Senegal Opposition Leader Names Successor After Presidential Bid Shut Down

Sébastien Gray
Sébastien Gray
Sébastien is a published journalist and historicist with over six years of experience in freelance journalism and research. His primary expertise is in African conflict and politics, with additional specialization in Israeli/Palestinian and Armenia/Azerbaijan conflicts. Sébastien serves as the deputy desk chief for Africa.

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What’s Happening

Ousmane Sonko, a primary opposition leader in Senegal, has named a successor to his presidential bid after a series of court rulings and legal issues rendered him ineligible for the race of Senegal’s upcoming February 25th election.

Senegal’s Constitutional Council excluded Sonko from the list of 20 Presidential candidates after declaring him ineligible due to a six month suspended sentence for defamation. On January 4th the supreme court upheld the conviction, prompting the Constitutional Court to bar him from the election.

In his place, Sonko has appointed Bassirou Diomaye Diakhar Faye, who was included in the Constitutional Council’s list of 20 candidates. Faye is a member of Sonko’s former party, PASTEF, which was dissolved by the government in July of 2023.

Bassirou Diomaye Diakhar Faye, a candidate in Senegal’s 2024 Presidential election.

Similar to Sonko, however, Faye is currently in detention. Faye has been in provisional detention since April of 2023 on several charges, including incitement to insurrection.

It is unclear if Faye will be released in order to participate in election campaigning. According to the Senegalese constitution, all candidates should have equal opportunities for campaigning. However, given the severity of Faye’s charges, it is unclear if he will be granted this right.

Upon naming Faye as his successor, Sonko sought to invoke the legal guarantees of campaigning equality. As of January 28th, no formal request had been made for the provisional release of Faye.

Also running in Senegal’s presidential election is Prime Minister Amadou Ba, who President Macky Sall named as his successor after announcing that he would not be seeking a third term in office.

Senegalese President Macky Sall (Photo from Ludovic Marin/AFP).

Who is Ousmane Sonko..?

Ousmane Sonko is one of the leading oppositionists against Senegalese President Macky Sall. He founded the Senegalese political party the ‘African Patriots of Senegal for Work, Ethics and Fraternity’ (PASTEF), and prior to his entry into politics worked as a tax inspector, during which he exposed a Canadian company using mineral sands processing plants in Senegal as offshore tax havens. He was terminated as a tax inspector after this.

In 2014, he founded PASTEF, and eventually served as a member of the National Assembly from 2017-2022. In 2019 he ran for President, and came in 3rd place against President Macky Sall with 16% of the vote. During 2022 local elections, his political coalition saw some successes against Sall’s coalition. During parliamentary elections in the same year they managed to garner a third of the total seats in the National Assembly.

Sonko’s critics have accused him of holding connections with the Muslim Brotherhood. Politically, Sonko pushes for tax reform, tougher laws on homosexuality (which is already criminalized in Senegal), as well as expanded use of the death penalty.

In March 2021, Sonko was arrested over alleged rape charges from a worker at a massage parlor, charges he said were falsified and politically motivated. His initial arrest sparked protests which saw a hefty crackdown by the government, and resulted in the deaths of at least 13 people, and the arrest of many more. A few days after protests began, Sonko was released but under the condition he could not leave the country.

Two years later, on June 1st 2023, Sonko was cleared of the rape charges, however instead was charged with “corrupting the youth”, and sentenced to two years in prison. He was not arrested until July 28th. His party, PASTEF, was dissolved by the government only 3 days later on July 31st. His arrest and the dissolution of his party triggered renewed nation-wide protests, during which the government banned tik-tok. Sonko was hospitalized on August 6th after beginning a hunger strike in protest of his re-arrest.

Parts of Sonko’s legal team have been arrested, including Franco-Spanish lawyer Juan Branco, who was arrested in August.

Since President Sall’s election in 2012, over 500 people in the opposition have been incarcerated, with several opponents accusing him of fabricating charges.