With a new progressive president, democracy is on the rise in Senegal

Hopeful doesn’t begin to describe the mood in Senegal right now, on the heels of our presidential election last week. We are witnessing our democracy reborn — a major step in AJWS’s mission to amplify democracy around the world.

For the past few years, the increasingly authoritarian regime led by our former president Macky Sall tried to silence all opposition, delay our elections and cling to power — but our people’s votes have finally ended their reign. Today, my country witnessed the peaceful transfer of power from Sall to Bassirou Diomaye Faye, a young, progressive, working-class leader who has captured the vibrant spirit of Senegal’s pro-democratic youth movement.

As I write you from my home in Dakar, people are feeling immense relief — because we know our democracy was not guaranteed. It was defended, and protected, by a massive, grassroots movement of Senegalese youth. AJWS partners played a key role in mobilizing, educating and inspiring this movement. President Faye’s victory can also send a message to the rest of the world: together, we can fight the global rise in authoritarianism, and we can win.

I want to tell you a bit about how we arrived at this moment.

Aliou Sane, leader of AJWS grantee Y’en a Marre, hits the streets to mobilize voters in the weeks leading up to Senegal’s presidential election. Photo courtesy of Y’en a Marre.

AJWS has been funding pro-democracy activists in Senegal since 2011. Our elected leaders have broken the trust of the people and abused their privileges too often. Jobs in Senegal are scarce; young people are fleeing by the thousands to Europe. But AJWS partner Y’en a Marre (which means “Fed Up”) is unafraid to hold our leaders accountable and demand a better future. This collective of activists, musicians and journalists have empowered Senegalese youth to vote, to care for their communities and to build a more just society that serves all of us.

Their courageous action has created a youth movement demanding change — but it also placed a target on their heads.

Leading up to last week’s election, former President Sall spent months threatening to run for an unconstitutional third term and jailing political opponents and activists — including Faye, opposition leader Ousmane Sonko and about 3,000 other people. Sall’s regime also imprisoned Y’en a Marre leader Aliou Sane for four months in late 2023 to silence his dissent. AJWS supported our partners to fight relentlessly for the release of these political prisoners. When we succeeded, and Aliou was released in February, he wrote to us:

“AJWS’s support for my family and your mobilization have been a source of strength. Your attitude came as no surprise… and is a source of inspiration and encouragement to persevere.”

Today, Aliou and his Y’en a Marre movement are celebrating and envisioning what a more democratic, free and progressive Senegal will look like. Even as President Faye takes power, AJWS partners like Y’en a Marre will continue to hold our government accountable to their duties to serve all Senegalese people.

While my fellow Senegalese citizens breathe a sigh of relief today, I know that millions of people other in countries where AJWS works remain in the midst of a long struggle for democracy.

As four additional countries where we work are set for major elections in 2024, I truly hope that more good news is to come. May Senegal be just one of the victories for democracy this year.

Tabara Ndiaye is the AJWS Program Officer in Senegal.