When social networks help: students and activists organized online in the face of the repression of the latest protests in Senegal

In the midst of a serious political, social and institutional crisis in Senegal, a part of the country’s citizens deployed the possibilities offered by social networks to coordinate and offer responses to specific situations. The tension, caused by the struggle between the current government of Senegal, with the opposition and some sectors of civil society, ended up exploding on June 1, when the main opposition candidate Ousmane Sonko was sentenced to two years in prison for a crime against morality for corruption of youth. The trial, in which he was accused of rape and death threats, has been charged with suspicions of irregularities since it began just over two years ago.

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This atmosphere of mistrust, added to the ambiguity of the possible candidacy of the current president Macky Sall for the 2024 elections ―it would be his third term―, has deteriorated the social climate until an outbreak of violence marked by protests and forceful repression. With a part of the life of the country on hold due to this situation, citizens organized to respond to the evacuation of university students, legal assistance to the hundreds of detainees or the need for blood donations.

On June 2, at dawn, the Center des Oeuvres Universitaires de Dakar (COUD) suddenly announced the closure of the social campus of the Université Cheikh Anta Diop (UCAD) in Dakar, where at least 5,200 students from outside the capital were staying. that, overnight, they were left without a place to sleep and eat. The announcement was made through a statement that was disseminated through social networks and with an extremely limited margin of maneuver that increased uncertainty.

The day before, Dakar had been the scene of an outbreak of protests over the sentence handed down against Sonko. And in the midst of this serious crisis, the facilities of one of the largest and most renowned universities in West Africa became one of the epicenters of the response. Because of this, the body that manages university accommodation cited security reasons for its decision to close the pavilions. The various UCAD facilities were the scene of fierce confrontations between the Police and the demonstrators.

student evacuation

Some students were able to turn to friends or relatives in the city and began to leave the university premises. But the seriousness of the situation became apparent to the large number of students left behind, so an informal support network was activated.

First there were the volunteer drivers who offered themselves through social networks to fill the places in their cars on specific trips. Thus, from the early hours of the morning of Friday, June 2, messages began to circulate, especially on Twitter, offering appointments at the exit of some of the university centers, such as the Polytechnic School and the École Normal Supérieur (school of teaching).

After a first wave of improvised transport, the collections were activated that allowed the evacuation to be systematized by bus. Veteran users of social networks in Senegal promoted some of the many intersecting initiatives such as Sophie Gueyea well-known philanthropist who works on various projects related to child welfare, or Mamadou Diakhateknown as Niintche, who has spent years building a community of volunteers and small patrons to undertake reforms in schools and other basic equipment.

The initiative had to be expanded because, after evacuating foreign students from UCAD, the Assane Seck University of Ziguinchor, the Gaston Berger University of Saint-Louis, and the Thiès and Kaolack University Centers also closed their social campuses. Diakhaté, who led one of these initiatives, assures from Dakar that through his efforts and those of his collaborators, the evacuation of more than 3,500 students was organized. “There was a great wave of solidarity in Senegal, even in the most difficult moments they mobilized to help their neighbors, so in this period of crisis the same thing happened and they tried to help the students, so that they could return to their homes”, says this young Senegalese teacher.

On the other hand, the number of arrests during this protest process is still uncertain. Amnesty International talks about arbitrary arrests and, precisely, in this context, it has denounced that its representatives they have not been allowed to visit detention centers. The only official figure is the one offered by the Commissioner of the Senegalese National Police, Ibrahima Diop, on June 4. At that time, the authorities acknowledged the arrest of more than 500 people, including an unspecified number of minors.

Legal assistance

Precisely, another solidarity initiative launched on social networks was the one that tried to guarantee adequate legal assistance for all those arrested. Another veteran digital activist, Jaly Badiane, participated in this lawsuit. “We drew up a list of the people arrested, the police stations and gendarmerie where they were held, their age and any other information necessary to classify them. With the help of a network of volunteer lawyers, we were able to provide effective assistance to people in police custody,” says Badiane, who also got involved in some of the other initiatives at the same time.

This activist acknowledges that “few lawyers responded to our call to provide support pro bono. Many could not work without remuneration and others did not want to take on these types of cases that involve long processes”. Despite these inconveniences, Badiane explains: “This legal aid made it possible to help, above all, minors. Without this assistance, I don’t think many of them could have been released without charge or on provisional release once charged.”

In fact, on June 9 a group of 18 of these minors were prosecuted in Dakar. 17 were released without charge, while one, found guilty, was taken into the custody of his parents. The activist affirms that, with the support of five lawyers, they were able to identify “374 detainees and 229 of them were able to benefit from legal assistance.”

Blood donation

Another example of these experiences of solidarity supported by social networks in the midst of the Senegalese crisis was a desperate call to donate blood. On June 8, Amnesty International claimed to have documented the deaths of 23 people during the demonstrations and collected data from the Red Cross that raised the number of injured to 390.

in that situation a blood donation campaign was launched through social networks for him National Center for Blood Transfusions (CNTS). In this case, Pape Demba Dioneanother well-known user of the networks and a regular of solidarity actions, was one of the profiles that promoted the diffusion, together with Amy Lucia Diop either Rosa Evora who also dealt with coordination and logistical tasks. The response was such that the service deployed all its collection capacity that same Saturday morning, with 500 blood bags in seven hours. This caused the campaign to be prolonged and more ambitious objectives were set.

“The first day we had to ask more than 200 people to return the next day because they could no longer be attended to,” says Dione. Participation in the campaign some famous like the rapper Dip Doundou Guiss it certainly helped spread the message.

For Dione, this response is a sign of the determination of young people in this situation. “We have reached a situation in which young people will not let anyone decide their future, and that is why, not only in blood donations, but in other initiatives, young people are reacting to injustices,” he says.

The networks have also served to promote collections to care for the wounded and the families of the victims or to support the closed private channel WalfTV for his coverage of the protests, among many other solidarity initiatives.

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