Left-wing pan-Africanist Bassirou Diomaye Faye on Tuesday became Senegal’s youngest president, pledging systemic change after years of deadly turmoil and announcing his mentor, opposition figure Ousmane Sonko, as prime minister.

Faye, 44, has never previously held an elected office. He swept to a first-round victory on a promise of radical reform just 10 days after being released from prison.

He took the presidential oath in front of hundreds of officials and several African heads of state at an exhibition centre in the new town of Diamniadio, near Dakar.

He then returned to the capital, with his motorcade greeted by hundreds of jubilant residents who lined the roads leading to the presidential palace.

His predecessor, Macky Sall, symbolically handed Faye the key to the presidential headquarters before leaving the palace.

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

Commonly known as Diomaye, or “the honourable one”, his promise of radical change won the election with 54.3 percent of the vote.

Reconciliation, sovereignty 

Working with his populist mentor Sonko, Faye’s campaign set out priorities of national reconciliation, easing the cost-of-living crisis and fighting corruption.

He has also vowed to restore national sovereignty over key assets such as the oil, gas and fishing sectors.

Senegal is due to start hydrocarbon production later this year.

Faye also wants to replace the CFA franc, which he sees as a French colonial legacy, with a new common regional currency, and to invest more in agriculture with the aim of reaching food self-sufficiency.

After three tense years in the traditionally stable nation, his democratic victory has been internationally hailed, by Washington, Paris, the African Union and the European Union.

On the international stage, Faye seeks to bring military-run Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger back into the fold of the regional Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) bloc.

On Tuesday, he urged “more solidarity” between African countries “in the face of security challenges”.

The military regimes in Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea all sent representatives to Diamniadio, including Guinean president General Mamady Doumbouya.

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

He added he was ready to work together on “the renovation of sub-regional and international cooperation”.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the inauguration “a testament to the Senegalese people, that they fought for their right to vote”.

New generation of politicians 

A practising Muslim from a humble background with two wives and four children, Faye represents a new generation of youthful politicians.

He has voiced admiration for US ex-president Barack Obama and South African anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela.

However, Faye and the government he will shortly lead face major challenges.

The biggest appears to be creating enough jobs in a nation where 75 percent of the 18-million population is aged under 35 and the unemployment rate is officially 20 percent.

Faced with such dire economic prospects at home, many young Senegalese have chosen to risk their lives to join migrants trying to reach Europe.

(AFP)

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