CW 11/2023: Headwind
Press Review 10 March 2023 to 17 March 2023

Inaugural session of the new Tunisian parliament

Last Monday, the newly elected Tunisian parliament held its first session. While only state media and news agencies were allowed to attend, foreign and independent journalists were not allowed to enter the parliament building on the orders of President Kais Saied. This is the first time such a ban has been imposed since the revolution that toppled the late dictator Ben Ali in 2011. This decision, which officially was justified with the prevention of possible unrest, led to protests in front of the parliament building and at the same time met with strong criticism from the Tunisian journalists’ union SNJT. The opposition coalition declared on Monday that it would not recognise the assembly and referred to the low voter turnout of only about eleven percent in the parliamentary elections in December and January (Press Review 51/2022). Furthermore, the opposition criticised the media censorship and the arrest of government critics in recent weeks as a sign of the increasing authoritarian leadership of the head of state. Saied has already been subject to criticism in the past, after he dissolved parliament in 2021 and, in July last year, not only enormously restricted the control function of the legislature through a controversial constitutional amendment, but also endowed the presidential office with far-reaching powers. In the constituent session of the new parliament on Monday, Ibrahim Bouderbala, the former president of the bar association and an avowed supporter of the Tunisian president, was elected chairman of the body, which is seen as a further expansion of Saied’s power as well as a restriction of the parliament’s control function. The situation in the North African country is causing growing concern, not only among Tunisian activists, but also on an international level. Only recently, a racist and populist speech by Saied led to an outbreak of violence against migrants, prompting several countries in sub-Saharan Africa to have their refugee nationals flown out of Tunisia. The African Union (AU) also strongly criticised Saied’s statement. The speech was seen as another attempt by the president to shift the blame for the very poor economic situation in the country away from himself and to blame others.

Protests in Senegal

Thousands of people have taken to the streets in the Senegalese capital Dakar since Tuesday to show their support for opposition leader Ousmane Sonko. The latter was due to appear in court Thursday on a defamation charge brought by Tourism Minister Mame Mbaye Niang; however, the trial was adjourned until 30 March after Sonko required medical attention following clashes between police and his supporters. Minister Niang, who the opposition alleges embezzled funds totaling $47 million, accuses the Pastef Patritos party leader of slander, libel and forgery. Sonko, in turn, denies the allegations and accuses the government led by President Macky Sall of trying to defame him and his party ahead of the upcoming presidential elections in February 2024. The 48-year-old, who came third in the last elections in 2019, has since surged in popularity and has already publicly announced his candidacy for the next election. However, whether he will be allowed to run in the election depends on the outcome of the trial. In addition, another case of rape has been pending against Sonko since 2021; his arrest in early March 2021 had led to nationwide violent protests at the time (Press Review 10/2021). Sonko rejects these accusations as well. Already on Tuesday, around 10,000 supporters gathered in Dakar to express their solidarity with Sonko. The latest protests reflect rising domestic tensions in Senegal, which are further fueled by rumors that President Macky Sall is seeking a third term. While his political opponents point to the constitutional limitation of presidential terms to a maximum of two, supporters argue that the 2016 constitutional amendment reset the number of Sall’s terms back to the beginning and that a renewed candidacy is therefore constitutional. Macky Sall himself has not yet commented on a possible candidacy. The opposition accuses him of putting the country’s stability and reputation at risk with this stance. Experts also warn of possible negative economic consequences. This year, for example, the production of liquefied natural gas is to start in the country, which is also attracting great interest in Europe and which, according to the government, should lead to economic growth of 10% in 2023. In addition, an investment decision on a second phase, which will double the initial production of 2.5 million tons of LNG per year, is expected in the coming months. Domestic political instability could well have a negative impact on this decision, warnings say.

In other news

The ROOTS Rabat – The Pan-African Film Days film festival kicked off for the first time in Morocco’s capital Rabat on Sunday evening. The event, which was jointly organised by the Hiba Foundation and the Ministry of Youth, Culture and Communication as part of Rabat’s celebrations as Africa’s Capital of Culture 2022, was opened by Moroccan Minister of Youth, Culture and Communication Mehdi Mensaid. The aim of the pan-African film festival is to promote know-how in the African film industry as well as South-South cooperation in order to learn from each other and create sustainable synergies. In addition to various screenings of African short and feature films, there is also a wide range of workshops, technical master classes and discussion formats. ROOTS Rabat ends this Friday.

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