Bocar Dieng works at Walfdjri, the oldest media group in Senegal, which everybody calls 'Walf'. He lives in Fatick, a small village of 20,000 residents, situated 130 kilometres east of Dakar. On election day, February 26 2012, he went to all the different polling stations in the village to follow the voting process.
In the evening he came back to work to report the results to Walf TV and daily newspaper. Dieng was one of fifty reporters dispatched throughout Senegal to do the same job that day.
Is there fraud at the polling stations?
Something strange was brewing in Fatick. There were reports that someone had brought Haitian students from Dakar to cast their ballots in the village. It goes without saying that this is not allowed and the students should not have voting cards. The students didn’t speak the local language, begging the question 'what are they doing here?'
The rumour refused to subside and the people and the press kept talking about it. “I interviewed a civil society member who was observing the polls and asked him to monitor the vote closely,” said Bocar Dieng.
He left the poling station in the afternoon along with the other journalists in Fatick after they took queries of the population.
He went back home riding a bike. On the way, two women stopped him to tell him that they placed high hopes on the role of media. “You journalists, you are the only party that can help us have transparent elections,” they said. “No problem,” replied Bocar, adding “anyway, we have the information and we are getting more vigilant.”
His phone rang just as he came into his house. It was Walf . "Nothing special?" asked the editor-in-chief. "The vote went smoothly but there are some news spreading among people. There is a few Haitian students coming to the polls," Bocar told his editor.
Physical assaults and death threats
Tasked to verify this piece of news, Bocar took his place behind his desk, in a corner of his living room, and began writing his article. This is when Sitor Ndour, director of the Centre of University Works of Dakar (COUD), came in. He is also the local officer of the coalition of Allied Forces for Victory which fielded Abdoulaye Wade as candidate. Dieng extended a hand. “I recognised him right away but didn’t know what he wanted from me" he later told us.
Six thugs were following him closely. He addressed Bocar in a threatening tone. “You are kidding me, are you the one talking about the arrival of the Haitians?”. The journalist agreed, unleashing hostilities. Sitor Ndour was the first to hit him, followed by the other six thugs. They are all former wrestlers and really huge.
“Thank God, I had some training in martial arts and was able to dodge the assailants’ punches,” relayed Bocar. He managed to protect part of his face but his left eye was severely damaged.
The attack lasted "between six and ten minutes" and one of the assailants hid a machete under his pants which Bocar had to avoid no matter what.
The seven guys finally went away, leaving behind a computer and a cupboard broken during the fight. Bocar was taken to hospital. The night following the attack, his children stayed up fearing not to see their father alive again.
Bocar Dieng received death threats over the next days. On March 28, he received this anonymous call. "We will kill you, we are just waiting for the run-off.” The next day, the same voice came threatening him over the phone. "It’s me, I tell you that I’m here to kill you.” Following these calls, Bocar asked the police to identify the caller.
Legally the story should stay in the hands of media
The story of this journalist received extensive coverage by national media and he considers taking the issue to court very soon. He enjoys the support of his own Walfdjri press group, and the SYNPICS (News and Communication Professionals Union of Senegal) has decided to take Ndour to court for Dieng.
Sitor Ndour told the Senegalese News Agency (APS) his side of the story. "He admitted that he entered Bocar’s house but denied having attacked him.”
Yet six members of Sitor Ndour’s family came to see Bocar asking for pardon on Sitor’s behalf. The next day, his parents visited Bocar’s mother expressing “regret”, which she refused to accept.
“The fight is no more mine, it is now in the hands of the media” says Bocar who doesn’t have to worry anymore about his life. “If I have to do it again, I’ll do it exactly the same way.”
This interview was compliled by Victoria Baux, a DCMF reporter who recently covered the media's role in Senegal during the 2012 elections.