Senegal opposition leader seeks to reassure investors ahead of Sunday vote

By Thomson Reuters Mar 21, 2024 | 9:58 AM

By Portia Crowe

DAKAR (Reuters) – One of the most serious challengers to Senegalese President Macky Sall’s party in Sunday’s presidential election has sought to reassure investors about his plans for the West African nation set to begin producing oil and gas later this year.

Bassirou Diomaye Faye, an anti-establishment candidate who analysts say stands a good chance of becoming the next president, told Reuters he would prioritise rebuilding the rule of law, restoring social cohesion and bringing stability to protest-hit Senegal.

“This will allow investors to work with complete peace of mind and provide the country with the necessary calm for a proper economic take-off,” Faye, 43, said in his first interview with English-language media after being released from prison on Thursday.

“In that regard, no candidate can guarantee the security of foreign investors better than me,” he said.

Faye was released from prison under a new amnesty law introduced to reduce tensions. He had been held since April on charges including defamation and contempt of court, which he denied.

If elected, he has promised a raft of changes including plans to renegotiate Senegal’s oil and gas contracts and introduce a new currency. Some analysts say such moves could tarnish Senegal’s reputation as an investment destination.

Senegal’s oil and gas projects, which are due to start production later this year, could boost GDP growth to double digits by 2025, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Senegal shares the CFA franc currency, pegged to the euro, with seven other countries of the West African Monetary Union.

At a campaign event last week, Faye appeared to back off the promise to leave the currency, saying he would first aim for monetary reform at the regional level with partners from the West African bloc ECOWAS.

“But if our efforts within ECOWAS and (monetary union) UEMOA do not bear fruit, we will go alone,” he told Reuters.

Faye stood by his manifesto pledge to renegotiate mining and energy contracts agreed by Sall’s government. But, he said, “any commitments the (Senegalese) people have made with external partners will be respected.”

The former tax inspector was relatively unknown until popular opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, who was disqualified from taking part in the election because of a defamation conviction, backed his candidacy.

He would not say what role Sonko might play in any future government of his.

Normally a beacon of stability in a turbulent region, Senegal has been rocked by violent protests since 2021, most recently after Sall attempted to postpone the presidential election by 10 months.

He set the date for March 24 after a court ruled the delay unconstitutional.

The president’s supporters have accused the opposition of stoking unrest. Anti-government demonstrators have damaged infrastructure and kept businesses closed.

“Investors must understand that if we fought … to get to power … it is not because power fascinates us, it is to put this country on the right track,” Faye said.

(Reporting by Portia Crowe; Editing by Mark Potter)