There is a key figure, 480. It becomes a heavy slab when it ceases to be a number and becomes a number of deaths, that of those who have lost their lives in a short period of time off the coasts of Senegal and Mauritania due to to shipwrecks of cayucos trying to reach the Canary Islands. Those 480 deaths have unleashed the outrage of Senegalese society, especially among the youngest, who have found in social networks a new way to address migration, channel their demands and convey their demands. Despite the proximity of the entire migration process, a good part of the phenomenon is shrouded in silences, taboos and understood. The weight of young people who disappeared at sea, in the desert and, even in destination countries, has blown up the seams of these conventions. Facebook, Instagram and, above all, Twitter have been the spaces in which a debate has been triggered with new conditions.
The crisis began to develop on October 30 when Senegalese authorities denied the death toll of 140 that sources from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) had attributed to the sinking of a canoe off the Senegalese city of Saint-Louis, near the border with Mauritania. It was, according to the international agency, of the deadliest shipwreck of the year, and it had occurred on October 24, after apparently a fire broke out and the engine exploded in a canoe that had left the town of Mbour and was trying to reach the Canary Islands. The Senegalese authorities confirmed the event, but only recognized that the Navy of the African country, the Civil Guard patrol boats and the fishermen who fish in the area had rescued 59 people and had recovered 20 bodies. IOM investigations claimed that the vessel departed with 200 passengers and Senegalese authorities insisted the figure was unfounded. However, the possibility that 140 young people had perished at sea began to fuel outrage. Social networks hosted the first complaints, while other canoe accidents became known in a short period of time.
Many users used social networks as a space for expression and shared their sadness and outrage at the loss of lives and also their denunciation of the government’s silence. And in the middle of the posts, on November 5, a young Senegalese American, Bambi Sow, shared a tweet with a series of slides explaining the latest shipwrecks and using the tag #WhatshappeninginSenegal (what is happening in Senegal), the first attempt to agglutinate that indignation by referring to the blanket of silence that was covering the incidents.
This spontaneous initiative had a certain following. “I have realized”, explains Sow from New York, “that many of my compatriots are dying, but neither the Government nor the media are enthusiastic about the idea of explaining these events. Social networks are the most effective channel we have to make our voice heard and I thought it was a way to attract the attention of the international community to what is happening ”.
In her first messages, the 24-year-old – who is studying a master’s degree in diplomacy and health – also broadcast videos recorded in the first person by passengers of some cayucos (not the injured ones) who were trying to reach the Canary Islands, including one in the that you saw a group of passengers on the boat and then with their frustrated goals after being intercepted in what is, according to the narrator himself, a Mauritanian beach. “I think people are more willing to spread a cause if they can put a face on it. I wanted to share those videos because they were shocking and because we need the world to see why and to what extent Senegalese are desperate to leave our country and try to find better economic conditions for their families, ”explains Bambi Sow.
By chance, while the networks mobilized around the issue of migration and the responsibilities of the State in the lack of prospects for young Senegalese, the president of the country decided to congratulate the winner of the elections in the United States. Macky Sall’s message applauding the victory of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris quickly became the target of criticism. Both in the responses to that publication and in many of the mentions, the Senegalese users reproached their president for caring more about what was happening on the other side of the ocean than about the drama that hundreds of families in their own country were experiencing. . The response to this message is a clear example of the level of tension that has been generated in Senegalese society.
After that first initiative, which had a considerable response, some of the participants proposed to simplify the label to try to increase its impact. And that’s how part of that activity moved to #Senegalimmigration, continuing with the criticisms of the leaders and messages of support for the families of the disappeared. From very early on, the publications on social networks have focused on the origin of this desire to migrate on the high unemployment rate and, more particularly, on the reduction of catches of Senegalese fishermen linked to international fishing contracts.
The consensus of network users has finished being achieved when this concern has crystallized into #DeuilNationalSN Y #LeSenegalEnDeuil. The campaign proposes to counteract what they consider the silence and inaction of the authorities by calling for a day of national mourning on social networks on Friday, November 13, which includes different actions to pay tribute to the victims and even a minute of digital silence . This initiative has indeed been shared by some of the users with the greatest impact on Senegalese networks, both in the field of digital activism and in that of culture. Featured hip-hop names, like Xuman; youtubers famous like Dudu fait des videos or Fisha Senegal and even politicians like the leader of the opposition Ousmane Sonko or the socialist deputy Barthelemy Dias They have given their support to the call.
Beyond the specific demonstrations, in recent weeks there has been an unusual debate on social media in Senegal. It is true that in recent years awareness-raising actions have been multiplied to prevent the death of young people in the complicated journey and, above all, trying to contrast the myths about the benefits of these migratory processes, often idealized by the obligation of the social success and transmit the most real conditions of those experiences. For Jaly badiane, a Senegalese digital social activist “there has always been debate, but this time, with the help of social networks it has been amplified.” Badiane herself has been challenged by the action. He lives in Mbour, one of the departure locations for some of the wrecked boats and confesses that he knows some of the missing. “On this occasion”, he adds, “there have been many victims in a short time and the outrage of the citizens has increased due to the silence of the authorities, above all, due to the silence of the president.”
The role that the networks have played in this latest crisis seems undeniable and the discussion generated in the digital space has jumped to the media through newspapers Y TV channels private. “I believe that access to the Internet and social platforms has created a new space for discussion for Senegalese who feel free to touch on issues that interest them and that are not always debated. There is no doubt that in addition to discussing it, social networks have allowed many people to mobilize around the issue of clandestine migration, ”says Jaly Badiane. These same social platforms also allow us to see the migratory process from an approach that is rarely accessed, that of the migrants themselves at the time of travel, from inside the canoes, thanks to the videos they share in the same social networks.