The West African State has adopted a policy of expelling African refugees critical of their home countries
By Modou S. Joof
Senegal has earned itself worldwide respect and recognition for its democratic principles, respect for human rights and the rule of law – democratic tenets founded by the West African country’s first President, Leopold Sedar Senghor from 1960 to 1980.
However, the government’s recent adoption of an unexpected policy of expelling African refugee dissidents, who have sought refuge in Senegal and are still critical of their home governments, is becoming worrisome.
Under the leadership of President Macky Sall, who was seen as an emblem for democracy in African following his election in 2012, the country has taken what observers calls a “democratic u-turn” by deporting African refugees to countries where their safety and security is not guaranteed.
Senegal is no longer a sanctuary for African dissidents, its current government is increasingly becoming a somewhat hostile to African political refugees, and events in 2013 have further entrenched this worrying situation.
Deportation threats to Gambian journalist
On August 12 last year Senegalese authorities “threatened to expel” Gambian freelance journalist, Abubacarr Saidykhan, if he continue to be opposed to the Jammeh regime in The Gambia, according to reports.
At the time, media reports indicated that Saidykhan met with the Senegal National Commission for Eligibility to enquire about the state of his asylum application. He was asked whether he still keep contact and shares information with other Gambian dissidents outside Senegal, and he replied yes.
The authorities told him that Senegal will not allow any Gambian fugitive residing in the country to continue to be actively involved in opposition to The Gambian authorities – and threatened him with expulsion.
Saidykhan has been living in the Senegalese capital Dakar in self-imposed exile since fleeing The Gambia in October 2012 over reported “death threats” allegedly directed to him by Gambian plain cloth security agents.
Prior to his flight, Mr Saidykhan was arrested and detained in September 2012 by the Banjul Bureau of the International Police Agency, INTERPOL, after he and a colleague journalist, Baboucarr Ceesay, had applied for a police permit to peacefully demonstrate against President Yahya Jammeh’s execution of nine death row inmates by firing squad.
Observers say the Sall-led Government is targeting Gambian dissidents in particular in order to garner support from President Yahya Jammeh to settle a 31-year-old rebellion in the Casamance region, South of Senegal.
In June 2013, Jammeh had vowed not to support Senegal to attain peace in Casamance, which share borders with The Gambia, for the fact that Senegal allows Gambian dissidents living in the country to continue to attack the government back home.
The Casamance conflict has in recent years taken a new turn and is now of low intensity and sporadic fighting, however, in May 2013, the separatists’ rebels of the Movement for the Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC) adopted a new strategy of kidnapping civilians.
Back in April 2013, the first expulsion presided over by Macky Sall was targeted at Gambian dissident Kukoi Samba Sanyang who was deported to Bamako, the Malian capital in the middle of an armed conflict in that country.
He died in June at the age of 61 after he was briefly admitted at a hospital in Bamako following his deteriorated health condition. He was flown back to Senegal and buried at a Dakar neighbourhood of Yoff at the expense of Sall’s Government.
Kukoi, who led a rebellion in The Gambia in 1981 at the age of 29, had protested against his arrest and deportation to the troubled West African country. From Bamako, he told Zik FM in Dakar that he was only in Senegal to seek medical attention.
“I told them I was in the Netherlands, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Mali and then Senegal respectively where I have been residing for 9 months seeking medical attention,” Kukoi was quoted to have said.
On December 9, 2012, The Gambia Government facilitated the release of 8 Senegalese hostages (7 soldiers and a firefighter) by MFDC rebels following months of negotiation presided over by the Rome-based Catholic Church’s Sant’Egidio Community.
“It is perhaps understandable [for Macky Sall] to pay him [Yahya Jammeh] back by expelling his rebellious opponent, Kukoi Samba Sanyang,” says Anna Gueye, a Dakar-based Contributor for Global Voices Online.
Expulsion of Chadian blogger
His deportation to Guinea Conakry was condemned in the “strongest terms” by a Network of Journalists and Bloggers in Senegal.
Senegalese authorities had accused Nguebla of having links to people accused of a “destabilisation plot” in his home country, allegations he denied when he spoke to Radio France International, RFI. Nguebla moved to France in July 2013 from Conakry with the help of human rights campaigners.
Following his expulsion, Nguebla said in an interview that his deportation to Conakry followed a visit to Senegal of Chadian Minister of Justice Jean-Bernard Padaré who had a private meeting with Senegal’s Minister of Justice on the sidelines of talks over the possible trial of former Chadian President Hissène Habré.
According to Nguebla, the Surveillance Division of Senegal summoned him to their offices on May 7 and he was accompanied by officials of Amnesty International Sénégal who were asked out. He said he was put on board a plane destined for Conakry overnight without the prior notice of the Guinean authorities.
Sall’s Government came under heavy criticism from human rights defenders who condemned both expulsions.
Writing under the headline ‘Senegal’s Democratic Tradition Takes Worrisome Turn’ Anna Gueye said: “Senegal has a solid tradition of democracy and protection of freedom of expression and human rights.”
But, she said, recent months have seen the West African nation’s reputation as a stronghold for democracy in Africa “seriously damaged” with the evictions of a Chadian journalist and Gambian dissident, both opponents of the governments in their home countries.
Modou S. Joof is a Gambian journalist and blogger. He is an editor at Front Page International (FPI) and at the privately-owned The Voice newspaper in Banjul. He is the publisher and editor of The North Bank Evening Standard and a former president of the Young Journalists Association of The Gambia (YJAG).