A polygamous Senegalese president and two women in the presidential palace

04 April 2024 / Radouan Kourak

Since Tuesday, Bassirou Diomaye Faye officially took office as president of Senegal, which prompted the public appearance of his two wives, Marie Khone and Absa Faye. This situation has triggered debates within the Senegalese population and could potentially disrupt presidential protocol.

During the last minutes of the presidential campaign in Senegal, Bassirou Diomaye Faye made a remarkable entrance by holding the hands of his two wives, Marie and Absa, on a platform. This scene, unprecedented in the Senegalese political landscape, was greeted by thousands of enthusiastic supporters. By choosing to openly display his polygamy, a traditional and religious practice deeply rooted in Senegalese culture, the candidate, carrying ideas of rupture and pan-Africanism, was elected in the first round of voting with 54,28% of the votes.

Until now little known to the general public, Marie Khone, his first wife to whom he has been married for fifteen years and with whom he has four children, comes from the same village as him. He married his second wife, Absa, just over a year ago. “It is a consecration of the tradition of polygamy at the top of the State, a situation which reflects the Senegalese reality,” estimates sociologist Djiby Diakhate. He adds that this practice is “favored” by many men, although many women remain “suspicious” of the principles which govern it. Her Senegalese colleague Fatou Sow Sarr, a widely respected sociologist, says that marriage patterns such as polygamy, monogamy and polyandry are shaped by the unique history of each people. She underlines the importance of recognizing that “the West has no legitimacy to judge our cultures”.

The practice of polygamy is deeply rooted in Senegalese culture, particularly in rural areas. In accordance with the precepts of Islam, which allows a man to have up to four wives, polygamy offers Senegalese people the possibility of expanding their family. According to a 2013 report from the National Agency for Statistics and Demography, approximately 32,5% of married Senegalese live in polygamous unions. However, this figure should be interpreted with caution, as it is common for some marriages not to be officially registered with civil authorities.