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faye new era beckons for senegal

Faye: New era beckons for Senegal

OUT of its morass, Senegal’s democracy is offering Africa something to cheer. On Tuesday, the West African country bucked the trend of coups, sit-tight leadership, and internecine conflict with the inauguration of a new president, Bassirou Faye. By scoring 54.3 per cent in the first round in the March 24 ballot that was declared by observers as free, fair and credible, Faye upturned the calculations in Senegal. In a continent notorious for negative narratives, the newly sworn-in president must make his victory count. Faye’s ascension to power is significant. It is rare in Africa for the opposition to defeat the ruling party, but Faye achieved it in style. At 44, he is the fifth elected president of Senegal and the youngest elected president in Africa to date. This demonstrates that the continent is still too comfortable with the old generation, unlike other parts of the world. According to a Pew Research analysis, the average age of United States presidents at inauguration is 55 years old. In Finland, Sanna Marin became president in 2019 at 34. Faye defeated Amadou Ba, the candidate of the ruling party backed by Sacky Mall, the immediate past president. Charged with inciting insurrection, Faye, also known as ‘Mr Clean,’ was released from incarceration 10 days before the polls. That was along with Ousmane Sonko, his main backer in the opposition African Patriots of Senegal for Works, Ethics and Fraternity party. He never held an elected office until Tuesday. The ballot is seen as an indictment of Mall, who won office in 2012 amidst high hopes, but reportedly derailed. His scheming to prolong his stay in power met with riots and deaths, which forced the international community to subtly intervene. Senegal’s transition represents hope amidst the frustrations and economic turmoil plaguing most of the continent. A long-time opposition leader in Uganda, Kizza Besigye, captures the moment aptly: “Senegal’s extraordinary electoral process has demonstrated, again, that with a well-mobilised, resilient and well-led population, it’s possible to non-violently achieve the desired democratic transition in Africa.” To Mall’s credit, he reversed himself on the postponement of the polls and ensured a smooth transition. This is a profound lesson for other African countries. In 2015, the then-President Goodluck Jonathan conceded defeat to Muhammadu Buhari in the presidential polls. It marked the first time in Nigeria that the opposition would defeat the ruling party. This cannot be said of most African countries. The new trend in West Africa centres on the military coups in Niger Republic, Mali and Burkina Faso. Nigeria’s neighbour, Cameroon, is under the yoke of Paul Biya, who first became prime minister in 1975 and president in 1982 till date. At one time or another, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Togo, Rwanda, Congo, Burundi, Equatorial Guinea, Chad, Djibouti, Zimbabwe, Uganda, and Guinea were all in the same boat. In Ivory Coast, the succession system sparked conflict, as in many other parts of Africa. In Eritrea, where no presidential election has taken place since independence in 1993, President Isaias Afwerki has been the first and only president. This is a bad advertisement for the continent. In part, Africa is reeling in underdevelopment because of the sit-tight syndrome. A country of 18.5 million and a 2022 GDP of $27.68 billion, Senegal gained independence from France in 1960. Strangely, many global investors have not received the victory well, primarily because Faye, a former tax inspector, has pledged to create a new currency and renegotiate energy contracts. Estimated at 20 per cent, his main task is to reverse the unemployment rate, especially among the youth. During Sall’s 12-year tenure, the economy averaged 5.0 per cent. Faye’s task is to improve on this. For Africa to make progress, its rulers must purge themselves of their dictatorial tendencies and enthrone sound democratic ethos.

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