Spaces for Change|S4C joins lovers of democracy around the world to congratulate Senegal for the successful conduct of their presidential election which saw Bassirou Diomaye Faye emerge as the President-elect. This joyous moment comes after a turbulent period leading to the election which significantly narrowed the civic space, raising doubts about political stability in the country.

Elections constitute one of the major drivers of shrinking civic space in West Africa. This was the finding of S4C’s Forecasts and Early Warning Signals in West Africa issued a year before the Senegalese general elections. The early warning signals were based on the evidence generated from the Closing Spaces Database which tracks incidents of crackdowns on the civic space, especially the freedom of expression, association and assembly in 16 West African countries. Singling out Nigeria and Senegal as the countries to watch, the report forewarned that the youth bulge and political reawakening among the youths in West African countries will trigger major political upsets and major shifts in the democratic culture in the region. Younger voters were predicted to take more interest in politics driven by the widespread discontent about the underperformance of the older generation of leaders.

Beyond these projections, S4C’s research documentary—Civic Space Outlook in Senegal 2023—mapped the trends, drivers, targets, tactics, and flashpoints of the threats to the civic space in Senegal, providing early warning signals to civic actors working to defend the civic space in the country. Launched in Dakar before a gathering of journalists, protestors, activists and leaders of civil society organizations on December 5, 2023, S4C’s documentary shed light on the tactics, drivers, and enablers of restrictions on civil liberties before, during, and after election seasons. S4C accompanied this sensitization exercise with a two-day Digital Security Clinic which equipped civic actors with the digital tools and skills needed to navigate the incessant digital closures and other threats limiting their ability to speak, organize, associate, and assemble freely, both online and offline.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, all the projections contained in the documentary came to pass. Major occurrences that constrained the civic space include the imprisonment and prosecution of opposition politicians, violent demonstrations across the country, suppression of public assemblies, clampdown on protesters, internet shutdowns and the indefinite postponement of the election. S4C’s press releases at various times condemned these acts of closure of the civic space, reminding the then-incumbent president of the legal provisions under a wide range of national, regional and international laws which Senegal is bound to uphold.

As we reflect on the dark past, we welcome the democratic future in Senegal with a strong dose of optimism. S4C joins the global community to commend the courageous return to democratic stability in Senegal. We also hope that this momentous victory for democracy will be replicated across sub-Saharan Africa.

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