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Bassirou Diomaye Faye: From prison to Senegal’s presidential spotlight.

By: AFP

From a Dakar prison to the presidency, Senegal’s anti-establishment Bassirou Diomaye Faye embodies the winning charisma of his mentor and opposition figurehead Ousmane Sonko, who endorsed him as his replacement.

“Bassirou is me,” said Sonko of his number two, who at the age of 44 is set to become Senegal’s youngest head of state after his main rival in the presidential election recognised his victory on Monday.

Bassirou Diomaye Faye

The former tax inspector has risen in the shadow of the popular firebrand Sonko, who endorsed Faye after he was barred from standing in Sunday’s presidential race.

Released from prison on March 14, the allies embarked on a whirlwind campaign tour to the delight of overjoyed crowds, who chanted “Sonko mooy Diomaye, Diomaye mooy Sonko”, or “Sonko is Diomaye, Diomaye is Sonko”.

Along the trail, Faye – who has never held elected office – promised the Senegalese profound change and left-wing pan-Africanism.

Pitching himself as part of a new generation of politicians, he believes in national sovereignty, a fairer distribution of wealth, and reform of what he sees as a corrupt justice system.

He also vows to renegotiate oil and fishing contracts, and says he is not afraid of creating a new national currency in lieu of the CFA franc – a measure denounced by his government opponent for president Amadou Ba.

Faye’s rivals accuse him of leading a group of “adventurers” willing to pursue policies that are dangerous for the country.

‘Two sides of same coin’

Coming from a modest rural background, Faye, a Muslim who appeared at his final rally alongside his two wives clad in his trademark wide-sleeved boubou robe, followed in Sonko’s footsteps by sitting Senegal’s administration and magistrate exams, before taking over as head of a trade union from Sonko.

Together, they founded the Pastef political party in 2014, which authorities dissolved last year.

“They are two sides of the same coin with two different styles,” said Moustapha Sarr, a trainer of former Pastef activists.

But standing tall above the sunroof of his campaign vehicle, Faye emerged from Sonko’s shadow in a bid to win the hearts and minds of his mentor’s fans.

“Of course, we would have preferred (the candidate) to be Ousmane Sonko. But I have confidence in Diomaye because Sonko put his trust in him,” said Mourtalla Diouf, 27, from the southern Casamance region.

“They share the same project.”

Faye has even named one of his sons Ousmane in honour of his political companion.

The two also spent time together in the same prison.

In April last year, Faye was charged with several offences, including contempt of court, after broadcasting a message critical of the judiciary in legal cases against Sonko.

Sonko joined Faye in prison in July on charges including calling for insurrection.

Several hundred opposition members have been arrested since 2021, when Sonko began his bitter standoff with the state that sparked deadly unrest.

The turmoil played a role in outgoing President Macky Sall’s decision to postpone the election, plunging the West African country into its worst political crisis in decades.

“President, you often say that I am stubborn, we never get along, but we are always together,” Faye said addressing Sonko during a press conference a day after their release under an amnesty law.

Immediately after casting his vote on Sunday, he called on the Senegalese people to “calm down” and “return once and for all to the serenity that has been seriously disrupted in recent months and years”.

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