailleurs. His film is a tribute to the young men of Senegal and other French colonies who were snatched from their homes and forced to fight in a war that meant nothing to them for a “motherland” whose language most didn’t speak. 


While the film’s original title, “Tirailleurs”, or “riflemen”, has evocative power in French, its English version highlights the director’s concern to approach war through an intimate focus on a father’s relationship with the son he is desperate to protect. “Lupin” star Omar Sy plays a weary village farmer who enrols in the army to watch over his son after he is forcefully conscripted by the French. 

Vadepied stressed the importance of rooting his story in Senegal and keeping an intimate gaze on the film’s protagonists while giving war itself a distinctly unspectacular treatment. 

“We know the history of the war, but not that of the tirailleurs,” he said, highlighting cinema’s “mission to educate, to pass on stories and historical memories, while also interrogating the society we live in.” He added: “The story of France’s colonial troops needs to be recognised and told, to allow subsequent generations to identify with this history too.” 

As Sy, himself a son of Senegalese immigrants, told the audience at the Cannes premiere, “We don’t have the same (historical) memory, but we share the same history.” 

A decision long overdue 

In one of the film’s rare battle scenes, moments before the tirailleurs leap out of the trenches and charge into muddy no-man’s land, a French officer is pictured yelling: “After this battle, you will no longer be indigenous, you will be French!”  

It would take a full century for France to deliver on that promise. 

In April 2017, then-president François Hollande granted French citizenship to a first group of 28 former tirailleurs in a ceremony at the Élysée Palace, following a petition signed by more than 60,000 people, including Sy. The event was timed to coincide with the centennial of the Chemin des Dames, a gruesome battle in which more than 7,000 African soldiers perished in the fields of northern France. 

Six years on, the last surviving tirailleurs have won another battle in their decades-long quest for recognition, securing the right to live out their final days in their home countries – while continuing to receive their French pensions. 

>> France’s forgotten African war heroes finally given full pension rights

France’s former colonial troops were previously required to spend at least six months of the year living in France in order to qualify for a monthly payment of 950 euros ($1,000). The rule separated ageing former combatants from their families in Africa, leaving some to die alone, often in cramped quarters, away from their loved ones. 

The change of rule will apply to 37 former soldiers known to be living in France, said Aïssata Seck, a campaigner for the rights of the tirailleurs. She said news of the breakthrough might inspire more veterans to come forward, estimating the total number of surviving tirailleurs in France at “around 80”.  



Seck, whose grandfather was a tirailleur, expressed relief that the last of his comrades would “finally be able to return home and live out their lives with their wives, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren”.

France’s decision was long overdue, said the head of Senegal’s National Office for Veterans and Victims of War, in an interview with AP.  

“For a long time veterans have asked to return with their pensions but were not successful. This decision will relieve them. These veterans live alone in their homes, they are not accompanied, they live in extremely difficult conditions,” said Capt. Ngor Sarr, 85, who fought for the French military in Algeria and Mauritania and then moved to France in 1993 so he could receive his pension. He said he then lost it when he returned to Senegal 20 years later. 

‘Repair the injustice’ 

A product of France’s 19th-century colonial expansion in Africa, the tirailleurs were initially designed as a lightly-armed infantry corps deployed to harass enemy lines. The corps was expanded during World War I to bolster French troops on the Western Front, and eventually disbanded in the early 1960s.  

Over the two World Wars, some 700,000 soldiers from France’s African colonies fought for the colonial power. While some volunteered, others – like the son’s character in Vadepied’s film – were captured and forcibly enlisted. 

Historians estimate that around 30,000 African soldiers died in the trenches fighting for France during World War I. But their names never featured on the war memorials that grace towns and villages across the country, daily reminders of the cost of the conflict. 

The tirailleurs were a vastly enlarged force by the time Nazi Germany invaded France. They fought for Free French forces in sub-Saharan and North Africa and took part in the Allies’ landings in southern France in August 1944, precipitating the Nazis’ retreat.  

Months later, however, French troops at a barracks near Dakar opened fire on mutinous tirailleurs demanding back pay for years spent in prisoner-of-war camps. Dozens were killed in a massacre that was hushed for decades but is bitterly remembered in Senegal.



Hollande promised to “repair the injustice” on a trip to Dakar in 2014 – in line with tentative steps to acknowledge France’s debt towards its former colonial troops. Their sacrifice was honoured on Armistice Day last year during a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe attended by Aïssata Tall Sall, Senegal’s minister for foreign affairs and Senegalese abroad. 

Despite such gestures, more needs to be done to “give the tirailleurs visibility in the public space”, said Seck, whose campaign group has appealed to French mayors to name streets after France’s African soldiers.  

“The history of the tirailleurs is still insufficiently known,” she explained. “But things are starting to go in the right direction – slowly but surely.” 

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