The wind of change in Senegal

At least, everyone now knows him. Bassirou Diomaye Faye was on Tuesday, April 2, 2024, inaugurated as Senegalese president. Precisely the fifth, since the West African nation’s independence from its colonial master – France – in 1960.

Faye, an erstwhile tax inspector, defeated Amadou Ba, candidate of the immediate-past President Macky Sall’s ruling coalition. He won with a landslide in the first round of voting.

Even though Faye had never held an elected office, he still swept to a resounding victory in the epic presidential poll, just 10 days after being released from prison.

The 44 year-old president got 54 percent votes to Ba’s 32 percent, during the historic election. In 2022, Faye campaigned to become the mayor of Ndiaganiao but lost. When the results of the recent Senegalese election were announced, Faye’s father, Mr. Samba, spoke about the resilience of his son to achieve what he sets out to achieve.

“Overcoming adversity and failure made him (Faye) a success,” Faye’s father said. The new Senegalese leader has already promised to defend “the integrity of the (Senegalese) territory and national independence”. He said he will also spare no effort to achieve African unity.

“The results of the election showed a profound desire for change. Senegal will be a country of hope, at peace, with an independent justice system and a stronger democracy,” Faye said after taking the oath of office, penultimate Tuesday.

Faye, as Senegal and Africa’s youngest president, was hitherto not well known, as a politician, in his dear country. Surprisingly, he completed a dramatic voyage from prison to the Senegalese presidency, in just weeks.

Following a political amnesty announced by his immediate predecessor, Faye, along with a popular Senegalese opposition figure, Ousmane Sonko, were released from prison less than two weeks before the country’s general election.

As a matter of fact, Faye was unknown until Sonko, who came third in the previous election in 2019, named him to run in his place after being barred from the election. He (Faye) was arrested for alleged defamation last year, while Sonko faced a number of charges, including a prolonged legal battle that started when he was accused of rape, in 2021.

During his electioneering, President Faye promised to tackle corruption and prudently manage Senegal’s natural resources. On the campaign trail, he had vowed to restore national sovereignty over key assets such as the oil, gas and fishing sectors of Senegal.

Faye wants to leave the regional CFA franc currency, which he sees as a legacy of French colonialism, and invest more in agriculture with the aim of achieving food security for Senegal.

His victory, small wonder, was seen as reflecting the will of young Senegalese who are frustrated by unemployment. In a victory speech after he was announced as president-elect, Faye, also known as Diomaye (The Honourable One), promised to reform Senegal’s economy.

He also pledged national reconciliation, while tackling the high cost of living in his country. A devout Muslim, Faye has two wives. He is the first Senegalese president to admit to a polygamous marriage. Ahead of his country’s latest presidential election, the youngest African leader released a declaration of his assets to show transparency. He also called on other candidates to do the same.

Among his assets are a home in Dakar and land outside the capital, together with another land in his hometown. In his bank accounts is a meagre $6,600. “I am aware that the results of the ballot box express a profound desire for systemic change,” President Faye said while assuming office, but noted that, “Under my leadership, Senegal will be a country of hope, a peaceful country with an independent judiciary and a strengthened democracy.

“I have painful memories of the martyrs of Senegalese democracy, the amputees, the wounded and the former prisoners. I will always bear in mind the heavy sacrifices made in order not to disappoint you”.

Faye assured foreign partners of “Senegal’s openness to trade that respects our sovereignty and meets the aspirations of our people, in a mutually beneficial partnership”. He also urged “more solidarity” between African countries “in the face of security challenges”.

Again, President Faye has since announced the audit of Senegal’s oil, gas and mining sectors, assuring that investors are welcome in the country. He said: “The exploitation of our natural resources, which according to the constitution belong to the people, will receive particular attention from my government.

“I will proceed with the disclosure of the effective ownership of extractive companies (and) with an audit of the mining, oil, and gas sector. Investor rights will always be protected, as well as the interests of the state and the people.”

Indeed, Faye, who deeply admires Barrack Obama, a former US president; and Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s anti-apartheid hero; represents a new generation of youthful leaders in Africa.

However, he will have to contend with some challenges as his government hits the ground running. Since he does not have a majority in Senegal’s federal parliament, Faye will need to build alliances to facilitate the passing of his executive laws. But the biggest problem is creating enough jobs in a nation where 75% of the 18 million population is under 35, and the unemployment rate is officially 20%.

Considering their future as bleak, many young Senegalese endangered their lives in the process of fleeing to Europe. Faye, who is now fully in charge must not disappoint his people. He should strive to fulfill all his campaign promises. Unlike our leaders, he should resist the urge to always blame his predecessors for the country’s rot.

President Faye should not forget that he campaigned to fix the decaying system. His government should design and implement, only policies, that will better the lives of teeming Senegalese, while also improving the West Africa nation’s economy.

Faye, must ensure that he offers service leadership, so that his people don’t become disenchanted with his government and revolt against it – when Senegal holds its next presidential election in 2030. Let him learn from the fate of soccer legend, George Weah, who was denied a second term over poor performance in office, barely six years after he was overwhelmingly voted into power as Liberia’s president.

Mahmud is the Deputy Editor of PRNigeria, and wrote in via: [email protected].