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Senegal’s youngest president, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, sworn in vows systemic change, sovereignty

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Faye was sworn in on April 2, 2024, as Senegal's youngest president after achieving a first-round election victory on a pledge of reform days after he was released from prison. [John Wessels/AFP]

Left-wing pan-Africanist Bassirou Diomaye Faye on Tuesday became Senegal’s youngest president, pledging systemic change, greater sovereignty and calm after years of deadly turmoil.

The 44-year-old, who has never before held an elected office, swept to a first-round victory on a promise of radical reform just 10 days after being released from prison.

Faye took the presidential oath in front of hundreds of officials and several African heads of state at an exhibition centre in the new town of Diamniadio, near Dakar.

He then returned to the capital, with his motorcade greeted by hundreds of jubilant residents who lined the roads leading to the presidential palace.

His predecessor, Macky Sall, symbolically handed Faye the key to the presidential headquarters before leaving the palace.

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“Before God and the Senegalese nation, I swear to faithfully fulfil the office of President of the Republic of Senegal,” Faye had said earlier in the day.

The former tax inspector becomes Senegal’s fifth president since independence from France in 1960 and the first to openly admit to a polygamous marriage.

“I am aware that the results of the ballot box express a profound desire for systemic change,” Faye said in a brief speech after taking the presidential oath.

“Under my leadership, Senegal will be a country of hope, a peaceful country with an independent

judiciary and a strengthened democracy,” he added.

Faye was among a group of political opponents freed from prison 10 days before the March 24 presidential ballot under an amnesty announced by former president Macky Sall, who had tried to delay the vote.

“I will always bear in mind the heavy sacrifices made in order never to disappoint you,” he added.

Faye said he clearly heard the “aspiration for greater sovereignty, development and well-being” in Africa and re-iterated to foreign partners “Senegal’s openness to trade that respects our sovereignty and meets the aspirations of our people, in a mutually beneficial partnership”.

Commonly known as Diomaye, or “the honourable one”, his promise of radical change won the election with 54.3 percent of the vote.

– Reconciliation, sovereignty –
Working with his populist mentor Ousmane Sonko, who was barred from the election, Faye had set out his priorities of national reconciliation, easing a cost-of-living crisis and fighting corruption.

On the campaign trail, he had vowed to restore national sovereignty over key assets such as the oil, gas and fishing sectors.

Senegal is due to start hydrocarbon production later this year.

Faye also wants to replace the CFA franc, which he sees as a French colonial legacy, with a new common regional currency, and to invest more in agriculture with the aim of reaching food self-sufficiency.

After three tense years in the traditionally stable nation, his democratic victory has been hailed from Washington to Paris, via the African Union and the European Union.

On the international stage, Faye seeks to bring military-run Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger back into the fold of the regional Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) bloc.

On Tuesday, he urged “more solidarity” between African countries “in the face of security challenges”.

– New generation of politicians –
A practising Muslim from a humble background with two wives and four children, Faye represents a new generation of youthful politicians.

He has voiced admiration for US ex-president Barack Obama and South African anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela.

However, Faye and the government he will shortly unveil face major challenges.

He does not have a majority in the National Assembly and will have to build alliances to pass new laws, or call legislative elections, which will become an option from mid-November.

The biggest challenge appears to be creating enough jobs in a nation where 75 percent of the 18-million population is aged under 35 and the unemployment rate is officially 20 percent.

Many youths have considered the future so bleak they have risked their lives to join the waves of migrants trying to reach Europe.

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