Senegal prepares to swear in former opposition figure as new president

AP , Tuesday 2 Apr 2024

Senegal prepared to inaugurate Bassirou Diomaye Faye as its new president on Tuesday, completing the previously little-known opposition figure's dramatic ascent from prison to the palace in recent weeks.

Bassirou Diomaye Faye holds a press conference after winning the presidential elections in Dakar, Se
Bassirou Diomaye Faye holds a press conference after winning the presidential elections in Dakar, Senegal. AP


Faye was released from prison less than two weeks before the March 24 election, along with popular opposition figure Ousmane Sonko, who backed him, following a political amnesty announced by the outgoing president. It will be the former tax inspector's first time in elected office.

Presidents from across West Africa and representatives from the U.S. and Europe are attending Tuesday's ceremony.

Faye, 44, campaigned on promises to clean up corruption and better manage the country's natural resources. His victory was seen as reflecting the will of young people frustrated with widespread unemployment and former colonial ruler France, seen by critics to be using its relationship with Senegal to enrich itself.

In his first speech as president-elect, Faye promised to fight corruption and reform the economy. Sonko, who is expected to have a prominent role in the new administration, named Faye to run in his place after being barred from the election for a prior conviction.

“I think the first challenge is the formation of his government,” said Alioune Tine, founder of the Senegalese think tank Afrikajom Center. “This will be the first concrete message he sends to the Senegalese people. The size, diversity, and profiles will be analyzed with a fine-tooth comb, to see if they meet the demand for a break with the past.”

The election tested Senegal’s reputation as a stable democracy in a region that has experienced coups and attempted coups.

It followed months of unrest ignited by the arrests last year of Sonko and Faye, and concerns that the president would seek a third term in office despite constitutional term limits. Rights groups said dozens were killed in the protests and about 1,000 people were jailed.

Faye was arrested for alleged defamation last year, while Sonko faced several charges, including a prolonged legal battle that started when he was accused of rape in 2021. He was acquitted of the rape charges but was convicted of corrupting youth and sentenced to two years in prison last summer. He was later disqualified from the ballot over a six-month suspended sentence following a different conviction on defamation charges.

Sonko’s supporters say his legal troubles were part of a government effort to derail his candidacy.

While Sall eventually ruled out running for a third term, he then abruptly postponed the election in February with only weeks to go, triggering another wave of protests. That move was blocked by the country’s constitutional court and the election was eventually held weeks later in March.

Sall has since called the outcome of the vote — which handed power to anti-establishment candidate Faye over his former prime minister, Amadou Ba — a victory for democracy.

Faye comes from a small town in central Senegal. He is a practicing Muslim and has two wives. Ahead of the election, he released a declaration of his assets and called on other candidates to do the same. It listed a home in Dakar and land outside the capital and in his hometown. His bank accounts totaled roughly $6,600.

Short link: