Jailing of Senegal opposition candidate spurs supportersMon, 11 Mar 2024 13:04:52 GMT

The face of Senegal’s anti-establishment presidential candidate was everywhere at his coalition’s first major campaign rally in the capital Dakar.  Images of Bassirou Diomaye Faye adorned T-shirts and caps, while the fervent crowd chanted his name. But the popular opposition candidate could not take centre stage on Sunday. He has  been behind bars since April 2023. Despite this, thousands of his supporters filled a sandy football pitch in a northern district of Dakar, with some climbing atop goalposts to get a better view of the event. Others found vantage points on the roof terraces of surrounding buildings. “Everyone has come to show our strength, to show that we are the majority in the country,” said Abdourahmane Sankhare, a 30-year-old science teacher. Faye has been in prison for almost a year for “contempt of court”. He is a leading figure and founding member of the now-dissolved opposition party Pastef, and is one of the 19 candidates running in the presidential election. The vote is now set for March 24 after being postponed by President Macky Sall, a move which sparked weeks of turmoil and deadly unrest. Speculation is rife that Faye will soon benefit from a recently passed amnesty law allowing him to leave prison and campaign. His ongoing detention “motivates us even more,” said 28-year-old Ramatoulaye Diedhiou. “In any case, if he’s elected, he’s not going to govern in prison.” “Our wildest dream is to see him get out of prison and go straight to the presidency,” agreed science teacher Sankhare. – ‘Ousmane is Diomaye’ -Another major absentee from the coalition’s rallies is firebrand Ousmane Sonko, who is also in prison and came third in the 2019 presidential election. His candidacy for this election was rejected and he has called on his supporters to vote for Faye in his place. Sonko’s face appears alongside Faye on almost all the opposition coalition’s campaign materials, with the slogan “Ousmane mooy Diomaye” meaning “Ousmane is Diomaye” in Wolof. “When Ousmane says that everything that belongs to the people must return to the people, that speaks to me. That there will be more justice, that speaks to me too,” Diedhiou said. The coalition on Saturday published their programme for the presidency. It includes the abolition of the post of prime minister and the setting up of a vice-presidency, the eventual creation of a national currency to replace the CFA franc, and the renegotiation of contracts for hydrocarbons — with production due to begin this year. “Our programme is long and rich. We won’t have enough time to implement it all in ten years,” said Fary Yague, 26, a fifth year logistics transport student. “We’ll need 50 years in power,” she added with a smile. Most of Faye’s supporters said they were confident of a first-round victory, but political analysts say the election is still anyone’s game and no candidate is guaranteed a place in the second-round. Former prime minister Amadou Ba, representing the outgoing president’s camp, was due to launch his campaign’s “opening meeting” on Monday in Mbacke, 200 kilometres (125 miles) east of Dakar. Other hopefuls including former Dakar mayor Khalifa Sall and ex-prime minister Idrissa Seck have also begun meeting voters.