PROFILE: Meet Bassirou Diomaye Faye, Senegal’s youngest-ever president

Senegal's president-elect Bassirou Diomaye Faye speaks during a press conference in Dakar, Senegal March 25, 2024. PHOTO/REUTERS

Ten days before the presidential election, on March 14, Bassirou Diomaye Faye was still a prisoner in the Cap Manuel prison on the southern outskirts of Dakar.

On Tuesday, March 25, the day after the election and at the end of an unpredictable situation marked by a political and institutional crisis, a lightning electoral campaign and, finally, the recognition of his victory by his main opponent, here he is, a free man ready to take up residence in the Senegalese presidential palace for the next five years.

At 44, Faye is the youngest head of state in the country’s history, winning in the first round. For him, as for the Senegalese people who have just witnessed the unprecedented one-month postponement of the presidential election, nothing has gone according to plan.

A year ago, who knew Bassirou Diomaye Faye, the number two of the Patriotes du Sénégal pour le Travail, l’Ethique et la Fraternité (PASTEF) party, the main opposition group dissolved by the authorities in July 2023?

This discreet man first made headlines when he was arrested on April 14, 2023, following a Facebook post in which he denounced the “trampling” of the justice system, which led to his imprisonment for “undermining state security.”

‘Unshakable morale’

Eight months later, only his proximity to opposition leader Ousmane Sonko seemed to explain his appointment as a candidate for the former PASTEF.

He was a “plan B” designed to compensate for his mentor’s announced absence from the presidential race due to his judicial convictions. And he wasn’t the only one to play the role of alternate candidate, as Sonko had also sent Cheikh Tidiane Dièye and Habib Sy to file their candidacies to make sure that his ideas would be represented.

“Sonko’s supporters chose Faye to respect the voting instructions, but not for what he is. He’s a substitute candidate whose aim was to increase Ousmane Sonko’s chances of being represented,” said political scientist Aliou Ndiaye.

Presidential candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye (center) on the campaign trail in Cap-Skirring, Casamance, on March 16, 2024. MUHAMADOU BITTAYE / AFP

Brief profile

Bassirou Diomaye Faye, a Senegalese politician and a former tax inspector was born in 1980. He was the former general secretary of dissolved PASTEF and is running for president in the 2024 election in place of disqualified candidate Ousmane Sonko.

Faye obtained his baccalaureate in 2000 and later secured a master’s degree in law.

Subsequently, he passed competitive exams, gaining admission to both the National School of Administration (ENA) and the magistracy in 2004.

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He later opened for a career as a tax inspector in the Tax and Estates department post-graduation. It was there Faye forged a friendship with Sonko, a fellow alum from the same school and a future Politician in Senegal.

Political career

Their bond deepened in 2014 within the Taxes and Estates Union, established by Sonko, the leader of the newly formed PASTEF. During his tenure in the union, Faye advocated for facilitating homeownership for tax and property agents.

In his political career, initially a guest at the party’s inception, Faye swiftly rose to prominence within PASTEF. He played a pivotal role as one of the ideologues and architects of Sonko’s presidential program in 2019, where Sonko secured nearly 16% of the vote, finishing third

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. (Photo by JOHN WESSELS / AFP)

In February 2021, Faye assumed the role of general secretary of PASTEF following Sonko’s arrest on rape allegations. He endeavoured to unite the opposition for the 2022 elections, resulting in the ‘Liberate the People’ alliance winning 56 seats.

Amid uncertainties over Sonko’s eligibility for the presidential election, PASTEF endorsed Faye in November 2023 as its candidate for the 2024 presidential election, despite his detention. Although running as an independent after PASTEF’s dissolution, Faye’s candidacy was validated by the Senegalese Constitutional Council.

On 15 March 2024, a day after Faye’s release from jail, he launched his presidential campaign, garnering support from former president Abdoulaye Wade and his Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS), further bolstering his electoral prospects.

Throughout his campaign, Faye pledged to create jobs, combat corruption, and review energy contracts. He is running under the slogan “Diomaye mooy Ousmane,” hoping to leverage Sonko’s popularity among Senegal’s youth

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Faye’s imprisonment in April 2023, and subsequent release in March 2024, marked significant events in his political journey. During his detention, political tensions rose, leading to widespread protests and calls for electoral transparency.

Regarding his political positions, Faye advocates for system change and left-wing pan-Africanism, emphasizing Senegal’s sovereignty. He vows to reduce presidential powers, fight corruption, and implement monetary reforms, among other initiatives aimed at enhancing Senegal’s economic and social development.

Faye will be taking over as the country’s fifth president by the outgoing President Macky Sall, who is stepping down after a second term. Bassirou Diomaye Faye (born 1980) is a Senegalese politician and a former tax inspector.

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