Sheep farmers in Senegal are facing increased instability due to recent unrest in the country.
The violence, triggered by the sentencing of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, has had a detrimental impact on sheep herders as they prepare for an upcoming Muslim festival, which is a crucial time for their business.
The capital city of Dakar witnessed the deadliest clashes in years on June 1, overshadowing Sonko’s aspirations to participate in the 2024 presidential elections.
This crisis has struck the sheep farmers at the most inopportune moment.
In anticipation of Tabaski, also known as Aid el-Kebir or Aid el-Adha, a festival during which Senegalese families traditionally sacrifice sheep for a celebratory feast, farmers have been preparing for months. However, the recent protests have made them hesitant to travel to Dakar, fearing the loss of their animals.
Cheikh Ba, a 52-year-old herder near the town of Sewekhaye, located approximately 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Dakar, expressed his concerns.
He explained that their original plan was “to head to Dakar but the ongoing protests have deterred them from doing so.”
The authorities reported that sixteen people lost their lives during the three-day unrest, while Amnesty International claims the toll to be 23. In response, the opposition plans to hold an unauthorized demonstration in Dakar on Sunday.
Ismaila Sow, an official from the national sheep breeders’ association, stated that sheep traders were attacked in Keur Massar, a suburb of Dakar. Farmers have been advised to seek refuge in rural waiting areas and avoid the cities.
In Sewekhaye, herders found shelter under acacia trees, straw tents, or tarpaulins while observing their animals contentedly consuming food from feeders and drinking water from plastic troughs. Unfortunately, many sheep have perished due to stress and dehydration, leaving their decaying bodies scattered across the nearby bush, as reported by El Hadji Diallo Diop, a veterinarian.
Mohamed El Moctar, a Mauritanian herder in his fifties, shared his plight.
He embarked on his journey from Aioun in southeastern Mauritania on June 9, crossing the conflict-ridden region of Mali before entering Senegal and ultimately choosing to stay in Sewekhaye. However, he has already lost over half of his flock of 200 sheep due to the challenging circumstances.
The secretary general of the livestock ministry, Ousmane Mbaye, informed AFP that there is a “deficit” of sheep for Dakar as the festival approaches. The unrest and the decline in local areas where live animals are sold have discouraged herders from bringing their sheep to Dakar.
“Many of these spaces have been converted into public parks or construction sites.”
As the festival of Tabaski draws near, the government closely monitors the number of sheep available. According to the official census, Senegal currently has 559,215 animals, over 18,000 more than last year. However, the supply issues resulting from the recent clashes have created a significant bottleneck for Dakar, where there is a shortage of approximately 40,000 sheep compared to 2022.
The shortfall has led to a surge in prices, causing widespread dissatisfaction among the public. Official promises have been made to “gradually reduce the gap” before the festival. Amina Diallo, 62, shared her concerns, stating that she paid 165,000 CFA francs ($280) for a sheep last year. However, this year, the price is rumored to be around 200,000 francs, causing her to advise her son against purchasing one if necessary.
In the dilapidated neighborhood of Grand-Medine