In Senegal, it is on social networks that the protest is the most active. How did we get here ? What are the stakes of this real “digital war”?
« Influencing, mobilizing digital armies, being outraged, It's a thing. Taking action is another.” This is the summary of what is currently taking place in Senegal.
With an internet network cut by the government, functional again since this morning despite the restriction of access to social networks, difficult to know what is really happening on the ground. But the digital war is well and truly launched. On social networks, it is indeed a trench warfare that has begun.
With the return of the hashtag #FreeSenegal, opponents and supporters of the president are waging a violent battle, where propaganda and war of images sweep away the truth of the facts. We asked to Saladin, one of the biggest digital specialists in Tunisia, the cradle of the cyber-revolution, which took part in the Arab Spring which put an end to the reign of Ben Ali, specialist in digital insurrection movements, to analyze the ins and outs of the Senegalese digital war.
Twitter, theater of war
The war is raging on Twitter. WhatsApp and Facebook restricted, Twitter is the preferred vector of the diasporas. They are the most active today regarding events in Senegal, although they generally have no information.
“With nearly 27 tweets on June 000, we notice a daily increase in posts with the hashtag #FreeSenegal, indicates our analyst specializing in social networks. But 4% of the tweets analyzed come from French and Moroccan accounts, potentially because of the VPNs used by users who want to circumvent the restrictions, American accounts also being relatively present on this theme.
Hence the calls to demonstrate against Macky Sall especially in front of European embassies. " Twitter brings rain and shine to serious influencers (journalists, leaders, diplomats) and that's why pro-Sonko activists focus on this social network,” says Saladin.
Ousmane Sonko's soldiers
Unlike previous mobilizations in several countries, where the causes of the peoples were linked to a major political crisis or the high cost of living, the majority of Twitter accounts posting the hashtag #FreeSenegal are openly pro-Sonko.
“The situation is quite unprecedented, we are far from the mobilizations in Guinea or Mali against Alpha Condé and IBK, analyzes a political scientist. There, it is mainly supporters of an opponent who are trying to mobilize in the name of a political cause, which is a hypothetical third term on which the president has not even spoken openly ”.
Proof of the partisan struggle that is being played out, the term "Macky Sall" is used even more on Twitter than the hashtag #FreeSenegal and the hashtag #MackyDémission is particularly used. But why should the president resign if, for the time being, it is the question of the third term that is inflaming social networks?
Digital at the service of the manipulation of public opinion through anger
Twitter is not reality. Regarding wars, we know that soldiers spend more time preparing for war than waging it, it is said. This is, for the moment, the case in Senegal: on the ground, we are far from the mobilization observed on social networks.
Indeed, by calling to bring together "1 million Senegalese" this Monday morning on the Place de l'Indépendance, the organizers of this event are once again in manipulation. "The merchants have set up their stalls on the ground, the mobilization will be far from what is announced on social networks", indicates a resident of the Place de l'Indépendance who estimates that "only a few thousand people at most will be present, especially since the Place de l'Indépendance is a five-minute walk from the presidential palace via avenue Senghor".
Especially when you know thata call on social networks when access to them is restricted is more like an announcement effect intended to get people talking in the Western media.
War of images, who is lying?
Ousmane Sonko supporters excel in one area: make the images speak, even if it means making them say anything. Like this video, which indicates that “the soldiers join the resistance of the people”, and which has been widely relayed. No, this video does not show soldiers taking part in the protest but soldiers escorted by young people after a simple patrol. Although this video is manipulated, even journalists have taken it up on their networks.
In Senegal, the soldiers join the resistance of the people. Macky Sall not found, the wind seems turned. Who would have believed it ! The new Africa, the real one that wants its independence is expressing itself. Going back is no longer possible pic.twitter.com/lUMAwyDeK5
— André Ndambi Official (@AndrNdambi) June 4, 2023
Videos posted from France by Franco-Senegalese, calls to demonstrate from Paris… Are the people who relay this counter-information involved in manipulation? “These people don't lie, they themselves are sometimes manipulated, convinced of what they say. They participate in spite of themselves in propaganda, under the guise of defending their values, ”explains the digital specialist.
“In their rhetoric, the words used by Sonko supporters were purposely chosen to relate to the theme of war “, continues our specialist.
Thus, the Twitter posts speak of "Resistance", as if to indicate that Senegal would be at war and that Ousmane Sonko would be Good opposed to Evil, represented by Macky Sall against whom Internet users say they have "proof" of his authoritarianism. Terms used by propagandists for decades, from Colin Powell to Vladimir Putin.
« Ousmane Sonko wants to start a war, he uses to do this all the classic tools that he adapts to social networks: image warfare, calls for violence or insurrection…”, says Saladin.
Where are Internet users talking about?
It remains to be seen where some accounts posting from abroad are talking about. The Senegalese Minister of the Interior denounces foreign forces that would try to destabilize the country. Not impossible, according to our digital specialist. “At this stage, the challenge is not only launched from Senegal. There are certainly foreign powers that influence social networks, this is the case in any digital war”.
The failed communication from the presidency
It has now been four days since the president gave a digital sign of life. His last tweet was also, ironically, devoted to the national dialogue.
This meeting is not a first, because the "diisso" is part of our socio-cultural identity.
This is why I have established dialogue as a principle of governance which, transcending the face-to-face power-opposition, integrates all the forces... pic.twitter.com/qCc70Tg8qb
- Macky Sall (@Macky_Sall) May 31, 2023
« Government communication as well as that of members of the movement is considered catastrophic by many observers. None of them really contributed to appease the ardor of the demonstrators. “, indicates this morning the newspaper SeneNews. The president would plan to meet his staff on Monday to decide on the way forward in terms of communication.
What would be the solution? " Macky Sall could settle everything by announcing that he will not serve a third term, assures a Senegalese political scientist. Is it because he does not answer this question that the crowd ignites? In any case, Sonko has managed to set fire to the powder by saying for months that Macky Sall intends to serve a third term, without the president really positioning himself. This is where this protest movement took the presidency by surprise: after all, the best defense is attack. ".