(AFP) – Senegal’s new president Macky Sall, 50, was sworn in on Monday after a crushing election victory over outgoing leader Abdoulaye Wade and a transfer of power hailed as an example of democracy on the continent.
Sall swore to “observe and enforce the constitution” while defending the “territorial integrity” of his country, at a ceremony in the gardens of a large hotel in the seaside capital Dakar.
Some 2,000 people attended, including 11 African heads of state from countries such as Liberia, Ivory Coast, Gambia, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
Sall takes over as the west African nation’s fourth president since independence from France in 1960 after winning 65.8 percent of the votes in a run-off presidential election on March 26.
He was expected to make his way to the presidential palace downtown where hundreds of cheering people lined the road awaiting the new leader.
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 as the law was not retroactive.
Furious, the entire opposition threw its weight behind Sall, a former prime minister and trained geologist, who won the country’s top job on his first attempt.
The swearing-in ceremony caps a tumultuous period for the west African nation, but Sall now 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 this month, Sall, Senegal’s first president to be born since independence in 1960, 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.