Democracy is not really one of the ethos of West Africa’s troubled Sahel region, but Senegal’s 2024 presidential election offers a glimmer of hope in a land marred by conflict and unrest.

At 44, Bassirou Diomaye Faye was elected Senegal’s new President — the youngest ever to hold the post — on March 25, barely two weeks after he was released from prison. He beat former Prime Minister and frontrunner Amadou Ba. Mr. Ba was supported by outgoing President Macky Sall, who attempted to postpone the election a few times, leading to mass protests.

Mr. Faye was born in Ndiaganiao, and completed his college education in M’bour, a coastal city in Senegal. A lawyer by degree from Dakar’s Cheikh Anta Diop University, he excelled at his public administration exams and trained at the National School of Administration to be an inspector of taxes and estates.

He met Ousmane Sonko, leader of the Pastef Party, while working as a tax inspector. Pastef was created in 2014, and Mr. Faye started attending bureau meetings before he officially joined the party. His closeness to Mr. Sonko helped, and the party valued not only his ideas but also his loyalty to decisions of the larger group.

Mr. Faye’s journey from prison to the presidency of Senegal is not an ordinary story. He was imprisoned in early 2023 on charges of contempt of court and defaming magistrates. Pastef Party leader Mr. Sonko was also arrested a few months later and was denied permission to contest in the presidential election. Mr. Faye, on the other hand, was not barred and decided to continue to take his party’s aspirations forward. Initially selected as a proxy for Mr. Sonko, Mr. Faye’s popularity among the Senegalese was visible in his short but lively campaign before the elections.

While the Pastef Party was dissolved in 2023, the Diomaye President Coalition received the support of more than 118 parties and movements for the 2024 presidential election.

Backed by Mr. Sonko and his loyal supporters, the Opposition coalition saw the tide turning in its favour after the early count of votes on March 25. By the evening, Senegalese people took to the streets to celebrate Mr. Faye’s victory. Mr. Faye was sworn in on April 2, and he appointed Mr. Sonko as Prime Minister.

Mr. Faye’s election promises focused on Senegal’s youth many of whom take the route of illegal immigration to escape the country’s endemic poverty. In a recent such incident, at least two dozen people died off Senegal’s northern coast and many were injured after their Europe-bound boat capsized in February.

His manifesto touched upon better governance of Senegal’s natural resources. Senegal is rich in oil and gas, and large companies, like BP, have attempted to commercialise fields off the West African shore with little success trickling to locals. Mr. Faye has promised economic sovereignty for the people of Senegal by promoting national private companies as well as opening the economy to multinational corporations. The newly elected President also assured better rule of law in the country, which includes preventing intimidation of opponents and journalists and avoiding arbitrary imprisonment.

A new era

Senegal currently faces widespread youth unemployment, and Mr. Faye promises to deliver on this front. According to Afrobarometer data published in October 2023, three in 10 Senegalese youth are unemployed.

Mr. Faye had also promised to roll back the French-inspired West African CFA Franc currency, but later dropped the plan to instead focus on reforming the West African Monetary Union.

The International Monetary Fund has predicted an acceleration in Senegal’s GDP growth due to start of large hydrocarbon projects, which coincides with the first year of Mr. Faye’s term. Experts are also cautious of how much influence will Mr. Sonko yield over Mr. Faye. Reuters notes Mr. Sonko to be more of an anti-establishment leader, while Mr. Faye is believed to be more austere.


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