Senegal’s president-elect Bassirou Diomaye Faye

Faye: From Prison To President Of Senegal

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Propelled to power from humble roots despite never holding national elected office, Senegal’s president-elect Bassirou Diomaye Faye defied the odds by promising radical change and being guided by a charismatic mentor.

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Commonly known as Diomaye, which means “the honourable one” in the local Serer language, he won the March 24 presidential election with 54.3 percent of the vote just 10 days after leaving prison.

His anti-establishment message, the backing of opposition figurehead Ousmane Sonko and his modest personality helped him to a crushing first-round victory over the governing coalition’s candidate.

When 44-year-old Faye is sworn in on Tuesday, he will become Senegal’s fifth and youngest president since independence from France in 1960.

In a victory speech in French and Wolof, Faye said his priorities were “national reconciliation”, easing a painful cost-of-living crisis and fighting corruption.

He has promised left-wing pan-Africanism to restore national sovereignty that he claims has been cheaply sold off, with the oil, gas and fishing sectors all in his firing line.

He is looking at creating a new national currency in lieu of the CFA franc and plans huge investments in the agricultural and industrial sectors to absorb unemployment that officially hovers at around 20 percent.

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

– Sonko’s Plan B –

The former tax inspector has risen in the shadow of the popular but legally embattled Sonko, who endorsed Faye after he was barred from standing in the presidential race himself.

Sonko, who finished third in the 2019 presidential election and got embroiled in a years-long battle with the state, anointed Faye as his replacement after his disqualification and has seen his plan come to fruition.

Together, they founded the Pastef political party in 2014, which authorities dissolved last year.

Released from prison on March 14 under an amnesty, the allies embarked on a whirlwind campaign tour to the delight of huge crowds, who chanted “Sonko mooy Diomaye, Diomaye mooy Sonko”, or “Sonko is Diomaye, Diomaye is Sonko”.

“They are two sides of the same coin with two different styles,” said Moustapha Sarr, a trainer of former Pastef activists.

– MMA & Reggae –

Coming from a modest rural background, Faye, a practising Muslim with two wives who often sports a trademark wide-sleeved boubou robe, embodies a new generation of Senegalese politicians.

The father-of-four was born into a modest family of farmers in remote Ndiaganiao, a village 150 kilometres (93 miles) from the capital Dakar with no health centre or tarmac roads.

Faye left Ndiaganiao to study at Dakar’s prestigious National Administration School but says he regularly returns to the village.

“Diomaye was a little shepherd who watched over his goats in the fields,” said Mor Sarr, one of his best friends.

Faye “has always been very close to his mother, Khady Diouf”, helping her with household tasks, Sarr added.

An admirer of former US president Barack Obama and South Africa’s anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, Faye is also a fan of psychology books and French former football star Zinedine Zidane, said Sarr.

Mixed martial arts, swimming and reggae music are also among his pastimes, he added. He’s also a fan of Spanish football giants Real Madrid.

The future president’s uncle, Diomaye Faye, said his nephew is “a good boy” who pays careful attention to his conduct and will be in tune with the reality of the country.

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