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Sall: Senegal Would 'Stop Functioning' With Earlier Third Term Decision

FILE - Senegalese President Macky Sall looks on during the opening of the 1st Senegal International Investment Forum at the Abdou Diouf International Conference Centre in Diamniadio on July 6, 2023.

DAKAR — Senegalese President Macky Sall has said the country would have "stopped functioning" if he had declared his decision not to seek a controversial third term sooner, in an interview published on Friday.

Sall also hinted at a possible future bid for a United Nations position, in the interview with the French newspaper Le Monde.

"I couldn't say earlier that I wouldn't be standing for re-election, otherwise the country would have stopped functioning," the president said, blaming recent political tensions on his main opponent Ousmane Sonko without directly naming him.

"The only reason I could have stood again is if the country had faced a serious threat to its stability, but that threat never came," he added.

Sonko, Sall's fiercest opponent, was sentenced last month to two years in prison for morally corrupting a young woman, a conviction that renders him ineligible for the February 2024 presidential election.

The ruling led to the most serious unrest Senegal has seen in years, leaving at least 16 dead.

Sall claimed the left-wing French political party La France Insoumise had supported the violence, condemning what he described as "unacceptable interference."

Sall, who is coming to the end of his second mandate, on Monday announced he would not seek a third term, following months of ambiguity and speculation about his intentions.

Sonko has been blocked by security forces in his home in the capital Dakar since May 28, several days before the court ruling.

Asked whether the politician had not yet been arrested out of fear of further violence, Sall said he was "not afraid of anything."

"I'm running a country, I'm not focusing on a debate about individuals. If someone has to be arrested, he has to be arrested," he said.

At an investment forum near Dakar on Thursday, Sall promised to remain in Senegal after his presidency.

Many of the country's former presidents moved to France after leaving power.

But in the interview Friday, he said he was interested in "serving Africa and the world."

Asked whether he would be tempted by a diplomatic position with the G20 or the United Nations, Sall noted that the current United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, finishes his mandate in 2026.

"Let's wait until 2025," he said.