The Senegalese government announced on Tuesday that it was temporarily closing its consulates general abroad following attacks on a number of them, against a backdrop of high tensions at home.
“This precautionary measure follows the series of attacks recently perpetrated against Senegal’s diplomatic and consular missions abroad, notably in Paris, Bordeaux (France), Milan (Italy) and New York”, said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement posted on social networks.
It reported “serious damage”, particularly in Milan, where it said the passport and ID card production machines had been destroyed.
The consulates will reopen “when material and security conditions allow”, he said.
This closure deprives hundreds of thousands of Senegalese abroad of consular services such as assistance and passport issuance.
Between June 1 and 3, Senegal experienced its worst unrest in years after opposition politician Ousmane Sonko was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment in a vice scandal. This conviction of a personality popular with young people and the underprivileged makes him ineligible for the 2024 presidential election.
Mr. Sonko has repeatedly claimed that the government is plotting to keep him out of the election, but the government denies this.
The condemnation sparked clashes that left at least 16 people dead and caused considerable damage. It led to demonstrations abroad.
Both the government and the opposition blamed each other for the violence. The presidential camp cited calls for “insurrection” by Mr. Sonko to escape justice. It denounced the unrest as an attempt to destabilize the state.
The rights NGO Human Rights Watch called for an immediate, “independent and credible” investigation into the violence.
It also noted in a statement that “excessive use of force and arbitrary arrests” have become commonplace since 2021, and that in recent months the authorities have “cracked down on members of the opposition, the media and dissent”.
She sees the recent outburst as a “worrying sign” ahead of the presidential election.
On Monday, three renowned Senegalese intellectuals, Mohamed Mbougar Sarr, Boubacar Boris Diop and Felwine Sarr, blamed the violence on President Macky Sall’s “authoritarian drift” and his alleged plan to run for a third term in 2024, despite the constitutional objections of many.
One of the president’s advisors, Yoro Dia, responded in a column on the online media, criticizing them for a “fundamentally partisan” text that ignores the “permanent calls for insurrection” from Mr. Sonko’s party.
“This text, unlike Zola’s ‘J’accuse’ which was like a ‘crack of a match in a dark night’ to speak as Mbougar, will be like the tracks of a camel in a sandstorm”, he said.
The head of state has so far remained silent on the events, despite calls for him to speak out.
Late on Monday evening, he paid an unannounced visit to the Khalifa General of the Mourides, a powerful religious brotherhood, reported the government daily Le Soleil. The Khalifa, Serigne Mountakha Mbacké, and religious dignitaries are considered to wield considerable influence in politics.
The content of the discussions was not disclosed. But “the wisdom of his (the khalife’s) advice in certain situations can contribute to the return of peace and stability to Senegal”, says Le Soleil.