Wade becomes history as Senegal swears in Sall

President Macky Sall of Senegal

President Macky Sall of Senegal

Senegal’s new president Macky Sall was sworn in on Monday after a crushing poll victory over former leader Abdoulaye Wade and a transfer of power hailed as an example of democracy in Africa.

“I swear to faithfully fulfil the office of president … to observe and enforce the constitution, to devote all my efforts to defending constitutional institutions, territorial integrity and national independence,” Sall said as he took the oath, his right hand raised.

Some 2,000 people attended the ceremony in the gardens of a large hotel in the seaside capital, including 11 African heads of state from countries such as Liberia, Ivory Coast, Gambia, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

Immediately after the ceremony heavier matters awaited the African leaders who went into a meeting on an unfolding crisis in neighbouring Mali, whose democracy has been upended after a coup.

In stark contrast, Senegal is the only country in the region that has never experienced a coup and has been praised as an example for the continent.

Sall, 50, took over as the country’s fourth president since independence from France in 1960 after winning 65.8 percent of the votes in a run-off poll against Wade on March 26.

Dressed in a smart suit, the new leader made his way to the presidential palace in downtown Dakar as thousands clamoured around the convoy, flags waving, as he arrived at the gates behind scores of white-caped guards on white horses.

A few camels also paraded past.

Sall was forced to duck back into his car as his presidential guard struggled to clear a path through the crowd to the 105-year neoclassical palace, surrounded by tropical gardens.

Accompanied by the new first lady, Marieme Faye, Sall was greeted by trumpets before making his way inside to be welcomed into his new headquarters by mentor-turned-bitter rival Wade, dressed in a flowing blue boubou.

Among the dignitaries was superstar Youssou Ndour who played a leading role in the opposition campaign to unseat Wade after being denied the right to run for president himself.

“It is a great day for Senegal, a great day for Africa… now we can get to work! I am very happy, very moved. It is democracy which has won,” the Grammy-winner said.

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After an official transfer of power, the octogenarian Wade left the palace for the last time alongside his wife Viviane, to cheers and some boos from the large crowd.

Sall’s victory was greeted with euphoria in the country after he triumphed over Wade, whose efforts to stay in office for a third term led to deadly riots and threatened to tarnish the country’s democratic credentials.

Wade surprised the world by conceding defeat just hours after polls closed and calling his former protege to congratulate him, a move that won him plaudits from around the globe.

However despite the statesman-like move, many in Senegal see him as leaving through the back door after pushing his country to the brink with his candidacy which prompted protests in which six died and scores were injured.

After 12 years in power Wade had circumvented a constitutional two-term limit to run in the election by arguing that changes to the law in 2008 meant he could seek a fresh mandate.

Furious, the entire opposition threw its weight behind Sall, a former prime minister and trained geologist, handing him the country’s top job on his first attempt.

Sall’s rise to power caps a tumultuous period for the west African nation, but he faces high expectations from a population tired of unemployment, high food prices, power cuts and a long strike which has crippled the education sector.

In an interview with AFP before the run-off, Sall, Senegal’s first president to be born since independence, said “several emergencies” loomed.

They included 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 region.

Sall said he also wanted to halve the size of the government — slashing the cabinet by some 20 ministers — and reduce Senegal’s diplomatic representation abroad.

He would use the savings to lower the prices of basic goods, he said.