Bassirou Diomaye Faye: From Prison Runner-Up to President of Senegal

BARD AI

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Jul 24, 2018
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Bassirou Diomaye Faye was elected as Senegal's fifth president on 25 March 2024. Incumbent president Macky Sall and his candidate, former prime minister Amadou Ba, were both quick to congratulate the opposition candidate on his victory when the results came out.

This has been a major - and fast - turn of events for Faye (commonly called "Diomaye"), who was in prison just 10 days before the election. Faye was backed by the popular opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, who was deprived of his electoral rights for five years due to a prior conviction. Sonko received a six-month suspended prison sentence for allegedly defaming tourism minister Mame Mbaye Niang.

Faye, who has never held elected office, was a little-known candidate who emerged from Sonko's shadow.

Having researched young Senegalese politicians and Senegal's contemporary political scene we wanted to provide some insights into who Faye is, and his unconventional rise to power.

A native of rural Senegal

Born on 25 March 1980 in Ndiaganiao, a rural area in west-central Senegal, Faye received his primary education in his village. He continued his middle and secondary education in Mbour, south-east of Dakar, where he earned his bachelor's degree in 2000. Faye pursued higher education at Dakar's Cheikh Anta Diop University, and obtained a master's degree in 2004.

Following this, he took competitive entrance exams for the police officers' academy, the magistrates' academy and the École Nationale d'Administration (the elite leadership training school). While he did not pass the exam for the police officers' academy, he succeeded in the other two exams.

Admitted to the magistrates' examination, he decided to withdraw, opting instead for the leadership training school. He specialised in taxation and went on to join the Direction Générale des Impôts et Domaines (tax and land administration) in 2007.

His career

When Faye joined the tax administration, he was an active member of the newly formed Syndicat autonome des agents des impôts et domaines (Autonomous Union of Tax and Domain Agents). This was led by its founder and secretary general, Ousmane Sonko (from April 2005 to June 2012). Faye was initially the head of claims and later became the secretary general after Sonko's departure, although Sonko remained at his side as honorary secretary general for two years (2012-2016).

Drawing on their trade union experience, Faye, Sonko and other young civil servants went on to create the African Patriots of Senegal for Work, Ethics and Fraternity (Pastef) party in 2014.

Faye successively held the positions of member of the steering committee, president of the Mouvement national des cadres patriotes et des diasporas (National Movement of Patriot Cadres and Diasporas) and secretary general, becoming the party's second-in-command, from October 2022.

Ndingler's rising star

While Faye is mostly known for being in Sonko's shadow, he's famous in his region for supporting a vulnerable community in a land dispute. This was between the Ndingler villagers (within the Ndiaganiao area from which Faye hails) and the Senegalese company Sedima, run by businessman and industrialist Babacar Ngom.

Faye had denounced land grabbing by Sedima, which occurred without any compensation for "peasant populations".

The other side of the coin

The fame he gained from this widely publicised battle didn't, however, secure him a victory in his stronghold during local elections in January 2022. He lost in Ndiaganiao to the regime's candidate.

His political ambitions were further thwarted when his nomination to the national candidate list for the July 2022 parliamentary elections was invalidated due to issues with the candidate lists he belonged to.

These two successive setbacks seemed to seal his fate as an opponent of local and national stature.

Following the law suit brought against Sonko, Faye was imprisoned. He was accused of attacking the judiciary when he criticised the Dakar Court of Appeal's decision to close Sonko's case without giving him the chance to appeal.

Faye was also being vocal about a trial that would make Sonko ineligible for the 2024 presidential elections. On 14 April 2023, he was charged with "contempt of court, defamation and acts likely to compromise public peace".

Political manoeuvring at play

The detention of Faye, the party's secretary-general, and its president, Sonko, fuelled speculation that the government intended to remove the leadership of the Pastef party. Indeed, in July 2023, Senegal's interior ministry dissolved Pastef.

However, unlike Sonko, Faye was not put on trial. This meant he could retain his civic rights. It was during his jail time that the Pastef party developed a plan to facilitate his participation in the upcoming presidential election.

Campaign images bearing the slogan "Diomaye moy Sonko" ("Diomaye is Sonko") circulated on social media on Sunday, 19 November 2023, just ahead of the sponsorship period for the presidential election in Senegal.

Many were surprised when Sonko relinquished his position to support Faye. And several MPs - Guy Marius Sagna, Birame Souleye Diop, and Abass Fall - who were contenders in the presidential elections, withdrew their candidacies. This made Faye the sole candidate of the party.

Despite Pastef's dissolution, they successfully initiated a popular sponsorship campaign for Faye.

The burning questions

Often described as altruistic, Faye revealed in his first press conference after his release from prison how he used his first scholarship from the leadership training school to provide clean water connections for his family and neighbours.

He vehemently opposes the use of strength by the powerful to oppress those who are, supposedly, weak.

The man, despite the tumultuous electoral context, received acclaim from voters, and he appeared quite timid on 25 March during his first presidential address.

It remains to be seen whether he can fill the presidential shoes. The coming weeks should enlighten us.
 
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