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DAKAR: Bassirou Diomaye Faye (center) and his wives Marie Khone Faye (left) and Absa Faye (right) pose after his swearing in as Senegal's President. — AFP
DAKAR: Bassirou Diomaye Faye (center) and his wives Marie Khone Faye (left) and Absa Faye (right) pose after his swearing in as Senegal's President. — AFP
Senegal’s President Faye and ally Sonko to share top roles

DAKAR: Senegal’s new President Bassirou Diomaye Faye looks set to share responsibilities with his appointed prime minister and former mentor Ousmane Sonko, who helped propel the political newcomer’s rise to power.

Faye, 44, was sworn in Tuesday as Senegal’s fifth and youngest president, after sweeping to a first-round election victory on a promise of radical reform just 10 days after being released from prison. The naming of opposition firebrand Sonko as prime minister seems a logical choice for the left-wing pan-Africanist, who has never before held an elected office.

A relative newcomer to the political sphere, Faye has spent years in the shadow of his popular and charismatic mentor. Sonko, 49, spearheaded Senegal’s anti-establishment movement but endorsed Faye on the presidential ballot after he was barred from running himself due to a defamation conviction.

They were released from prison under an amnesty law on March 14, embarking on a joint campaign tour to the delight of crowds chanting “Sonko is Diomaye, Diomaye is Sonko”.

Sonko received a standing ovation from his supporters and was seated in the front row during Tuesday’s inauguration ceremony. After assuming the role of prime minister in the evening, he said he would submit a proposal of government appointments to Faye “within the next few hours”.

It had seemed a given that Sonko would helm Faye’s government after his resounding victory on March 24, where he garnered 54.3 percent of the vote. Sonko, who came third in the 2019 presidential election, had been embroiled in a series of legal cases since 2021 that he said were politically motivated and aimed to curtail his bid for the presidency.

The unrest linked to his legal woes left dozens dead and hundreds arrested. Following their release from jail, Faye and Sonko embarked on a whirlwind campaign tour with the aim of spreading their “project” for the people.

Sonko on Tuesday evening reiterated their programme “for a sovereign, just and prosperous Senegal” that “we drew up together, that we presented together to the Senegalese people and that we defended together”.

He said it aimed to “bring about lasting and structural change” and sought to achieve “a break with the past, progress and definitive change”. — AFP

Sonko set out his own position as “the public authority in charge of coordinating and conducting the nation’s policy in accordance with the Constitution”. Faye has said his priorities include fighting corruption and lowering the cost of living, as well as national reconciliation after years of turmoil.

‘Captain of the ship’

Former head of state Macky Sall abolished the post of prime minister in 2019, claiming it would speed up the implementation of his presidential projects. He reinstated it in 2022.

Sonko on Tuesday pledged his “loyalty and dedication” to President Faye, saying there would be “no question of leaving him alone to shoulder this heavy responsibility”.

Political scientist El Hadji Mamadou Mbaye said Sonko had “slipped away in recent days to allow Mr Faye to be enthroned”. “But with his speech last night, he showed that he is the captain of the ship”. “It is he who has embodied the project, it is he who carries the project and it is he who will implement the project and choose the men”, Mbaye added.

Senegal has previously seen conflictual relationships between presidents and their prime ministers, such as between the first head of state Leopold Sedar Senghor and Mamadou Dia. But Mbaye said the new pair share a closeness which may prevent this from happening. “The one who carries the party is Sonko and if (Faye) engages in a tug-of-war with Sonko, it’s all over for him,” the political scientist warned.

But Mbaye envisaged a balanced division of roles between Faye and Sonko. Faye “will have the image of the youngest (democratically elected) president in Africa, the image of a Senegal with a renewed democracy, he will have more legitimacy, even to renegotiate contracts,” he said. “Sonko will be there to face up to national problems,” which he said is a vast and risky task. — AFP

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