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Senegal Swears in Former Opposition Figure Bassirou Diomaye Faye as President

Senegal installed Bassirou Diomaye Faye as its new president on Tuesday, capping the hitherto unknown opposition figure’s extraordinary rise from prison to the palace in recent weeks.

Faye was released from prison less than two weeks before the March 24 election, along with popular opposition figure and mentor Ousmane Sonko, as part of outgoing President Macky Sall’s political amnesty announcement. This is the former tax inspector’s first time in political office.

“It’s the culmination of a long struggle for democracy and the rule of law,” said Aissata Sagna, a 39-year-old factory worker who helped with Faye’s campaign. “This is a day of celebration for us, even if we have lost young people killed during the demonstrations.”

 

 

The election put Senegal’s image as a stable democracy in West Africa to the test, as the region has seen coups and attempted coups. It followed months of turmoil sparked by Sonko and Faye’s arrests last year, as well as suspicions that the president will seek a third term despite constitutional term restrictions. According to rights groups, dozens of people were killed during the protests, and approximately 1,000 were imprisoned.

Faye, 44, campaigned on promises to combat corruption and better manage the country’s natural riches. His win was viewed as representing the desire of young people dissatisfied with chronic unemployment, as well as the former colonial master France, which critics saw as exploiting its ties with Senegal for profit.

Such frustrations are typical in many African countries, which have the world’s youngest population and a number of leaders who have held power for decades.

Faye promised to fight corruption and reform the economy in his first address as president-elect.

Faye is a practicing Muslim from a tiny village with two wives, both of whom were present on Tuesday. Before the election, he released a statement of his assets to demonstrate transparency and urged other candidates to do the same. It mentioned a Dakar residence as well as land outside of the capital and in his hometown. His bank accounts totaled approximately $6,600.

“I believe the first challenge is the formation of his (Faye’s) government,” said Alioune Tine, the founder of Senegalese research tank Afrikajom Center. “This will be his first concrete message to the Senegalese people.” The size, diversity, and profiles will be meticulously examined to determine whether they fit the demand for a break from the past.”

The incoming president was barely known until Sonko, a popular opposition politician who finished third in the previous election in 2019, selected him to run in his stead after being prevented from running due to a prior conviction. Sonko’s future role in the incoming administration is unclear, but he is likely to play a significant role.

Faye was detained last year for alleged slander, while Sonko faced other charges, including a lengthy legal struggle that began in 2021 when he was accused of rape. He was acquitted of rape allegations, but was found guilty of corrupting youth and sentenced to two years in prison last summer. Sonko’s supporters claim that his legal difficulties were part of a government attempt to torpedo his candidacy.

While Sall eventually decided against running for a third term, he abruptly postponed the election in February with only weeks to go, sparking another wave of demonstrations. The country’s constitutional court halted the move, and the election was held several weeks later in March.

Written by PH

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