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Ousmane Sonko, an antisystem candidate not so rebellious as that

Ousmane Sonko speaks to his supporters from the roof of his car, on the first day of the election campaign, Sunday, February 3, 2019, in the district of Ngor, Dakar.
Ousmane Sonko speaks to his supporters from the roof of his car, on the first day of the election campaign, Sunday, February 3, 2019, in the district of Ngor, Dakar. Matteo Maillard

"Those who have led Senegal from the start deserve to be shot". Incendiary, the sentence was not intended to become public. Just to galvanize activists already acquired their leader, Ousmane Sonko *. A young and charismatic rising star in Senegalese politics, the February 24 presidential candidate is accustomed to shock sentences, provocative pikes and harsh criticism against a political class he judges "Corrupt", "Sold to foreign interests".

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The video, published in October 2018 but which dates from a few months, quickly made the rounds of the press triggering an uproar. Seydou Guèye, minister spokesperson for the government, was indignant about "Specific to pro-Islamic and jihadist logics. That seems to me unacceptable in our political space ", he denounced at the microphone of the Future Radio Media. The echo was very different on the social networks where Ousmane Sonko, at 44, enjoys a certain popularity. Better than any other politician, he masters the codes and has forged in recent years, an extensive base of sympathizers and reactive.

Iconoclastic figure

To believe his opponents, he would be the incarnation of all the excesses of contemporary politics: anti-systemarian sovereignist, nationalist with uninhibited populism. It is willing to be close to Salafist ideology in a country that practices more than 90% of Sufi peaceful Islam. The person concerned defends himself. His program "Jotna" ("This is the moment" in Wolof) erases this iconoclastic figure a little. It focuses on agriculture, "Spearhead", "Sustainable development of fisheries", "The promotion of women" and "Equality of opportunity through education". To convince an electorate with multiple interests, Ousmane Sonko knows that we must sacrifice to the consensual, as suggested by his campaign portrait, adjusted suit and round glasses.

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Born in Thiès (west) in 1974, he grew up in Casamance. The region is then in the throes of an open conflict between the Senegalese army and the pro-independence rebels of the Democratic Movement of the Forces of Casamance (MFDC). The sounds of bullets will mark his memories. It is in this remote south, wedged by the Gambian enclave, largely forgotten development plans, that it draws today its most numerous supports. He forged one of the axes of his doctrine: to fight against the centralization of the country in Dakar. Follows a brilliant schooling. Master of Law, DEA at the University Gaston-Berger de Saint-Louis, he graduated from his promotion at ENA. A Senegalese elite course that he does not deny. At that time, he was a member of the Association of Muslim Students in Senegal (AMES), a structure close to Salafist circles.

Alert launcher

In 2002, he became Senior Inspector of Taxes and Domains. The ungrateful work and the pressures he suffered led him to create the union of his corporation three years later. There he makes his first political weapons, but still prefers the Greek authors to the conclave. His awakening will come in 2008 during the assizes of the opposition. The idea of ​​founding a party with an obsession: sovereignty. It is only six years later that the Patriots of Senegal are born for work, ethics and fraternity (Pastef).

Supporters of Ousmane Sonko on the first day of the election campaign, in the district of Ngor, Dakar, Sunday, February 3, 2019.
Supporters of Ousmane Sonko on the first day of the election campaign, in the Ngor district, Dakar, Sunday, February 3, 2019. SEYLLOU / AFP

While the formation stammers, Ousmane Sonko finds an angle of attack that will propel him to the front of the stage. He points to acts of tax evasion and corruption that he witnessed as an inspector. His whistleblower denunciations will culminate in 2016: in a book titled Oil and gas in Senegal. Chronicle of a spoliation (Fauves edition), he directly accuses President Macky Sall and his brother Alioune Sall, at the head of an oil company, " corruption ", from "Violation of the Constitution and the oil code". It is written off the same year by presidential decree for "Breach of reserve duty".

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He positions himself as a victim of the system and becomes, for a part of the middle class, the white knight of a policy used by the inter-se and the shenanigans. He grabs the niche. "In Senegal, we had two alternations, multiple parties, but if you look well, those who ran the country yesterday are today leaders of the opposition and candidates for the election. Faced with this, Ousmane Sonko declared himself resistant to the system ", Sheikh Mbaye, a sociologist.

Compared to an African Trump

Among the five presidential candidates are Madické Niang who, from 2002 to 2012, was Minister of Housing, Foreign Affairs, Justice, Energy, Industry and Mines, but also Idrissa Seck, prime minister from 2002 to 2004. "When you're not part of this seraglio, it's hard to get into politics, He added. There is a desire for renewal. Sonko understands this and is against this politician's policy of conserving power and enriching himself. "

In the summer In 2017, he won a first half-hearted victory: he was elected to the National Assembly, but his party won less than 1% of the vote in the legislative elections. His success could have ended there if the two main political opponents of Macky Sall – Karim Wade, son of former president Abdoulaye Wade, and Khalifa Sall, former mayor of Dakar – had been removed from the presidential election due to of judicial trouble.

Read also In Senegal, the risk of violence hangs over the presidential election

Ousmane Sonko took the opportunity to carve out a place of choice in the opposition camp. It deploys its program elements: get out of the CFA franc, reduce the debt and the lifestyle of the state, favor businesses and national jobs. It is compared to an African Trump, the youth and more. An asset in a country where more than 50% of the population is under 20 years old.

His speech hits a rising, unemployed graduating middle class, who sees the golden bridges made to foreign companies and the local industry in disinheritance. "An electorate that rejects the Western world and its values, from the defense of human rights to the protection of sexual minorities, which Sonko manages to capture," explains a European diplomat. His speech also resonates among the diaspora: he thus arrives at the top of the legislative elections among the Senegalese of Canada.

"A man of the margins"

But if he wants a chance on February 24, the candidate Sonko has yet to prove itself to a rural electorate that, without electricity or the Internet, can not follow his punchlines against power on social networks. In a rally, he used to surround himself with dozens of security guards dressed in military surplus fatigues labeled "US Navy". He is now trying to smooth his image of anti-system rebel, getting closer to the caciques of the policy he has criticized so much.

Thus, on February 9, Ousmane Sonko interrupts his campaign program to urgently welcome in Dakar former president Abdoulaye Wade, returning from his retirement in Versailles. He would like to be knighted by this kingmaker. He will get nothing. "There is no antisystem at home, a political scientist. One of his closest collaborators is the architect Pierre Goudiaby Atepa, who built for the African ruling classes and lent him his seat. "

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The sociologist Cheikh Mbaye abounds: "At this level, we have to mix with people of power. But it is contradictory, it serves its image and surprises its electoral base. " Can the young challenger still convince voters? "It's a man of the margins, Casamançais, Saint-Louisiens, a stranger for many Senegalese, analyzes the European diplomat. He wanted to free himself from the powerful Sufi brotherhoods, then turned around. He is not very lucky in a country that has always voted in the brotherhood triangle. "

On the presidency side, we are confident: "Sonko is in agitation, provocation, cookie-cutter sentences. We are in cohesion and rallying. In the legislative elections, we obtained 1.5 million votes, it 33 000. This is not a danger. " An assurance showered by Cheikh Mbaye: "If he wins votes, it will reflect the disappointment rate of our youth and the failure of our politicians. "

* Contacted several times, Ousmane Sonko did not wish to follow up our requests for maintenance.

Matteo Maillard (Dakar, correspondence)

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