26th March, 2012
Macky Sall’s political career appeared to have peaked under Abdoulaye Wade, where after serving as prime minister he fell from favour.
On Sunday however, he replaced his former mentor as president.
Results were barely out on Sunday when a few hours after polls closed, Wade phoned his former protege to congratulate him on his win, as exit polls showed his overwhelming lead.
Whereas Wade had spent 25 years as an opposition leader before finally winning the presidency, Sall won the country’s top political prize at his first attempt.
There was a time when Sall, 50, was widely tipped to get there under Wade’s patronage: many observers thought he was being groomed to succeed the veteran leader.
But after a spectacular rise during which he occupied several ministerial portfolios before becoming prime minister, he fell from grace, quit the party and struck out on his own.
In the February 26 first round of the presidential election, a crowded field of opposition candidates led to fears in some quarters that Wade would be able to win outright victory because of the divided competition.
Sall did enough to ensure both that Wade would not win outright — as the president had predicted he would — and that it would be he who faced him in the second-round run-off.
Although Wade led in the first round, the combined weight of the opposition vote favoured Sall — provided, of course, he could win their support.
Between the two rounds Sall won the backing of his former rivals, for more than anything, the opposition wanted the 85-year-old president out of office.
Sall was born to a modest family in the western city of Fatick, to a civil servant father and a mother who sold groundnuts.
He graduated from Dakar’s Cheikh Anta Diop University with a degree in geology, before heading to France to further his education in the field.
His father was a dedicated member of the Socialist Party which had been in power since independence, but Sall says he quickly became disgusted with its misrule, joining the opposition in 1983.
Sall was at Wade’s side when he finally unseated the socialists in the 2000 elections. A year later, the new president appointed him mining minister.
In 2003 he became minister of territorial administration and government spokesman before taking up the office of prime minister a year later.
Sall led his mentor’s election campaign in 2007, but lost his spot as prime minister in the cabinet shortly afterward, though he went on to be elected speaker of the National Assembly.
It was here that he would make what he says on his website was perceived as a “heavy political mistake”: he failed to inform Wade that parliament was summoning his son Karim for questioning.
Karim Wade, the head of a national agency carrying out massive infrastructure projects ahead of a summit of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, faced allegations of improper financing.
Sall paid dearly for his mistake.
Lawmakers promptly drew up a law reducing the mandate of the national assembly speaker from five years to one, prompting him to resign.
He went on to create his liberal Republican Alliance, under which he was elected mayor of Fatick in 2009 — a year the opposition claimed several large towns in legislative polls as dissatisfaction with Wade grew.
A tall, plump man, Sall is nicknamed “Niangal” in the local Wolof language, referring to his closed, austere expression, while he comes across as naive.
But his entourage says appearances are deceiving.
“He is not as docile as he seems,” said El Hadji Wack Ly, a lawmaker with Wade’s ruling Senegalese Democratic Party.
“He is a firm man who keeps his word.”
In an interview with AFP this week Sall said that if elected, “several emergencies” loomed.
These include a “dramatic public finance situation” as well as a food crisis in the north where some 800,000 Senegalese are going hungry due to a drought gripping the Sahel.
Sall wants to half the size of the government — a cut of some 20 ministers — reduce Senegal’s diplomatic representation abroad and use the savings to lower the prices of basic goods.
After years of complaints over the mismanagement of public finances, observers have said Wade fears he or members of his family could face prosecution if they ever lose power.
“Senegal is a democracy after all, with rules and laws,” said Sall, when asked about future implications for Wade should he lose.