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Breaking Barriers? President Faye’s Electoral Victory and Africa’s Democratic Awakening

17 Apr 2024
By Dr Ernest Mensah Akuamoah
Senegal's new president, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, sworn in on 2 April 2024. Source: Presidency of the Republic of Senegal, X. /

The election of Senegal’s new president, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, is a glimmer of hope in an era of democratic backsliding. As a young leader himself, he should seek to inspire a democratic revival among young Africans.

The rapid expansion of Africa’s youthful demographic poses numerous challenges and prospects. Dissatisfaction among young people with democratic governance has fuelled widespread backing for coups, often led by youthful military leaders. According to Afrobarometer surveys, there is a greater inclination among individuals aged 18-36 to accept military intervention, with 56 percent expressing tolerance, while only 46 percent of those aged 56 and above share a similar sentiment across thirty African countries. In light of this, the democratic election of Bassirou Diomaye Faye, aged 44, as Senegal’s president holds considerable importance for several reasons. Primarily, it shows the potency of protests in fostering democratic mobilisation and illustrates that young people can have faith in the democratic procedure of government transition, regardless of its difficulties or slow pace. Hopefully, this reduces the frequency of coups taking place across the continent.

Moreover, Faye’s victory offers hope to the many young people frustrated by the lack of job opportunities, the increasing rate of corruption, the personal aggrandisement among African politicians at the expense of the public. The victory also offers hope to young persons who have become victims of state repression, intimidation, and censorship because of their fight for a change in government in their respective countries (e.g., Robert Kyagulanyi popularly known as Bobi Wine, a Ugandan pop star turned activist and politician). Since declaring his intention to run for president in 2019, Bobi has been subjected to frequent arrests and detention by the long-serving Museveni government. This illustrates the challenging environment that activists and opposition figures confront while striving for political transformation and highlights the risks they face for challenging the status quo.

Additionally, Faye’s victory has the potential to foster a continent-wide transformation, particularly given Africa’s prevalence of aged leaders compared to its youthful populace. Thus, it may lead to a heightened youth interest and participation in mainstream politics across the continent. Most significantly, the democratic credentials of one of Africa’s few stable democracies remain intact, offering a glimmer of hope amid a global decline in democratic norms.

Despite the numerous positives highlighted above, there are high expectations of President Faye to deliver. Failure to do so will not only impede the progress of other young individuals in Senegal, aspiring to ascend the political hierarchy, but could also instigate a continent-wide reluctance to entrust young people with the highest offices. Admittedly, this represents a significant burden for any individual to bear. However, as the adage goes, “To whom much is given, much is expected” — a sentiment that aligns perfectly with the profile of Africa’s youngest democratically elected leader.

Hopefully President Faye will consistently recognise his role as a beacon of hope for young people throughout Africa, and carefully consider the repercussions of both his individual actions and the policies of his government. Additionally, it would be desirable that he remains steadfast in upholding the principles of accountability, transparency, and the fight against corruption — values that garnered widespread support from many Senegalese citizens, including those who bravely protested against the postponement of the presidential election announced by previous President Macky Sall in February, risking their lives and tragically losing some in the process. The best tribute Faye can pay to these “fallen heroes” is to show true leadership and uphold the tenants of democracy in a country where there is substantial citizen support for democratic ideals. Previously, some “defenders of democracy” and former political prisoners, like Faye, evolved into authoritarian rulers upon assuming office, only to meet disgraceful ends. Hopefully, he will heed the lessons drawn from these occurrences. In doing so, Faye should leverage his unique position to implement policies that will empower young people, create economic opportunities, and promote education and innovation.

Dr Ernest Mensah Akuamoah is a Sessional Academic in the School of Politics and International Relations at The Australian National University. His research interests include electoral violence and African politics.

This article is published under a Creative Commons Licence and may be republished with attribution.