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Senegal’s new president resumes office with 2 first ladies

President Bassirou Diomaye Faye (centre), and his wives, Marie Khone Faye (left) and Absa Faye (right) [VOA]

For the first time in the history of the West African country, two women will hold the title of first lady. This is thanks to Bassirou Diomaye Faye, who was sworn in as president on April 2, 2024.

Senegal, which is one of 58 countries in the world that legalises polygamy, has never before had a president practicing this type of marriage. Everything changed after the presidential elections on March 24, which brought an unexpected victory to the opposition candidate, Faye. He won 54.3% of votes, even though he was still in prison two weeks before the elections for criticising the independence of the Senegalese judicial system on social media.

According to AFP, Faye is married to two women: Marie, whom he married 15 years ago, and Absa, whom he married last year. Both will hold the title of first lady, which is a completely new situation for Senegal and requires a revision of the protocol, noted former culture minister and history professor, Penda Mbow.

Polygamy is not only legal in Senegal, but is also part of the religious tradition and practice, deeply rooted in the culture of a country where the majority of citizens profess Islam. This religion allows men to have up to four wives, provided that the man is able to maintain and provide the women with the same standard of living.

According to 2013 data from the government’s statistical and demographic agency, almost one in three marriages in Senegal is polygamous. However, the exact number of such marriages is difficult to determine because not all are formally registered.

The two first ladies are a surprising but expected result of social and political changes in Senegal. Thus, this country becomes another place on the map where traditional norms and rules are redefined in the face of new realities.

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