Senegal: A police station or a high school? Deadly clashes in Senegal as locals and gendarmes dispute land use
Violent clashes between the gendarmerie and the Lebu community erupted on May 8 and 9 in Ngor, a district of Senegal’s capital Dakar. The conflict began over a land dispute: the gendarmes want a police station while locals want to build a high school. According to four eyewitnesses who spoke to the FRANCE 24 Observers team, the gendarmes fired live bullets during protests. A 15-year-old girl lost her life, in circumstances that remain under investigation.
Images shared on social networks show violent clashes on May 8 and 9 in Ngor. The conflict broke out between the Lebu people, who have lived in the area for centuries, and the gendarmes, local police.
It began on the main street in Ngor, where residents had gathered to protest the evening of May 8.
‘We had to evacuate the injured by canoe’
The next day, clashes continued on the same street as well as a nearby beach. The FRANCE 24 Observers team spoke with several protesters who requested to stay anonymous for their security. They said the police used live ammunition against protesters.
Malick (not his real name) told us more:
When we arrived on the beach, reinforcements came. The gendarmes wanted to surround us. Some of the protesters got stuck and started to retreat into the water to avoid being caught. Some of us were able to swim, I was able to take refuge on a boat. The gendarmes first fired tear gas, then live ammunition.
Several videos taken on the beach show tear gas grenades exploding. In one video, at least five shots can be heard, though a ballistics expert we spoke to said it is impossible to determine from this video whether they were live rounds.
A 15-year-old girl was killed during the clashes. A statement issued on Wednesday, May 10, 2023 by the Senegalese ministry of the interior said that the girl had been “fatally hit while in the water, probably by the propeller of a canoe”.
The ministry has not yet responded to our request for comment.
However, several of our Observers who witnessed the scene say the girl was in fact hit by a police bullet while she was taking refuge in the water.
During the confrontation, several protesters were seriously injured and had to be evacuated, explains Habib (not his real name), another protester:
The emergency services could not enter the village because the gendarmerie had blocked the way. We had to evacuate the injured by canoe to the surrounding communes, such as Yoff, thanks to the help of the Red Cross.”
Residents also claim that gendarmes entered houses and discharged tear gas grenades.
‘We need to change the way we think about policing’
Thirty people were reportedly wounded in the clashes. Images provided to the FRANCE 24 Observers team by protesters attest to significant injuries.
In a statement issued on May 11, 2023, Amnesty International denounced “the excessive use of force by the gendarmerie in Ngor” and called “on the authorities to investigate the use of lethal weapons by the police”.
Locals, such as Mamadou Ndiaye, president of the citizen movement Ngor Debout, denounced the repression carried out by the police:
The gendarmes have beaten up protesters, shot at people, entered homes. This is not law and order. We don’t deserve that in a country like Senegal. We need to change the way we think about policing, to stop using grenades and live ammunition. We need more diplomacy when people demand things.
‘Ngor is the only district in Dakar that does not have a high school’
At the root of these tensions is a 6,000 m2 plot of land located in the heart of the village. Since the beginning of March, the gendarmerie has voiced its desire to set up a police station there, while the community wants to build a high school.
On Monday, May 8 the day before the clashes, the state said it would give 4,000 m2 to the gendarmes and 2,000 m2 to the municipality for a high school. Many residents, including our observer Habib, felt this decision was unfair:
Ngor really needs a high school: it’s the only district in Dakar that doesn’t have a high school and a CEM [Editor’s note: for Collège d’enseignement moyen, the equivalent of a secondary school]. Young people have to leave Ngor to study. Most people don’t have a car: they have to take transport. And they also have to eat at lunchtime. All this is expensive. Many stop going to school at 13 or 14 years old because of this. Education should be a priority.
‘The indigenous population gradually had to give up their land’
Oumar (not his real name), a resident of Ngor, says that the indigenous Lebu population has gradually had to cede its land to the state:
The indigenous population of Ngor originally lived from agriculture, but gradually had to give up their land. For example, the posh district of Almadies was built on agricultural land. Now ministers, deputies and colonels live there.
Now there are no more fields. The local people have fallen back on fishing, but even fishing doesn’t work like it used to because of the pollution. Poverty is increasing. And there is no more space, people are forced to build new floors to be able to have housing.
The land at the heart of the dispute is all the more important in the eyes of the residents as it has a spiritual value. It is known as “Arrêt Mame Tamsir”, in reference to El Hadji Tamsir Mamadou Ndiaye, an important imam for the Lebu population of Ngor.
Following the clashes, Senegalese President Macky Sall announced that the land would be split in half and granted in equal parts to the gendarmerie and the municipality. The decision put a halt to protests for the moment, but several residents we spoke to say they “want to continue fighting”.