Senegal unrest stokes instability for sheep farmers


Published: 2023-06-23 12:42

Last Updated: 2024-06-17 21:38

Senegal unrest stokes instability for sheep farmers
Senegal unrest stokes instability for sheep farmers

An outbreak of violence in Senegal is having a ricochet effect on the country's sheepherders ahead of a Muslim festival which is a peak time for business.

The deadliest clashes in years broke out in the capital Dakar on June 1 after opposition leader Ousmane Sonko was sentenced to two years jail, casting a pall over his bid to contest the 2024 presidential elections.

For sheep farmers, the crisis has happened at the worst possible moment.

For months, they have been gearing up for Tabaski, a festival also called Aid el-Kebir or Aid el-Adha, when Senegalese traditionally sacrifice a sheep for a family feast. This year's festival falls next Thursday.

Near Sewekhaye, a livestock town around 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Dakar, Cheikh Ba looked at his flock roaming in a sun-scorched valley dotted with little white-sand dunes.

The 52-year-old is among many herders who had halted there, too fearful of entering the capital.

"Our original destination was Dakar, but we're afraid of losing our animals there because of the protests," said Ba.

Sixteen people died in the three-day unrest, according to the authorities, while Amnesty International puts the toll at 23. The opposition is planning a new unauthorized demonstration in Dakar on Sunday.

"Sheep traders were attacked in Keur Massar," a suburb of Dakar, said Ismaila Sow, an official with the national sheep breeders' Association.

"We have advised farmers to hole up in waiting areas in the countryside and avoid the cities."

In Sewekhaye, seeking shade under acacia trees, straw tents or tarpaulins, herders watched as their animals greedily devoured food from feeders and took water from plastic troughs.

The bush around the town is dotted with the bodies of rotting sheep, many of which have died from stress or dehydration, said El Hadji Diallo Diop, a vet.

Mohamed El Moctar, a Mauritanian herder in his 50s, said he had set off from Aioun, in southeastern Mauritania, on June 9.

He first crossed jihadist-torn Mali, entered Senegal and then chose to stay in Sewekhaye.

"I've lost more than 100 out of 200 sheep since I've arrived," he said.

- Shortfall -

The secretary general of the livestock ministry, Ousmane Mbaye, told AFP that there was a "deficit" of sheep for Dakar as the festival loomed.

Herders are reluctant to bring sheep to Dakar both because of the unrest and also a decline in neighborhood locations where live animals are sold, the authorities say.

Many such spaces have been turned into public parks or are construction sites.

The government keeps a very close eye on sheep numbers as Tabaski approaches.

Its census says, quite precisely, that Senegal currently has 559,215 animals -- more than 18,000 more than this time last year.

But the supply problems caused by the clashes have caused a particular bottleneck for Dakar, where there is a deficit of some 40,000 sheep compared with 2022.

The shortfall has caused prices to surge, leading to a wave of grumbling and official promises to "progressively reduce the gap" before festival day.

Amina Diallo, 62, said she paid 165,000 CFA francs ($280) for a sheep last year.

"This year, people are talking about a price of 200,000 francs. I told my son not to bother buying one if need be," she said.

In the city's rundown district of Grand-Medine, retired teacher Malick Coumba Ndiaye, 80, said he had paid 240,000 francs for a sheep imported from Mali.

"I had no choice. There aren't enough," he said.