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Post claiming to show election delay protests in Senegal uses old video

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.

<span>A screenshot of the misleading post, taken on February 7, 2024 </span>
A screenshot of the misleading post, taken on February 7, 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".

But although violent street protests did rock Dakar after Sall’s announcement, this video is unrelated (archived here).

2023 video

Using a reverse image search, AFP Fact Check found an April 2023 investigation into the same video by the fact-checking organisation Africa Check  (archived here).

<span>A screenshot of Google Lens search results, taken on February 8, 2024 </span>
A screenshot of Google Lens search results, taken on February 8, 2024

Users sharing the video at the time falsely claimed it showed supporters of Sonko freeing him from prison, which Africa Check debunked.

Sonko came third in the 2019 presidential election and has been at the centre of a bitter stand-off with the state that has lasted more than two years and sparked often-deadly unrest (archived here).

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.

Using a keyword search in French for “crowd releases Sonko from prison,” AFP Fact Check found a post from March 2023  featuring the same video circulating now.

“The Senegalese went to break out a political opponent from prison,” reads the French caption.

<span>A comparison of the video used in a misleading post from March 2023 (left) and in February 2024 (right) </span>
A comparison of the video used in a misleading post from March 2023 (left) and in February 2024 (right)

But Sonko was not incarcerated in March 2023 and, therefore, could not have been released from prison by the crowd (archived here).

He was arrested and charged in July 2023 with fomenting insurrection, undermining state security, criminal association with a terrorist body, and other crimes (archived here).

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.

<span>Screenshots comparing Sonko’s outfit in the AFP video (left, right) to the video used in the misleading post (middle) </span>
Screenshots comparing Sonko’s outfit in the AFP video (left, right) to the video used in the misleading post (middle)

There are also people standing on a similar rooftop overlooking the crowd.

<span>Screenshots comparing the rooftop seen in the video used in the misleading post (left) and the AFP video (right) </span>
Screenshots comparing the rooftop seen in the video used in the misleading post (left) and the AFP video (right)

“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).

Nigeria held an election in 2023, but opposition candidates challenged President Bola Tinubu’s win, saying the vote was marred by fraud and voting irregularities (archived here).

The process sparked a wave of disinformation and anger in Africa’s most populous country.

Meanwhile, South Africa is preparing for an election later this year, which is already marked by a rise in xenophobia and disinformation (archived here).