Family of comatose Senegalese ask France for medical treatment

Oumar Watt was allegedly beaten up by a French soldier and is now in a coma.

    Oumar Watt, 31 was allegedly attacked by a French soldier outside a nightclub in Dakar, Senegal on September 16 [Photo courtesy Watt's family]
    Oumar Watt, 31 was allegedly attacked by a French soldier outside a nightclub in Dakar, Senegal on September 16 [Photo courtesy Watt's family]

    Dakar, Senegal - A French soldier has been arrested and indicted for an assault that left a Senegalese man in a coma.

    The accused is alleged to have attacked restaurant owner Oumar Watt, 31, outside a nightclub in Dakar on September 16 after Watt stepped in to break up a fight between French soldiers and a friend, whose sister they had reportedly been harassing.

    Eyewitnesses say the soldier threw Watt to the ground before giving him repeated blows to the head. Watt sustained multiple bruises to the brain, according to a medical report seen by Al Jazeera.

    French forces in Senegal initially denied the allegations, claiming the soldiers were victims of a robbery but they have since softened their stance.

    "Senegalese courts are leading the investigation and we have every confidence in them bringing out the truth in this case," said a spokesperson for the French forces in Senegal.

    France has about 350 soldiers in Senegal, its former colony. Seen as a bastion of peace and stability in an otherwise restive region, Senegal has acted as a staging post for French counterterrorism missions deep into the Sahara.

    As with other former French colonies in West Africa, the two countries retain political and economic ties under the terms of what is called "Francafrique". But many feel this relationship has given France the upper-hand over the years, with Senegal having only a semblance of independence.

    'Difficult to see justice'

    Campaigners and the family questioned the extent to which Senegalese authorities will be able to press for full accountability.

    Guy Sagna, coordinator of the Collective of Families and Victims of Police Violence, said military agreements between the two countries would make it "very difficult to see justice", but added mobilising citizens could force the government's hand. 

    For their part, Watt's family have only cautiously welcomed the arrest and called for protests this weekend.

    "We hope there will be justice but we are very pessimistic because they might just be doing this to calm the people," Watt's brother, Ousmane, told Al Jazeera.

    "I will be outside the French embassy until we see justice."

    The family also wrote to French President Emmanuel Macron asking for French authorities to allow Watt to travel to France for medical treatment.

    Seydi Gassama, director of Amnesty International in Senegal, said it would be unlikely that French authorities offer medical help to Oumar "because it would mean recognising that they have done something wrong".

    "I think Senegalese authorities have an interest to let justice be done because Africa is becoming more and more hostile to the French presence," said Gassama.

    "The population is very much hostile and if this kind of incident remains unpunished then it can fuel hate against French soldiers."

    An African renaissance in Senegal?

    Africa... States of Independence

    An African renaissance in Senegal?

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


    Interactive: How does your country vote at the UN?

    Interactive: How does your country vote at the UN?

    We visualised 1.2 million votes at the UN since 1946. What do you think are the biggest issues facing the world today?

    'We were forced out by the government soldiers'

    'We were forced out by the government soldiers'

    We dialled more than 35,000 random phone numbers to paint an accurate picture of displacement across South Sudan.

    Interactive: Plundering Cambodia's forests

    Interactive: Plundering Cambodia's forests

    Meet the man on a mission to take down Cambodia's timber tycoons and expose a rampant illegal cross-border trade.