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Senegal Sonko Strife Slashing Economy

FILE: People stand at the entrance of a destroyed supermarket in Dakar, Senegal, on June 3, 2023.

DAKAR - Two days of violence in the wake of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko's prison sentencing have cost "billions of CFA francs" - tens of millions of dollars - and political risk is threatening this year's growth targets, said consultant economist Mansour Sambe.

"The biggest danger for investors are political risks," Consultant Mansour Sambe said.

Before the unrest, economists had been expecting growth of nine to 10 percent for 2023, he said.

But with uncertainty hanging over the 2024 election, "the entire second half (of 2023) could be lost," he said.

Sixteen people died and hundreds were injured or arrested after Opposition politician Ousmane Sonko on June 1 was sentenced to two years on charges of "corrupting" a young woman.

That verdict was the outcome of a two-year case for rape charges that transfixed the country, triggering sporadic unrest that had already claimed a dozen lives.

In a country that has only a meagre social safety net, many Senegalese live in precarity and eye disruption with dread.

Magaye Gaye, a 19-year-old toiletries seller at the Sandaga market in Dakar, said several days without business had left him with almost nothing.

"I have spent all my savings just to survive," he told AFP.

Clothing seller Modou Gueye, 46, was in a similar predicament.

"Clients have stayed away because they are afraid," he said Monday. "We live from one day to the next. If you have work, you eat, if you have no work, you go hungry."

"The banks have been closed since Wednesday," Ady Thiam, a 45-year-old accountant, said while waiting in line on Monday.

"You can't get your wages or your pension. Daily workers aren't being paid. People can't get medical treatment," he said.

The next flashpoint could be when Sonko - believed to be at his home in Dakar, surrounded by police - is taken into custody to serve his sentence.

Then there are the potentially stormy waters of next year's presidential elections, for which Sonko now appears to be ineligible.

Sambe urged President Macky Sall to intervene, saying "He has to reassure the public."

But Sall himself has stoked uncertainty, refusing to say clearly whether he will bid for a third presidential term, a move critics say would breach the constitution.

Of all the crises that modern Senegal has faced, the present one "is the easiest to resolve," three leading intellectuals said in an open letter on Monday.

"All it would need is for one man to say, 'I am not going to seek a third term, which would dishonor my word, my country and its constitution'."

The letter was penned by award-winning writers Mohamed Mbougar Sarr and Boubacar Boris Diop, and Felwine Sarr, who co-wrote a landmark report on the restitution of African cultural artefacts.