Senegal was plunged into crisis in February 2024 after parliament backed President Macky Sall’s decision to delay elections by 10 months. Following the announcement, protests erupted in the capital Dakar. Social media users in Nigeria and South Africa shared a video alleging that it shows a massive rally against Sall after the vote postponement. But the claim is misleading: though the footage does feature a large crowd in Dakar, it was filmed during a March 2023 campaign march organised by opposition figure Ousmane Sonko, who has since been arrested and was still in prison as of February 9, 2024.
“Sights and sounds from Senegal!! No prayers, no big English,” reads a post published on X on February 4, 2024.
Liked more than 3,000 times, the post was published by an account that frequently shares anti-Western content, referring to the Senegalese president as a “French puppet”.
Senegal is often viewed as a bastion of stability in the volatile region and has never experienced a coup since gaining independence from France in 1960.
But on February 3, 2024, Sall announced a delay to the scheduled February 25 elections, just hours before campaigning began.
Senegalese lawmakers confirmed the decision soon after, paving the way for Sall to remain in office until his successor is installed, despite growing concern about the erosion of democracy in the country. AFP has been covering the story (archived here).
The post claiming to show the protests includes a 27-second video of a line of cars driving through a crowd, with people waving Senegalese flags and shouting “president” in French. A man is seen standing up through the first vehicle’s sunroof.
Most comments are in English and come from accounts based in Nigeria and South Africa, calling for similar protests in their countries.
“Nigerians! If the Senegalese can do it, why can’t you do it? Is it until the politicians kill us all?” wrote one user.
“South Africans will never ever think to stand up like this for this country… We should be ashamed of ourselves", said another.
A different post from Nigeria called the scenes in the video a "democratic coup," adding that "this should be happening in Nigeria too".
Users sharing the video at the time falsely claimed it showed supporters of Sonko freeing him from prison, which Africa Check debunked.
The firebrand politician - particularly popular among young people - has faced a string of legal woes he claims are aimed at keeping him out of politics.
“The Senegalese went to break out a political opponent from prison,” reads the French caption.
He has been in detention since the arrest.
2023 political rally
Africa Check geolocated the footage to an esplanade in Dakar, saying it showed a March 14, 2023, political gathering for Sonko.
An AFP journalist based in Dakar confirmed that the video was from this March 2023 rally.
AFP reported on the event, posting a video showing the crowd to its official YouTube channel on March 15, 2023.
Several visual clues confirm the video used in the false post originates from the March 14 gathering.
In both videos, Ousmane Sonko is wearing the same outfit - a baseball hat with khaki pants and a beige shirt.
There are also people standing on a similar rooftop overlooking the crowd.
“Several thousand Senegalese opposition supporters gather in Dakar,” reads the French-language caption of the AFP video.
Instability in West Africa
The international community has expressed concern over the democratic decline in West Africa.
Senegal’s neighbour Mali, as well as Burkina Faso and Niger, are all led by military regimes following coups in recent years.
Both Burkina Faso and Mali were supposed to head to the polls later this year, but the military authorities want to extend the “transition” periods, citing the insecurity engendered by jihadist unrest (archived here).
The process sparked a wave of disinformation and anger in Africa’s most populous country.