Still reeling from a whirlwind campaign, young people in Senegal threw jackets over their worn election T-shirts on Tuesday to attend the inauguration of an opposition politician who went from political prisoner to president in less than three weeks.

Their new leader, Bassirou Diomaye Faye — at 44, Africa’s youngest elected president — took the oath of office promising “systemic change,” and paying homage to the many people killed, injured, and imprisoned in the yearslong lead-up to the West African country’s election.

“I will always keep in mind the heavy sacrifices made so as to never disappoint you,” Mr. Faye said, addressing a vast auditorium in which African heads of state and dignitaries sat at the front. From the back, hundreds of supporters of Mr. Faye and his powerful backer, the opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, shouted for joy.

It was the culmination of months of drama, after the former president, Macky Sall, canceled the election with just weeks to go, citing irregularities at the constitutional council — and then, under intense domestic and international pressure, agreed to hold it after all.

Mr. Sall’s handpicked candidate was resoundingly beaten by Mr. Faye, a tax inspector and political rookie who got more than 54 percent of the vote, despite having only 10 days of freedom in which to campaign. He had been jailed on charges of defamation and contempt of court, and was awaiting trial when Mr. Sall announced the adoption of an amnesty law and was released.

“You’re Senegal’s uncontested and dazzling choice,” said the president of the constitutional council, Mamadou Badio Camara, presiding over the inauguration.

But Mr. Faye was not the only politician that Senegal had effectively endorsed. Mr. Sonko, the man whose support helped get Mr. Faye elected, was sitting in the second row.

“Thank you, Sonko, thank you,” yelled his supporters at key moments in Tuesday’s ceremony.

Mr. Sonko, until now Senegal’s foremost opposition leader, was also in jail until three weeks ago, barred from running for president himself after convictions on charges of defamation and “corruption of youth” in relation to accusations brought by a young massage parlor employee.

When he was released, he immediately went on the campaign trail with Mr. Faye, telling his supporters that a vote for Mr. Faye was a vote for him.

Mr. Faye made no mention in his speech of Mr. Sonko, who cut a low profile in a black hat and tunic. But Mr. Sonko was a constant presence. He hobnobbed with the African presidents who waited for the ceremony to begin in an antechamber of a conference center in Diamniadio, a new city still under construction and a pet project of Mr. Sall.

Then, in the hangar-like room where Mr. Faye would take his oath, Mr. Sonko took his place in the second row, just behind the two first ladies — wives of the polygamous new president. And Mr. Sonko got the biggest cheers of the day, every time his face appeared on the large screens at the front of the auditorium.

Much cheering also rang out for the military president of Guinea, and the representatives of Mali and Burkina Faso, three West African countries whose governments were overthrown in coups in recent years and are now ruled by juntas. The rhetoric of those juntas — focused on sovereignty from France, the former colonial power perceived by many West Africans as continuing to meddle in their affairs — mirrors that of Mr. Sonko and Mr. Faye.

“The youth of Senegal is connecting with the youth of those countries, over these issues of sovereignty,” the president’s uncle, also named Diomaye Faye, said in an interview on Tuesday.

Mr. Faye and Mr. Sonko have pledged to drop or change the terms of the CFA, the regional currency backed by France, and renegotiate Senegal’s contracts with foreign-owned companies to extract newly-discovered oil and gas.

In his speech, Mr. Faye stressed that Senegal would remain open to relations with other countries that are “respectful of our sovereignty, consistent with our people’s aspirations, and in a mutually winning partnership.”

After the swearing-in, a motorcade carried him to the presidential palace. Last week, Mr. Sall had welcomed him and Mr. Sonko, his former arch-rivals, in a stiff but determinedly friendly meeting — official photographs of which were later given to the media.

On Tuesday, Mr. Sall, a two-term president who had served for 12 years, welcomed Mr. Faye once more, who arrived this time with a presidential guard.

After sitting chatting for a while and handing over the important documents, Mr. Sall climbed into a Toyota, pulling out of the palace gates and leaving for good.


Source link