Senegal: Mobile internet restored amidst uneasy calm

Mobile Internet service has been reinstated in Senegal, after being suspended for more than three days by the government in the wake of tension over the shocking postponement of the country’s presidential election which was supposed to come on this month. The restoration was announced on February 7, 2024.

As has been the trend in Senegal, once touted as a democratic model in Africa, and many other countries on the continent where internet restrictions have occurred, the government restricted the internet on mobile devices on February 4, 2024 when the postponement triggered massive dissent online and on the streets.

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) welcomes this decision by the Senegalese authorities, and calls on the government to keep it on, as it seeks a way out of the political impasse.

Senegal’s political temperature went hyper once again on February 4, when the Ministry of Communication, Telecommunications, and the Digital Economy declared that the mobile internet was temporarily shut down without giving further details. The Ministry cited the dissemination of numerous hateful and subversive messages on social media, contributing to threats and disturbances to public order.

The latest shutdown is not the first by the Macky Sall government in the ongoing political impasse in the country. In June 2023, the Ministry of Communication, took a similar decision citing the similar rational during a heightening tensions.

Besides the internet disruption, clashes broke out on that fateful day between security forces and demonstrators protesting the unprecedented postponement of the presidential election. Security forces resorted to tear gas to disperse protesters. At least two female presidential candidates were detained. They included former Prime Minister Aminata Toure, who is now a leading opposition figure. She was released a few hours later.

On February 6, 2023, activists from the Bassirou Diomaye Faye coalition, the candidate who has replaced jailed opposition leader, Ousmane Sonko, attempted to protest. But as soon as they assembled, they were blocked and at least five people were arrested by agents of the security forces. They included MPs Abass Fall, Guy Marius Sagna, Cheikh Alioune Beye, former gendarme Seydina Oumar Touré and the activist Gérard Koita, Executive Secretary of the Front pour une révolution anti-impérialiste populaire et panafricaine (FRAPP).

Many journalists covering the protests were also targeted and dispersed with teargas, hence preventing a comprehensive coverage of demonstrations. Sokhna Ndack Mbacké of Agora TV and Khadija Diouf of Emedia were manhandled and arrested on February 4, 2024 before being released later in the evening.

As part of the crackdown on protest, the authorities also suspended Walf TV on DTT and Canal+, a leading operator for pay television in French-speaking Africa. The Ministry of Communication ordered the temporary cut off of the media on the grounds of incitement to violence. Walf TV is equally under the threat of a permanent license withdrawal.

The MFWA is deeply concerned about the widespread repression of freedom of expression in Senegal, and joins the media in Senegal to condemn the internet disruption, attacks on journalists and crackdown on demonstrators. While we welcome the restoration of mobile internet, we wish to urge the authorities to commit to keeping the internet on in line with its obligations under several instruments to uphold the right of citizens to access information. The MFWA also urges all Senegalese to demonstrate maturity and responsibility in their actions and pronouncements at this particularly sensitive period.

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