Afrika's youngest elected president took his oath of office on Tuesday. The 44-year-old Bassirou Diomaye Faye won the presidential election in Senegal in the first round with more than 54 percent of the vote. “From prison to palace,” read the front pages of several newspapers. Just ten days before the vote, “Diomaye,” as he is known in the West African country, was released from custody. He had run in place of the popular but disqualified opposition leader Ousmane Sonko and had never held political office before.

Claudia Broell

African political correspondent based in Cape Town.

Numerous dignitaries, including 15 African heads of state and government, attended the ceremony at the Abdou Diouf Conference Center in Diamniadio, not far from Dakar. The youthful-looking Faye appeared in a dark suit rather than the traditional Muslim robe he is sometimes seen in. His two wives could be seen behind him in the front row of the audience. The formal handover of power from the previous President Macky Sall to Faye took place later in the presidential palace in Dakar.

Quick and peaceful transfer of power

The rapid and peaceful transfer of power was celebrated by many at home and abroad as a “victory of democracy”. In the previous three years, there had been several day-long protests with numerous deaths in what was otherwise considered a stable country. They were first directed against a suspected third presidential candidacy, then against the imprisonment of Sonko and other government opponents and finally against the postponement of the election to a date after Sall's term in office.

Faye is considered a pioneer of a new generation of leaders in Africa. His promise to break with the current political elite and promote a radical policy change is particularly popular with the young population. Apparently conservative voters also gave him their vote. Observers now expect a phase of upheaval. First of all, the dissolution of parliament and new elections are to be expected, says Caroline Hauptmann, head of the office of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Dakar. Sall's party coalition only has a narrow majority in parliament.

Some prominent opposition members such as former Prime Minister Aminata Touré have already shown themselves ready for an alliance. This means that experienced politicians could also belong to the new cabinet, writes the analysis institute Pangea-Risk. A key indicator of political stability will be the relationship between Sonko and Faye. It could come under pressure if Faye softens some of his campaign promises. In the election manifesto, the two announced that they would work for better administration without corruption, to realize the “sovereignty of Senegal” and to ensure “more prosperity for everyone”. Faye's candidacy is therefore based on the “ideology of left-wing pan-Africanism”.

Projects such as currency reform and renegotiation of contracts for the oil and gas industry are causing a stir, especially in business circles. However, even before the election, Faye had revised some plans. He would govern “with humility” and focus on national reconciliation, restructuring institutions and “breaking with the existing political system,” he said in his first speech after the election. Senegal will remain a “safe and reliable ally of every partner” that strives for “mutually productive” cooperation.

A strong rapprochement with Russia, as can be observed in the Sahel states of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger after the military coups, is considered unlikely. Senegal has hardly had any relations with Russia and also has numerous other partners, says Hauptmann from the Adenauer Foundation. It is more likely that the Gulf states will exert influence. But China, Türkiye and India also did business in Senegal. Faye’s program explicitly states “diversification” as a goal instead of dependency on existing partners. “For France, this could mean that it will no longer be so easy to do business with Senegal,” said Hauptmann.

According to information from Pangea-Risk, French officials already met with representatives from Sonko's camp last year and assured that they would work with whoever the Senegalese chose. On Monday, American Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Faye by telephone and emphasized the “strong interest in deepening the partnership between the two countries”.

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