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Bassirou Diomaye Faye: Senegal’s new President?

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Senegal’s President-elect Bassirou Diomaye Faye. Forty-four-year-old Faye won the March 24 election with 54.2 percent of the vote, according to the official provisional results from the National Voting Census Commission. He has promised to restore the republic’s institutions, renegotiate mining and energy contracts, and work towards monetary reform, including potentially a new currency. Picture: Demba Gueye

By Tanupriya Singh

Opposition leader Bassirou Diomaye Faye is set to assume the presidency of Senegal after the historic election of March 24.

On March 27, the Court of Appeal of Dakar announced the official provisional results based on data from all polling stations, with 44-year-old Faye securing 54.28 percent of the votes. In second place is former prime minister Amadou Ba, from outgoing president Macky Sall’s ruling Alliance for the Republic (BBY) coalition, with 35.79 percent.

The Constitutional Council will now examine any possible appeals ahead of the validation and official declaration of the final results. 7.3 million people were registered to vote in the elections, which saw a voter turnout of 61.3 percent.

Faye’s victory had been all but confirmed by Monday as initial results showed him with 53.7 percent votes with data from 90 percent of polling stations. Later that day, Ba conceded the election, with both him and Sall congratulating Faye on his victory. Faye will assume the presidency after Sall’s term expires on April 2.

Celebrations had already begun in Senegal as the results began to trickle in on Sunday night, with people taking to the streets to welcome Faye’s projected victory.

Sunday’s election took place against the backdrop of a political crisis in the country that had escalated dramatically since 2021, punctuated by bouts of protests that were met with severe state repression and violence.

From prison to the polls

Macky Sall came to power in Senegal in 2012 and then in 2019 in what would be his second and final term under Senegalese law. However, Sall’s refusal to definitively state whether or not he would seek a third term — after amending the length of presidential term which Sall claimed “reset the clock” — coupled with what was seen as the instrumentalisation of state institutions to target dissenters and opposition fuelled public anger.

Much of this anger coalesced around the arrest of leading opposition figure, 49-year-old Ousmane Sonko, in March 2021. A former tax inspector, Sonko founded the African Patriots of Senegal for Work, Ethics and Fraternity (PASTEF) in 2014, was elected to the National Assembly, and went on to contest the 2019 presidential election – coming third with 16 percent of the vote.

Positioning themselves outside “the system”, Sonko and PASTEF drew huge support among Senegalese youth, addressing long standing issues of unemployment and poverty in a country where a 5 percent economic growth rate has failed to translate into better living conditions for the population.

A former tax inspector, Sonko’s arrest in 2021 triggered five days of massive protests, during which at least 14 people were killed by state forces. His subsequent conviction and sentencing in June 2023 would trigger another round of unrest, with at least 15 people killed.

Sonko was imprisoned at the end of July, amid the imposition of a slew of new charges including “fomenting an insurrection”, and PASTEF was declared dissolved.

In November, PASTEF first announced that it would support Bassirou Diomaye Faye, the party’s secretary-general, as a candidate while continuing to push for Sonko’s bid in the face of legal challenges. Himself a tax inspector, Faye played a central role in PASTEF’s formation, and subsequently in formulating Sonko’s 2019 presidential programme.

However, in April 2023, Faye himself was put under detention over a social media post criticising the proceedings in a defamation case against Sonko. He was accused of “undermining state security”, and faced charges including defamation, contempt of court, and “acts likely to compromise public peace”.

Despite this, and even as Faye remained in prison, his candidacy was accepted by the Constitutional Council, placing him among 19 other candidates vying for the presidency. The continuity between Sonko and Faye’s political project was reinforced by the phrase “Diomaye moy Sonko, Sonko moy Diomaye” (Diomaye is Sonko, Sonko is Diomaye).

On the eve of the start of the campaigning period, Sall announced the postponement of elections, triggering another round of protests in which at least three people, including a 16-year- old child, were killed by state forces.

Sall’s “constitutional coup” was ultimately thwarted by the Constitutional Council, as the Senegalese people and civil society groups firmly rejected any attempts to postpone the election.

Meanwhile, in a gesture of appeasement, the Sall administration fast-tracked a general amnesty law, covering “all acts likely to be classified as criminal or correctional offences committed between February 1, 2021, and February 25, 2024, both in Senegal and abroad, relating to demonstrations or having political motivations”.

The move was condemned as a way of ensuring impunity for those responsible for the killings of protesters between 2021 and 2024. For the families of the over 1,000 people imprisoned during this period, the demand was for unconditional release and not the granting of “amnesty”.

Nevertheless, on March 14, ten days before the election, Faye and Sonko were finally released from the Cape Manuel prison, with celebrations held in the streets of Dakar.

A chance for change?

Speaking at his first press conference after the results on Monday, Faye said, “Senegalese people have chosen a break [or rupture] with the past to give substance to the immense hope that our social project has raised.”

Faye pledged to “govern with humility and transparency, to fight corruption at all levels, and to devote myself fully to rebuilding our institutions and strengthening the foundations of our way of life together” and ensuring “national reconciliation”.

Sunday’s election marked for people a chance for a “radical change” and a “vote of sanction” against the prevailing regime. Expectations will be high for the ability of the incoming Faye-led administration’s social and economic agenda to deliver on their promises to the country’s youth.

Faye has promised the “rehabilitation of the institutions of the Republic” and the “restoration of the rule of law” and to address “hyper-presidentialism” which has led to a “stranglehold of the executive over the legislative and judicial power”. To this end, the campaign has proposed political reforms to place limits on presidential powers, including through the creation of a post of vice-president.

On the economic front, Faye has pledged to renegotiate mining and energy contracts signed by the Senegalese government, to maximise revenues from oil production and to “make the mining industry an important lever of our socio-economic development”.

This will be important in a country otherwise deemed “investor friendly”, and most crucially, just as Senegal is set to begin oil and gas production later this year.

Faye told Reuters that commitments made with external partners would be “respected”. He stated during his Monday press conference that Senegal would be a “friendly country and the reliable ally of any partner who engages with us in virtuous, respectful and mutually productive cooperation”.

In a country whose presidents have held close ties with France, the former coloniser, Faye’s electoral campaign also outlined plans for a new national currency, breaking away from the neocolonial CFA Franc which is in use by 14 African countries and is pegged to France’s currency (the Euro), historically accruing immense benefits to the French state and its corporations.

“Convinced that full independence cannot be achieved without controlling the economy, livestock management, fisheries and agriculture, we are fully committed to achieving food, digital, fiscal, energy and scientific sovereignty,” Faye had said in an introductory statement.

“Senegal has built up a formidable relationship with France, despite a painful beginning marked by slavery and colonisation. This must not be allowed to continue in a neo-colonialism that keeps us dependent on France,” Faye had told Le Monde.

A few days later, the campaign stated that it would first try to attempt monetary reform at the sub-regional level, with the West African Monetary Union (WAEMU). However, if those efforts were to fail, Senegal would proceed alone.

Meanwhile, during Monday’s press conference, Faye appealed to “our African brothers and sisters to work together to consolidate the gains made in the process of building Ecowas integration, while correcting weaknesses and changing certain methods, strategies and political priorities”.

The incoming president has also announced plans to review Senegal’s fishing agreements, including under the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) signed with the European Union. Sonko himself has been a sharp critic of the EPAs, warning that the open border and no customs policies under the agreement would work to the detriment to the development of Senegal’s own key sectors.

While it remains to be seen what shape these changes and renegotiations will take, these conversations are taking place within a broader process in Senegal, including the “France Dégage” (France get out) campaign of the Front for an Anti-Imperialist Popular and Pan-African Revolution (FRAPP) which has mobilised against France’s neocolonial hold on Senegal to push for issues of economic and political sovereignty, all in the face of repression and arrests.

“The people are fed up with the neocolonial system, of its economic, social and political failure. We are fed up with the IMF and World Bank dictating economic and social policies that have failed and have brought misery on our people …

“The issue of recovering our sovereignty is at the top of our agenda,” Demba Moussa Dembélé, the director of the Forum for African Alternatives in Dakar had told Peoples Dispatch ahead of the elections.

Tanupriya Singh is a writer at Peoples Dispatch and is based in Delhi

This article was first published on Peoples Dispatch