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From prisoner to president in 20 days, Senegal’s Diomaye Faye takes office

2 April 2024 20:18 (UTC+04:00)
From prisoner to president in 20 days, Senegal’s Diomaye Faye takes office

“Finally, we can breathe,” the cashier at the American Food Store supermarket in Dakar said while swiping a pot of Greek yoghurt through checkout.

It was three days after Senegal’s contested March 24 presidential election – the day provisional results were announced – and there was a sense that something had turned: a new vigour for democracy brought about by the election of opposition candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye.

The 44-year-old was sworn in on Tuesday after years of political turmoil and fears that outgoing President Macky Sall – who had already been in power for 12 years – would try to extend his mandate into a third term.

For months, the nation was on tenterhooks.

But after a whirlwind election cycle and last week’s landslide win for the young, anti-establishment candidate who was in prison just 20 days ago, there is now a palpable feeling among Senegalese that change has come.

‘Vote against the system’

On election day, voters began arriving at dawn, hours before polling stations opened.

Inside the playground of Nafissatou Niang Elemtary School in Dakar that served as one of the polling stations, voters in flamboyant boubou robes, old suited men with newspapers in hand and young men in fake Balenciaga T-shirts, lined up, all standing in silence.

Among them was 37-year-old Julia Sagna, who said she was determined to use her vote to fight back.

Dressed in a grey power suit, she stood poised and a little nervous because she had never voted before. She said she never wanted to until she felt it really mattered. This time, she was sure: “The new, young voters would vote against the system,” she said.

Coming out of the polling station with a smile, she waved a pinky finger dipped in ink to mark that she had voted. “I feel lucky” to have participated, she said.

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