Unconventional Precedent: Two First Ladies of Senegal at the Presidential Palace

A Polygamous President: Exploring the Complexities of Marriage and Family in Senegal

Senegal’s Political Landscape: A Polygamous President

In a remarkable moment in Senegal’s political history, Basserou Diomaye Faye made a bold gesture just before the end of the country’s presidential election campaign. Holding hands with his wives, Marie and Absa, Faye publicly revealed his polygamy, a deeply ingrained cultural and religious practice in Senegal. After receiving thunderous applause from thousands of supporters, Faye went on to win the presidential election in the first round with 54.28% of the votes.

Mary Khun, Faye’s first wife whom he married fifteen years ago and with whom he has four children, hails from his village. He married his second wife, Absa, about a year ago. Polygamy has always been a contentious issue in Senegal, a country that is over 90% Muslim. The topic was reignited by Faye’s public display of his two wives, eliciting mixed reactions from the media, social media, and families alike.

While polygamy is widely accepted by many men in Senegal as a way to expand their families and maintain their status within their communities, it is criticized by many women who argue that it discriminates against them. In 2022, the United Nations Human Rights Committee released a report stating that polygamy violates women’s rights and should be abolished. Similarly, Senegalese writer Mariama Ba highlighted the suffering of women in such marriages through her novel “A Very Long Letter.”

Despite its prevalence in rural areas where it is seen as a means of expanding families and maintaining social statuses, some see Faye’s public display as an opportunity for other men to come forward about their polygamous relationships and embrace transparency. Faye himself has taken responsibility for his polygamy while thanking his wives for their support and emphasizing the beauty of their family unit.

With Faye now serving as president of Senegal alongside multiple wives at home and potentially multiple mistresses abroad (polygamists are not limited to having only one mistress), questions have arisen about protocol surrounding multiple wives in the presidential palace. As debates continue to surface regarding this complex cultural norm within Senegalese society

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