Thousands of people have signed an online petition demanding the resumption of the maritime service between Dakar and Ziguinchor, the main city in Casamance, southern Senegal. The service has been suspended for over four months due to political tensions related to opposition figure Ousmane Sonko.
The petition, initiated by Xavier Diatta, the head of an agro-food company based in Ziguinchor, states, 'We, as boat passengers, demand the immediate resumption of the Dakar-Ziguinchor maritime connection.' The petition, launched on October 13, had garnered over 3,796 signatures as of Monday, October 23, 2023.
Passenger and freight transport, which was provided by three vessels, has been halted by Senegalese authorities without an official explanation since June. The suspension followed violent unrest in Ziguinchor and other cities in the country following the conviction of the political opposition leader Sonko in a moral-related case.
When contacted by AFP, the Ministry of Fisheries, which oversees boat operations, and the operating company, Cosama (a private entity), did not respond. A source within the ministry stated that the suspension of the service was due to 'security reasons.'
Since then, there has been a void at the Ziguinchor port. The entire local economy has come to a standstill, and transportation costs by road have tripled. Prices of goods coming from Dakar have also increased, according to Mr. Diatta.
Sira Mané, a 37-year-old food vendor near the Ziguinchor port, expressed her frustration, saying, 'We are tired. Selling goods has become a headache.'
Salif Diédhiou, a 51-year-old dockworker, complained about his inability to work and stated that he has returned to fishing since the boat no longer arrives in Ziguinchor.
Casamance is known for its fisheries, fruits, and vegetables, which are transported several times a week to Dakar by road or air.
After the June disturbances, Senegalese authorities temporarily suspended public bus services to the region. Air travel remains inaccessible for many people wishing to reach this area, which has seen an armed separatist rebellion since 1982 and is separated from the rest of the country by The Gambia.
Opposition figure Sonko, who serves as the mayor of Ziguinchor, has been detained since late July on various charges, including incitement to rebellion. He announced on Tuesday that he would resume his hunger strike, which he had stopped in early September, in 'solidarity' with his 'unjustly arrested' supporters.
As a candidate in the February 2024 presidential election, the 49-year-old Sonko accuses President Macky Sall, who denies the allegations, of attempting to exclude him from the election through legal procedures. President Sall, elected in 2012 and reelected in 2019, declared in early July that he would not seek reelection."