Bassirou Diomaye Faye’s Political Triumph Means Very Little to East African Democracy

Senegalese opposition presidential candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye addresses his first press conference after being declared winner of Senegal's presidential election, in Dakar, on March 25, 2024. Anti-establishment candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye was set March 25 to become the youngest president in Senegal's history after his rival conceded the race, triggering a political earthquake in the West African nation. (Photo by JOHN WESSELS / AFP)

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The election of Mr. Bassirou Diomaye Faye as the youngest president of Senegal has left many political watchers’ tongues wagging. There is excitement, anticipation, and pondering of what his election triumph will mean to Africa to the extent that some have opined that the second wind of political change is sweeping Africa!

The first political wind of change swept Africa in the early 1960s, paving the way for political independence, whereas the second political change is expected to usher in economic freedom. As the old guards are handing over power to the youthful boundless energy, many feel the African renaissance is beckoning. This article chronicles the rise of little-known tax collectors to the epic of Senegalese politics. It is a fairytale of rags to kingdom that is increasingly common in Africa.

Bassirou Diomaye Faye, a previously little-known tax inspector freed from jail two weeks ago, was elected Senegal’s next president in a vote that observers say is a testament to the country’s democratic resilience.

Bassirou Diomaye Faye has promised to reset the relationship with development partners, particularly France, urging their former colonial masters to change their attitude towards Africa or accept being sidelined.

Where average Senegalese thronged into streets pogoing and celebrated his emphatic win with motorists unceasingly honking while waving their hands from their vehicles, his win has consequences for the whole African continent irrespective of how Faye will govern it. The first wind of change swept Africa regardless of how pioneers performed, which is no different in every way.

Official tallies showed Faye winning an outright majority in Sunday’s election. His main rival, ruling party candidate Amadou Ba, conceded defeat late Monday. And outgoing President Macky Sall congratulated the 44-year-old on the results. “This is the victory of Senegalese democracy,” Sall said.

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Who is the Senegalese Elected President, Bassirou Diomaye Faye?

Bassirou Diomaye Faye (born 25 March 1980) in Ndiaganiao, in the western department of M’Bour, Senegalis. He is a Senegalese politician and former tax inspector who is the President-elect of Senegal. He is the former general secretary of the dissolved PASTEF and won the 2024 Senegalese presidential election instead of disqualified candidate Ousmane Sonko.

In 2000, Faye earned his baccalaureate. He successfully attained a master’s degree in law and subsequently cleared both competitive exams, enrolling at the National School of Administration (ENA) and the magistracy in 2004. After graduation, Faye became a tax inspector in the Tax and Estates department, where he befriended Sonko, a fellow alum from the same school.

In 2014, Faye and Sonko’s relationship grew closer in the Taxes and Estates Union, created by Sonko, the leader of the newly founded PASTEF. During his time as the head of the union, Faye campaigned to facilitate homeownership for tax and property agents.

Once an outsider when PASTEF was founded, Faye Faye swiftly ascended to become one of the most prominent figures within the party. He became the forerunner of PASTEF, designing party programs that defined and asserted its ideology. He was also a campaign manager of Sonko’s failed presidential bid of 2016, in which their political party won 16% of the presidential vote, with Sonko trailing third.

In February 2021, Faye became the general secretary of PASTEF after Sonko was arrested, being accused of repeated rape by a massage parlour employee. Sonko’s supporters claimed the indictment was politically motivated to thwart his presidential ambitions. Faye attempted to unite the opposition for the 2022 elections as part of its strategy to win power, winning 56 seats under the Liberate the People alliance.

On 14 April 2023, Faye was apprehended while exiting his tax and property office on Rue de Thiong in Dakar. Subsequently, he was placed under police custody for charges including “spreading false news, contempt of court, and defamation of a constituted body” following a social media post he made.

In this post, he denounced the perceived injustice within the judicial system, foreseeing a verdict that could disqualify Sonko in a legal dispute between PASTEF and the Minister of Tourism, Mame Mbaye Niang. As the situation progressed, additional charges of “incitement to insurrection” and “undermining state security” were brought against him, resulting in an indefinite period of detention.

After an attempt by incumbent president Macky Sall in February to postpone the elections, citing unresolved disputes over who could run, widespread protests occurred, and the Constitutional Council overturned the postponement. In response to the demonstrations and revocation, Sall said that he would leave office as scheduled on 2 April, setting the date on March 24.

He also expressed his willingness to release Sonko, Faye and all their supporters as an act of good faith. At the end of February, the government tabled an amnesty bill to calm the social and political climate. The government released several hundred political prisoners, and on 14 March, days before the election, Sonko and Faye were released from prison.

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Faye is a radical reformer determined to end exploitative relationships with Western countries and advocates for pan-Africanism. He has promised to clip presidential powers and introduce a nonexistent vice president position, which I suspect may go to Sonko. If that happens in the next two decades, the Faye—Sonko axis will govern Senegal into a new dawn of African renaissance.

Without revealing details, Faye has also targeted fighting official corruption that he blames for economic stagnation.

He has also made it widely known that the local currency tied to France, the CFA Franc, will be replaced with a national currency, albeit facing the backlash of the development partners in 2023. He backtracked.

But since he has tied national sovereignty to currency sovereignty, I do not see how he can keep placating donors and investors whose reception of his emphatic victory was tepid and who are almost wary of his next move. I predict Senegal will have its currency within two years, severing the domineering leverage Paris has on Senegal’s monetary and fiscal policies.

Gas production is scheduled to commence in 2024, and Faye has promised equitable distribution of the profits, but again, details are scanty. He has vowed to renegotiate development agreements to ensure Senegal gets its much-delayed fair share of the national cake. These pacts encompass mining, energy, and fisheries.

Military reforms are also on his radar, including professionalizing the military, purging graft and embezzlement of public funds while remunerating the army. Changes in top and middle military officers are anticipated.

Faye, a victim of judicial malpractice, has promised judicial reforms with many details. He says he advocates the doctrine of separation of powers, which, too, is my pet subject. He believes the judiciary cannot deliver justice without severing ties with the executive. He has indicated that the topmost court will change from the Constitutional Council to the Constitutional Court.

Additionally, to enhance accountability and fortify oversight mechanisms, he proposes abolishing political funds and substituting them with special funds allocated by the National Assembly for critical operations, such as arms procurement and covert missions. Furthermore, legislation will be introduced to safeguard whistleblowers, aligning with the principles outlined in the law on transparency in public finance management.

Faye is married with two wives and four children. Bassirou and Sonko are close friends, and they even named one of their sons Ousmane in honour of their friendship.

Opposition Parties in East Africa Have Nothing to Gain from Youthful Faye Presidential Triumph

I say so because the history between Senegal and East Africa is different. Bassirou’s win was sparked by the workers’ class movement, which was dissatisfied with working conditions and later came to appreciate that unless the politics changed, their plight was doomed. That cannot be said by East African politicians, except Bobi Wine of Uganda, whose charisma and identification with the lower class resembles the Senegal opposition now about to form the next government.

Opposition mandarins in Kenya and Tanzania are part of the ruling class, have no working-class emblems, and cannot cash in on this youthful exuberance that has catapulted Faye to the thick and thin of national leadership. In Kenya, the opposition is plagued by ethnic identity and contentment with sharing power with the ruling clique.

This was not the case in Senegal, where the united opposition was brought together by the desire to end the injustices through a peaceful transfer of power. Kenya, the opposition is slated to join the rulers of the day at the high table, enjoying the delicacies tendered to them.

On his X page, Babu Owino, a Kenyan MP, looked at Faye’s win as a catalyst for the youth to replace the ageing politicians, little remembering he is a captive and a beneficiary of ethnic politics. No sooner he rebels against Baba Raila Amollo Odinga, his political career will come to a screeching end of untimely demise. He must support Raila as long as he lives.

In Tanzania, the opposition is capitalizing on politics as a bridge to finance their businesses. Nobody in the opposition thinks about the next generation as they are hijacked by greed to nick the next business deal. The Bassirou-Sonko machine had no business as a showboat. Still, it focused on winning the next election and freeing its people from the stranglehold of vested local and foreign hostile interests.

For our misguided opposition, the Bassirou presidential onslaught has never been your portion of this life. The earlier you comprehend this, the less pain you will incur.

The author is a Development Administration specialist in Tanzania with over 30 years of practical experience, and has been penning down a number of articles in local printing and digital newspapers for some time now.

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