In Senegal, France is trying to display a new “neutrality”

A meeting of” opportunity “. An exchange ” without taboo “. Thursday, March 23, Nadège Chouat, number two of the Africa cell of the Elysée, took advantage of a mission to Dakar to meet Ousmane Sonko, the leader of the Senegalese opposition. A discussion of almost two hours during which the candidate for the next presidential election, which will take place on February 25, 2024, took advantage of this unprecedented face-to-face – and remained confidential until now – with the emissary of Emmanuel Macron for “denouncing asymmetrical relations” between France and Senegal. Him “wants to make them more symmetrical”we explain at the Elysée, if he manages to defeat Macky Sall.

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The rivalry between the current head of state of Senegal, suspected of preparing for a disputed third term, because potentially unconstitutional, and the president of the Patriots of Senegal for work, ethics and fraternity (Pastef) , split the country into two camps. It is enough to note the violence in the streets of Dakar, these last weeks, on the occasion of the trial of Mr. Sonko, returned to justice for defamation. He is accused of having accused Mame Mbaye Niang, Minister of Tourism, of embezzlement.

Thursday, March 30, at the end of the final hearing, which was held without him, Mr. Sonko was given a two-month suspended sentence and a fine of 200 million CFA francs (305,000 euros). This judgment allows him to remain eligible. Nevertheless, he is not rid of legal threats: another trial for repeated rapes and death threats awaits him. A “conspiracy” moreover, to remove him from power.

“We seek to listen”

Less than a year from the presidential election, this tension is forcing France to a delicate balancing act between the different political forces in a country considered to be the continent’s most important partner. There is great concern in Paris that the situation will get out of hand again, prompting opponents of Macky Sall, especially if he was seeking re-election, to point the finger at France.

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“The risk is that the choices of the various candidates will be criticized for us, when we do not wish to influence their decisions.worries an adviser to the Elysée. France must not become a subject of internal politics. » A way of making it understood that Paris is concerned about a possible candidacy of the outgoing president, despite the “good relationship” highlighted between MM. Macron and Sall. The challenge for France is to preserve the ” acquired “ of its cooperation with Senegal, despite the anti-French rhetoric stirred up in the region by Russia.

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