Abdoulaye Wade, Senegal’s exiled former president has made a controversial homecoming with security forces on high alert, two years after he lost office in an election marred by violent protests.
Wade, 87, who held power from 2000 to 2012, landed in Dakar late on Friday, his first time in the West African nation since he moved to France, Senegal’s former colonial master, after a bitter defeat to arch rival and current leader Macky Sall.
His return – a show of support for his son Karim, who is in custody on multi-million-dollar corruption charges – had been delayed by more than 48 hours after his flight was grounded in Casablanca on Wednesday.
Wade has accused Sall’s government of “manoeuvring” against him by deliberately withholding permission for him to land in Dakar in an attempt to disperse the supporters who had planned to welcome him on his arrival.
“I understood a long time ago that Macky Sall did not want this day to happen,” he told AFP news agency in Casablanca on Thursday.
Wade finally left Morocco’s largest city in the early evening on a private jet which landed in Dakar around three hours later.
Senegal has denied that it was behind the delay, with government spokesman Abdou Latif Coulibaly pointing to last-minute modifications to the flight plan which meant new permits were required.
Wade had been expected earlier in the day, and his Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS) was planning a march from the airport to its headquarters on his arrival.
But the area around the airport was sealed off by police and only a few senior PDS officials were allowed to welcome Wade.
The former head of state was due to deliver a speech at a rally to be staged in defiance of a ban by the authorities at the party headquarters, where a large crowd of supporters had been gathering for several hours, surrounded by riot police.
The announcement of Wade’s return has dominated headlines since the start of the week, with daily newspaper Le Populaire splashing on “A Friday heavy with menace”.
‘State of high-alert’
The media meanwhile described security forces as being in a “state of high-alert” over the visit.
Anti-riot police with shields, helmets and batons, have been deployed across Dakar since Wednesday, with protests banned over fears of “public disorder”.
Wade has said that he will respect Senegalese security measures and does not intend to destabilise the Sall government, but he has also vowed to press on with his outlawed party meeting.
“I’m not a man to start a coup d’etat, not at my age… I have the fortune of being able to control my activists and supporters,” he told Paris-based television news channel France 24 on Thursday.
“They do what I tell them to. If I said ‘go to the palace’ they would. But if I wanted that, I could make it happen without even coming to Dakar.”
Wade’s son Karim, 45, whose wealth includes land in Dakar, a fleet of luxury cars and media and finance companies operating across Africa, has been on remand in Dakar for a year and is due to be tried in June.
Senegalese authorities accuse him of using corrupt means to acquire a fortune of $246m when he was a so-called “super minister” in his father’s cabinet.
The younger Wade denies corruption and says his wealth comes legitimately from the companies he owns as well as real estate.
The PDS accuses the Sall regime of conducting a “witch hunt” against its hierarchy since he came to power.