Weeks ago, Bassirou Diomaye Faye was in prison. Now, he is Senegal's president Senegal's youngest ever president has been sworn-in after a dramatic prison to presidential palace rise to power.

Weeks ago, Bassirou Diomaye Faye was in prison. Now, he is Senegal's president

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Less than a month ago, he was languishing in prison. But today, Bassirou Diomaye Faye was sworn in as Senegal's president in the capital, Dakar.



KELLY: At 44-years-old, he is Africa's youngest elected head of state. His path to power was far from straightforward. At one point, it wasn't even certain there would be an election, and the delay sparked protests and violence. But the vote finally went ahead, and Faye has astonished everyone, winning by a landslide. NPR's Emmanuel Akinwotu is in Lagos, Nigeria. Hey there, Emmanuel.


KELLY: OK, so what else should we know about this brand-new, very young President Faye of Senegal?

AKINWOTU: Well, it's almost hard to believe. He's actually been a relatively discreet political figure in Senegal. He's this former tax inspector who has pledged to tackle corruption, renegotiate oil and gas contracts. But he's never been elected, never governed in any capacity in Senegal. In fact, just a few weeks ago, he was in prison, held without trial for a year, accused of inciting insurrection. And these were largely seen as trumped-up charges. And he was freed in March, just ahead of the elections. And now he's president. He has two wives, which is a striking fact to mention for a leader. He's really been a stand-in for a much more prominent figure called Ousmane Sonko, who's been the real driving force behind this win, fueled by support from younger voters. And Faye's party is a more radical Pan-Africanist and much more to the left party than the outgoing government. And now they're in government in power for the first time.

KELLY: It's interesting hearing you say this has been fueled by support from younger voters. Just give us some perspective on why this win is so significant.

AKINWOTU: Yeah, it's huge for quite a few reasons. You know, firstly, it's a repudiation of the last four years of, really, political turmoil in Senegal, and many people would say that's been driven by the ambitions and missteps of the outgoing president, Macky Sall. He was a strong French and U.S. ally, but his standing has tanked in the country. He spent years flirting with a controversial third-term bid. He postponed the just-concluded elections until December. Then it was overruled by a constitutional council and then held in March. And so that's really been the backdrop to this election.

And another significant reason is that he's Africa's youngest elected leader in one of the youngest populations in the world. You know, the last few years, we've seen other young leaders take over in West and Central Africa, but they've largely been soldiers who've taken over through military coups. And this is one of the few that has happened via the ballot box, so it's really an important moment for people in Senegal, but also across the region.

KELLY: Well, and speak to the challenges he will face in office. This is a country with a fragile democracy in a region that, as you just noted, has been rocked recently by coups and all kind of unrest.

AKINWOTU: Absolutely. And a big challenge is therefore rebuilding trust, really, after the unrest of the last few years. You know, we've seen the media, critics, opposition figures, all accuse the government of a clampdown on freedoms. And beyond that, I think the biggest issue for many people has been their living standards and the economy. You know, Senegal's economy has actually fared better than many of its neighbors after the impact of the pandemic, the Ukraine war. But there are still high levels of unemployment and poorly paid employment - really a lack of opportunities in a country where the median age is just 18. And that's one of the reasons so many people risk these horrendous migrant routes to leave the country for prospects of a better life abroad.

KELLY: That is our Africa correspondent Emmanuel Akinwotu reporting on the new president in Senegal. Thanks, Emmanuel.

AKINWOTU: Thanks for having me.


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