From prisoner to president in 20 days, Senegal's Diomey Faye takes over

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Dakar, Senegal – “Lastly, we are able to breathe,” stated a cashier on the American Meals Retailer grocery store in Dakar, swiping a pot of Greek yogurt throughout checkout.

Three days into Senegal's contested presidential election on March 24 – the day provisional outcomes have been introduced – and it looks like one thing has modified: the election of opposition candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye introduced a brand new vigor for democracy.

The 44-year-old was sworn in on Tuesday after years of political turmoil amid fears that outgoing President Macky Sall – already in energy for 12 years – would attempt to prolong his mandate into a 3rd time period.

The nation remained below rigidity for a number of months.

However after a stormy election cycle and final week's landslide victory for a younger, anti-establishment candidate who was in jail simply 20 days in the past, there may be now a transparent sense amongst Senegalese that change has come.

'Vote towards the system'

On election day, voters started arriving at daybreak, hours earlier than polling stations opened.

Contained in the playground of Nafissatou Niang Elementary College in Dakar, one of many polling stations, voters in flamboyant boubou robes, older males with newspapers in hand and younger folks sporting pretend Baleniaga T-shirts stood in queues, all silently Had been standing.

A drone view of individuals queuing to vote at a polling station in Ndiagniao, Mbaur, Senegal (File: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)

Amongst them was Julia Sagna, 37, who stated she was decided to make use of her vote to struggle again.

Wearing a grey energy swimsuit, she stood quietly and was a bit nervous as she had by no means voted earlier than. She stated she by no means wished it to occur till she felt it actually mattered. This time, he was positive: “New, younger voters will vote towards the system,” he stated.

Popping out of the polling sales space with a smile, she waved her little finger dipped in ink to point that she had voted. “I really feel fortunate to take part,” she stated.

The delayed voting ought to have taken place in February. However days earlier than the marketing campaign started, Sall postponed the election for the primary time in Senegal's historical past, and accused constitutional judges making ready the candidate lists of corruption. Critics noticed this as Sall's final try to hold on to energy.

However the Constitutional Council rejected the choice and ordered Sall to carry elections earlier than the tip of his time period on April 2.

So on March 24, 66 p.c of the seven million Senegalese eligible to vote went to the polls – a excessive turnout for a high-risk election.

Arrested, then launched

On the Medina polling station in downtown Dakar, massive crowds gathered close to the poll bins, some looking for justice, some looking for revenge.

Sall's final 12 years in workplace have been overshadowed by political turmoil. In 2020, COVID-19 restrictions severely affected the casual financial system and folks's livelihoods. The next 12 months, an tried arrest of opposition chief Ousmane Sonko sparked widespread anger on the authorities, which was accused of ignoring the struggles of strange folks in favor of cracking down on political opponents.

Riots broke out and clashes turned lethal.

A whole lot of individuals have been killed and a whole bunch extra injured by armed, masked males. The opposition and civil society noticed them as goons appointed by the ruling get together, who acted with impunity and have been paid to harm folks.

senegal protests
The tried arrest of opposition chief Ousmane Sonko ignited protests towards the federal government in 2021 (File: Aliu Mbaye/EPA-EFE)

1000’s of individuals have been arrested from March 2021 to February this 12 months – amongst them Bassirou Diomaye Fay.

The previous tax inspector had protested by writing a publish on Fb in February 2023, which accused magistrates of being within the pocket of the state whereas ignoring actual crimes. The authorities thought of this publish a menace to the safety of the state and subsequently deemed it unlawful.

That April, Faye was arrested and despatched to jail, the place he remained for 11 months earlier than being launched simply earlier than the earlier month's vote.

On the time of his arrest, Faye was working for Sonko, who was additionally a tax inspector. He was the pinnacle of a union of tax workplace staff troubled by injustice and inequalities within the tax division.

In 2014, Sonko, a flamboyant man with a mushy accent and a pointy tongue, created the political get together PASTEF (African Patriots of Senegal for Work, Ethics and Fraternity). The get together attracted center administration civil servants, who felt annoyed and powerless after seeing their superiors steal cash and take bribes with impunity.

Sonko got here to prominence in 2014 by denouncing corruption in profitable oil and gasoline area contracts following the invention of pure gasoline reserves. In 2023, he was arrested on prices together with inciting revolt, conspiring with “terrorist teams”, endangering the safety of the state. Immoral habits in direction of individuals below 21 years of age.

Shortly afterwards the federal government banned his get together.

Osman Sonko
Ousmane Sonko was arrested and jailed in 2023 (File: Seylou/AFP)

In 2018, Al Jazeera met Sonko in a small rented home overlooking a busy freeway. In the course of the interview, he fiercely attacked the federal government's then-new legislation to manage social media.

Little did he know then that the legislation handed in 2018 can be used 5 years later to arrest Faye, his deputy and future President of Senegal.

On 6 March, 18 days earlier than the elections, SAIL handed an amnesty invoice authorised by the Parliament to launch and pardon all these concerned in crimes throughout the political violence that occurred from 2021 to 2024.

Rights teams criticized the amnesty legislation, seeing it as a canopy to guard mercenaries concerned in safety forces and police brutality and the killing of protesters – crimes that may now not be investigated and, subsequently, not punished. Will go.

However the amnesty additionally secured the discharge of Sonko and Faye, who have been freed lower than two weeks earlier than the election, reviving his presidential marketing campaign.

Ruling get together candidate Amadou Ba could have had the assistance of dozens of PR firms, however for a lot of Senegalese, his message appeared fully detached to the aspirations of the younger majority, who wished change quite than extra.

Ba disillusioned the media by arriving late to his conferences or not displaying up in any respect. Regardless of being the candidate of the ruling get together, SAIL was additionally by no means seen of their favor.

Supporters of presidential candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye take part in a final campaign rally before the presidential election in Mbour, Senegal, on Friday, March 22.
Faye's supporters participate in a closing marketing campaign rally in Mbour, Senegal, earlier than the presidential election (File: Mosab Elshamy/AP)

'Diomaye sonko hai'

In the meantime, Faye and Sonko current a present. They have been touring throughout the nation, surrounded by bodyguards and warding off frenzied crowds of kids desirous to catch a glimpse of them – as in the event that they have been each rock stars and never former tax inspectors.

The group chanted his marketing campaign anthem: “Sonko is Diomaye, and Diomaye is Sonko.”

Largely unknown to the general public, Faye was by then using Sonko's wave of recognition. However Faye got here into the limelight.

With broom in hand, he promised “sweeping” adjustments starting from a brand new foreign money to renegotiating oil and gasoline contracts to altering Senegal's relationship with France and the French language. Below Sall, critics noticed the Senegalese authorities as a puppet of Western pursuits and a authorities that positioned France's pursuits above these of Senegal.

Faye promised that he would put “Senegal first” and make Senegal his precedence.

Closely funded by the Senegalese diaspora from Europe and North America, Faye and Sonko ran an American-style marketing campaign, selling the duo as “Diomaye Sonko” on a Pan-African ticket. They stuffed stadiums and lit up the sky with fireworks.

The present bore fruit. Two hours after voting closed, a landslide victory appeared sure. One after the other the candidates conceded defeat and congratulated Faye.

By Friday, official closing outcomes have been confirmed. He bought 54 p.c votes.

'Large' victory

From political prisoner to president in lower than 20 days, Faye is now Africa's youngest chief on the age of 44.

To her supporters, Faye was not the one winner. In view of the voting, folks reached Sonko's home. A triumphant crowd gathered beneath the flyover resulting in Sonko's house, the place police had manhandled folks attempting to go to work in June.

Blowing horns, younger males sitting on the roofs of SUVs waved Senegal's inexperienced, purple and yellow flag. Some folks reached this space with their households and youngsters. Supporters swept the streets with brooms in hand, symbolizing what they noticed as a sweeping victory.

However as soon as the mud settles, folks will need to know who actually holds the broom.

When Sonko was barred from working within the election as a consequence of his legal prices, he selected Faye to face as a candidate in his place. “A rational alternative not taken from the guts,” Sonko stated on the time of his choice in November. When Faye was additionally in jail.

humble beginnings

Launched on March 14 below Sal's amnesty legislation, Faye will now take up his presidential position. However their beginnings are very completely different from the elite they’re changing.

An hour and a half's drive from the capital is an extended grime highway that results in Ndiaganiyao, the village the place Faye was born and raised.

It was right here that the brand new President of Senegal campaigned to turn out to be mayor of the village in 2022, however misplaced.

“Overcoming adversity and failure led to his success,” his father Samba Faye advised Al Jazeera a day after preliminary outcomes have been introduced.

Senegalese President Faye's father, Samba
Samba Faye, father of President Bassirou Diomaye Faye, at his household house in Ndiganyao (File: John Wessels/AFP)

Elder Faye lives in a easy cement home in a sandy settlement. Blue plastic chairs have been positioned in a single nook, the remainder have been scattered throughout the courtyard. After final evening's victory celebration, empty utensils from meals have been mendacity right here and there.

Not removed from the home is a mosque, and close by, within the sand, is the ultimate resting place of Faye's grandfather.

The household is acknowledged among the many villagers, and the newly elected President is a revered man.

Faye's grandfather fought towards Nazi Germany in World Battle II as a part of the colonial French military. However after that, he introduced the struggle house and took on French colonial directors over the development of a district highschool, a battle that proved much more tough than within the trenches of struggle as a result of French colonialists noticed educated Africans as a menace to their rule. Seen as.

His persistence landed him in jail, however ultimately led to the varsity being constructed.

This was the place the long run president went to high school, his father stated. And through his trip, the younger man would assist his mom and sister sow grains.

Samba Faye is a lifelong member of the Senegalese Socialist Celebration. His father stated, his son grew up with left-leaning beliefs.

Samba Faye stated, “It's simple to be happy with your son now that he will get a lot recognition, however he needed to undergo a whole lot of ache, work very onerous to get so far.”

Bassirou Diomaye Faye and Macky Saul
Senegal's new president, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, left, shakes fingers with outgoing president, Macky Sall (Handout through Senegalese Presidency/Reuters)

As Basirou Diomaye Faye takes workplace on the Presidential Palace, he’s shadowed by his mentor Sonko. Agency associates, no less than for now, however what position will Sonko play? Particularly since Faye in all probability by no means would have gained with out him.

Some see uncertainty forward. Others see hope for a brand new starting. However what is evident is that there will probably be change.

Earlier than handing over energy, Sall met his successor. Sall, wearing a swimsuit and tie, shook fingers with President-elect Faye and opposition chief Sonko, each wearing conventional apparel.

For some it might be only a image, however for the Senegalese individuals who voted for Faye, it’s a devastating change.

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