Press "Enter" to skip to content

A Tale of Two Tax Inspectors

On April 2nd, 2024, Bassirou Faye became the youngest president in Senegal’s history, less than a month after his release from prison. Faye, a relatively unknown figure in the political arena, received the support and endorsement of Ousmane Sonko, the main opposition leader against former Senegalese president Macky Sall. Sonko himself had been disqualified from the presidency by Senegal’s Constitutional Council, and both Faye and Sonko had been jailed and released just days before the election was slated to take place. The candidates maintained that the charges against them, including defamation and contempt of court, were politically motivated, a claim that authorities denied. Shortly after being sworn into office, Faye appointed Sonko to the position of Prime Minister.

As one of the only African states to never experience a coup, international observers have regarded Senegal as a fairly democratic country despite some persistent defects. However, the former president, Sall, had started to lead the country down a less democratic path, emphasized by his attempts to stall the 2024 election. Sall postponed that election, which was originally supposed to take place on February 25th, until December—a move that the Constitutional Council ruled unconstitutional. Throughout his presidency, he made moves to limit opposition and freedom of speech, including a 2021 law that green-lighted prison time for “defamation” and spreading or publishing “fake news” that could discredit institutions. Given Sall’s efforts to meddle with Senegalese democracy, many are hopeful that Faye can restore stability.

Both Faye and Sonko leaders are former tax inspectors who have made fighting corruption the central theme of their campaign. They have stressed issues ranging from greater transparency, reforming or even replacing the Senegalese currency, and improving the management of natural resources. All of these platform points are wrapped up in promises of systemic radical change, a departure from past administrations and from the legacy of French colonial rule.

Various countries, leaders, and commentators have taken different positions on where Senegal is headed. Many see the election as a testament to Senegalese democracy and are hopeful that the new administration will bring greater transparency and accountability. They see the change as a positive one and have expressed their desire to work with Senegal and their new government.

That said, the pair will inevitably face some real challenges. First, and maybe the most obvious, is the existence of corruption in the government and elsewhere in the country, something that both figures have pledged to eradicate. While Senegal only ranks 70th out of 180 ranked countries, corruption continues to be a salient issue, especially with the growth of wealth the country has experienced. According to the most recent publication of the Global Corruption Barometer in 2019, 15% of public service users have paid a bribe in the past year. The corruption extends beyond traditional definitions and includes the use of political punishment by the former president to attack his opponents.

Senegal is also facing a high youth unemployment rate with 3 out of every 10 people in the 18-35 age range being unemployed. Given that the median age in Senegal is 19, this issue has been of particular concern for the population and for the recent election. There have been widespread protests in reaction to the high unemployment rates and the unaddressed economic concerns of the population, many of which were aimed at the former administration and drove support for Faye. 

To compound issues of unemployment and poverty, Senegal has discovered oil and natural gas deposits relatively recently, but the people of Senegal have yet to see any of the benefits. The discovery of a massive natural gas deposit back in 2015 has been predicted to have potentially massive effects on Senegal and its economy. Overall, there has been limited government action in regards to ownership and regulation of the resource which has led to the lack of redistribution of any wealth from the discovery. The situation has been complicated by calls from various environmental groups and other groups to pay attention to the implications of these natural gas deposits on climate change. The response from Sall and others has been focused on the economic situation and poverty level in Senegal and other African countries that have found natural gas or oil deposits that could change the situation for many living in poverty. Faye has addressed these issues and has pledged solutions moving forward such as auditing oil and natural gas companies, redistribution of wealth, and cracking down on corruption.

Even so, the new administration might not be prosperous for everyone. Senegal is not known for being forgiving to the LGBTQ+ community and currently has a five-year penalty for both men and women who engage in same-sex sexual activities. Under Sonko, the situation could become much worse. There has already been a documented rise in anti-gay sentiment and calls for increased penalties that have fostered an even worse environment for members of the LGBTQ+ community. Sonko is one of many who think there should be harsher punishments against LGBTQ+ individuals.

Moreover, following a dropped rape charge and a conviction for “corruption of youth,” Sonko has made some grossly inappropriate comments about women as well. Sonko denied the charges upon his arrest in 2021, calling them politically motivated, and mass protests broke out, as many of his supporters agreed with him. While the rape charge was eventually dropped, Sonko may have shown his true colors during the trial by making comments such as “even if I had to rape, I would not rape someone who looks like a monkey that had a stroke.” He has since received some backlash, including an open letter from over 30 prominent academics, campaigners and artists who stated that Sonko’s his comments perpetuate and reinforce the culture of rape and render him unfit for office. 

“We call on all women’s rights organisations and opinion leaders to condemn these dehumanising and insulting comments towards women,” the letter read.

Both Faye and Sonko have made lofty promises of radical change in an attempt to improve the economic situation of the Senegalese people and increase trust in the government, following a period of backsliding. While many are hopeful that they can achieve these goals, only time will tell how their planned improvements will pan out.

Featured Image Source: VOA

Comments are closed.