Senegal’s President Faye Names Ousmane Sonko as Prime Minister

Bassirou Diomaye Faye, a left-wing pan-Africanist, became Senegal’s youngest president on Tuesday. He promised structural change and appointed opposition figure Ousmane Sonko as prime minister.

Faye, 44, has never previously held an elected position. He won the first round with a pledge of dramatic reform, barely 10 days after being freed from prison.

He took the presidential oath in front of hundreds of officials, including several African heads of state, at an exposition center in the new town of Diamniadio, near Dakar.

He then returned to the capital, where his convoy was met by hundreds of delighted locals who lined the streets leading to the presidential palace.

Before departing the palace, his predecessor, Macky Sall, symbolically handed Faye the presidential headquarters key.

“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.

Just hours later, his new administration appointed firebrand opposition leader Sonko prime minister.

“Mr Ousmane Sonko is named prime minister,” said Oumar Samba Ba, the general secretary of the presidency, as he read out a decree on the public television station RTS.

Sonko, 49, was at the centre of a two-year stand-off with the state that triggered bouts of deadly unrest.

He was disqualified from running in the most recent race and picked Faye as his replacement on the presidential ballot.

The former tax inspector is 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 and Sonko were among a group of opposition politicians 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 have painful memories of the martyrs of Senegalese democracy, the amputees, the wounded and the former prisoners,” Faye said Tuesday, referring to the past three years of political unrest that left dozens dead and hundreds arrested.

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

Faye also emphasized to foreign partners “Senegal’s openness to trade that respects our sovereignty and meets the aspirations of our people, in a mutually beneficial partnership”.

With 54.3 percent of the vote, Diomaye, also known as “the honorable one,” won the election on the promise of radical reform.

Reconciliation, sovereignty

Working with his populist mentor Sonko, Faye’s campaign emphasized national healing, relieving the cost-of-living crisis, and combating corruption.

He has also promised to reestablish national sovereignty over critical assets such as the oil, gas, and fishing industries.

Senegal is set to begin hydrocarbon production later this year.

Faye also wants to replace the CFA franc, which he considers a French colonial legacy, with a new common regional currency, as well as invest more in agriculture to achieve food self-sufficiency.

After three stressful years in the typically stable country, Washington, Paris, the African Union, and the European Union have all celebrated his democratic victory.

On the international scene, Faye aspires to reintegrate military-run Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger into the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

He advocated “more solidarity” amongst African countries “in the face of security challenges” on Tuesday.

The military governments of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea all sent delegations to Diamniadio, including Guinean President General Mamady Doumbouya.

Burkina Faso’s leader, Captain Ibrahim Traore, stated on X, formerly Twitter, that Faye’s mandate was a “symbol of a new era for an uninhibited, free, and sovereign Africa.”

He also stated that he was willing to collaborate on “the renovation of sub-regional and international cooperation”.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the inauguration as “a testament to the Senegalese people, who fought for their right to vote.”

New generation of politicians

Faye, a practising Muslim from a poor family with two spouses and four children, represents a new generation of young politicians.

He has expressed appreciation for former US President Barack Obama and South African anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela.

Faye and the government he will lead confront significant obstacles.

The most significant appears to be producing enough jobs in a country where 75 percent of the 18 million people are under the age of 35 and the official jobless rate is 20 percent.

Faced with such bleak economic prospects at home, many young Senegalese have chosen to risk their lives by joining migrants attempting to reach Europe.

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