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February 19 2014

February 18 2014

January 30 2014

Château-Rouge: A Promiment African Food Market in Paris

Market in Chateau-Rouge, Paris by Zanbard on Flickr via CC-BY-NC

Market in Chateau-Rouge, Paris by Zanbard on Flickr via CC-BY-NC

In order to find ingredients for African cuisine in Paris, the go-to place is still the Château-Rouge area located in the 18th District, specifically in the Rue Dejean street market [fr] that operates every day except Monday. The African Expatriate explains why the market is such a draw for many shoppers :

Visiting this predominantly African neighborhood in Paris, is like stepping right into Congo Market in Freetown, Serrekunda Market in Banjul, Sandaga Market in Dakar, Adjame Market in Abidjan. Your eyes will instantly take in the colorful array of fresh food produces lined haphazardly along the streets [..] all in all you would love it, for it would surely transport you back to a typical market day in Africa.

Metro Politics points out that gentrification has had an impact on the local market:

The extraordinary density of business activities in the neighbourhood masks large-scale daily mobility flows that connect it to other residential and commercial spaces, and which extend beyond the metropolitan area.   67% [of surveyed shoppers] said they did not live in the neighbourhood. These non-residents share certain characteristics: over 70% of them were born outside mainland France, of which half in Sub-Saharan Africa.  

January 23 2014

A Growing Job Market for Young People in Senegal: The Fishing Sector

fishermen return to the beach at Soumbedioun, Dakar via wikimedia commons  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0

fishermen return to the beach at Soumbedioun, Dakar via wikimedia commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0

To combat rampant youth unemployment in Senegal, a new initiative geared toward job creation in the fishing industry was created. Ibrahima Lô, one of the lead on the project, explains [fr] :

Nous avons un déficit de personnel. Tous les deux ans, il peut y avoir un recrutement de volontaires. Rien n'est garanti mais on fait le nécessaire pour leur recrutement dans la Fonction publique.

We have a glaring need in human ressources (in the sector). Every two years, there is a new wave of recruitment. No permanent job is guaranteed but we tried as best as we can to integrate new recruits into public service.

The fishing sector has replaced the groundnut sector as Senegal's export leader. 17% of the workforce (600,000 workers) already belongs to this sector.

January 07 2014

A Call for Africans Leaders to Stand Up for the Central African Republic

As the situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) drastically worsens [fr] (935 000 IDPs as of today), Thione Niang, the Senegalese head of the GIVE1Project and Mehdi Bensaid, a Moroccan MP, calls from the African continent to stand up and show support to the victims of the  conflict in CAR [fr]: 

Nous ne pouvons plus accepter que des frères s'entretuent sur le sol africain [..] Ainsi doit émerger une nouvelle génération de politiques inquiets pour l'avenir du continent et qui comprennent que servir l'intérêt général est l'unique solution pour résoudre les problématiques de développement en Afrique [..] Nous appelons l'ensemble des parlementaires africains à se préoccuper de la situation en Centrafrique, à inviter leurs gouvernements à s'impliquer davantage dans ses problématiques sécuritaires, à la construction d'une Afrique stable, seule solution possible à une croissance globale et sereine.

We can no longer accept that our brothers are killing each others on African soil [..]  A new generation of politicians worried about the future of the continent must emerge, politicians who understand that serving the general interest of all is the unique solution to development issues in Africa [..] We call on all African parliamentarians to address the situation in the Central African Republic and we urge their governments to get more involved in its security issues and build a more stable Africa. This is the only solution to foster a sustainable and peaceful growth across the continent.  

December 24 2013

Are Volunteer Programs Empowering — or Exploitative?

This article by Angilee Shah for The World originally appeared on on December 19, 2013 and is republished as part of a content sharing agreement.

Giving time to a cause you believe in can be extremely rewarding. As Demba Kandeh, a volunteer worker in the Gambia, explained, “Volunteering is a beautiful thing.”

But when do volunteer programs empower and when do they exploit? Does building this kind of workforce benefit communities? Would essential services simply not be provided if it weren't for volunteers, as several people told Amy Costello in her investigation of volunteer health workers in Senegal.

With help in part from the Global Voices community of bloggers, we found perspectives from around the globe.

Laura Morris, 28, an editor [for Rising Voices!] in Paris, spent five months as a volunteer for a small NGO in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and seven months as a volunteer for an organization that provides care for the elderly in London. Morris says she understood why the Cambodian organization did not pay her — she was the only foreigner there, and they could not have afforded the salary — but she thinks that the London nonprofit simply took advantage of a tough job market and gave her work that should have been performed by a paid employee.

“I volunteered for it, so it was my decision to work with them, but I was also asked to do work that I absolutely should have been paid for, that was much higher than entry-level,” Morris says.

Have you volunteered for a nonprofit organization? Share your own experiences and follow the hashtag #TrackingCharity on Twitter to discuss.

December 23 2013

Is it Fair that Thousands of Health Workers in Senegal Receive No Pay?

Awa Diagne in Senegal

Community health worker Awa Diagne volunteers in her village in Senegal. Photo by Amy Costello for PRI (used with permission)

This article and a radio report by Amy Costello for The World originally appeared on on December 19, 2013 and is republished as part of a content sharing agreement.

In many parts of Latin America, Asia and Africa, there aren't enough doctors and nurses to care for everyone who is sick. So charities and governments have enlisted thousands of volunteers to serve as community health workers.

These volunteers provide much-needed care, and because they draw no salary, they offer a cost-effective solution in impoverished places. But who is looking after the interests of the volunteers?

I traveled to the West African nation of Senegal, which is rolling out a national health program that relies on volunteers.

Only Sundays off

I headed to Ngueringne Bambara, a village about an hour outside Dakar, the capital. I walked into a bustling medical clinic. The clinics are called “health huts” in Senegal, but this one was brick and mortar.

Inside, I met Awa Diagne, a volunteer who was tending to that day's patients.

She took the pulse of a sick infant. She treated a man with a nasty gash in his leg. She saw a woman with wounds across her back that she had sustained in a car accident a few weeks earlier.

Watching Awa Diagne in action, I was impressed. She and her colleagues delivered care with kindness and concern and efficiency.

Frankly, I hadn't expected to see this level of professionalism at a clinic run by volunteers. I figured things would be more ad hoc — that the volunteers might open their clinic a few hours a week. I was wrong.

“We work from Monday to Saturday,” Awa Diagne said. “We only take Sundays off.”

And she and her colleagues never really go off duty.

“You can knock on their door at any time, even in the middle of the night,” said Mame Ngone Fall, a woman I met at the clinic. “They never complain.”

The more I heard, the less this sounded like a volunteer gig. It seemed like a job.

In fact, I learned that Awa Diagne has been doing this work, without pay, for a very long time — more than a decade.

Personal satisfaction

The health huts program here in Senegal is administered by ChildFund International, an American charity.

“Our role is to help support the health system,” said ChildFund's national health coordinator in Senegal, Mamadou Diagne (no relation to Awa Diagne). “We extend the work of the health ministry to the village level, where there aren't any healthcare facilities.”

He said his program provides care to some 9 million people. It uses 20,000 health workers.

“They don't receive a salary — it's volunteer work,” he said. “But they receive training and the feeling that they're helping their communities.”

Volunteers gain personal satisfaction from the work, he said, as well as respect from their neighbors. They're given certificates of appreciation at community ceremonies.

Awa Diagne, the volunteer I spent time with, says these nonmonetary benefits have kept her going over the past decade.

“We do this because we love the community. Not for money,” she said. “We want to help people.”

But many of the volunteers are impoverished themselves, without much money or time to spare. Awa Diagne has five children. Her husband is a bricklayer who sometimes can't find work.

“Sometimes we don't even manage to have three meals a day,” she said.

A ‘controversial’ issue

Impoverished people like Awa Diagne volunteer for an untold number of international health charities around the world. Is it ethical to ask such desperately poor people to give so much of their time, for free?

The World Health Organization calls this issue “controversial.” A 2007 paper commissioned by the WHO contended that, “as a rule, community health workers are poor and expect and require an income.” In another paper a year later, the WHO made a strong recommendation that community health workers should receive “adequate and appropriate incentives, including wages.”

So why isn't Awa Diagne paid? I asked the representative of ChildFund.

“I think everyone deserves to be paid,” Mamadou Diagne said. “But with the state of development here, we can't afford it. Take the 20,000 volunteers. If you give each one of them, not much — say, $100 — that adds up to a lot of money.”

But ChildFund's work here is paid for by a wealthy benefactor — the US government — which has given $40 million to the health huts program.

So I headed to the American embassy in Dakar and tracked down Ramatoulaye Dioume. She's been working for the US government on community health activities here for 15 years. I told her about Awa Diagne and the other volunteers who have been working six days a week for a decade.

I asked, “Is it ethical to ask them to do that for free?”

“I can turn the question,” she responded. “Is it ethical to leave them without any services? Can we [leave] the community without anything?”

Here's the problem. The US government could presumably pay volunteers in Senegal with a portion of its aid money, but that would be a short-term solution because the health huts program will soon be handed over to the Senegalese government. If Senegal can't afford to transfer those workers to its payroll, what happens to the country's healthcare system?

“If you pay the volunteers for a few years and then stop, the workers will not accept that,” said ChildFund's Mamadou Diagne. “They will organize into pressure groups — a kind of trade union — and then the government will have to find the money to pay them. Or there's a risk that everyone will just stop working.”

This is something I heard a lot in Senegal: The government simply cannot afford to pay its health workers.

Questioning assumptions

When I got back to the United States, I called Kenneth Maes. He's an anthropologist at Oregon State University who studies community health volunteers in Ethiopia.

“It's easy to say we can't afford [community health workers],” he said, “but it really takes a change in ideology, a change in values, a commitment to raising the money and convincing various players in international health that this is something worth putting money into.”

He added, “Raising the money and standing up to this unquestioned idea that it's just not possible and not sustainable [to pay thousands of workers] — I think that's the first step.”

A few governments have already taken that step. Ethiopia has hired about 40,000 community health workers, making them full-time, salaried employees. Brazil has hired even more — about 250,000 across the country.

Maes said these governments instituted the programs not only to improve the health of the public, but also as job-creation measures.

Awa Diagne, the Senegalese health volunteer, is proud of the work she has done for her community, for free, for a decade. “The government should be aware that any program they organize — vaccinations, HIV, malaria — those programs cannot be successful without the help of community workers,” she said.

“Look at our work and our activities,” she added, “We deserve to be paid. The government needs to find solutions to help us.”

Have you volunteered for a nonprofit organization? Share your own experiences and follow the hashtag #TrackingCharity on Twitter to discuss.

Amy Costello is a former Africa correspondent for PRI’s The World. She now hosts Tiny Spark, a podcast that investigates the business of doing good.

December 19 2013

Ousmane Sow Becomes First Black African Member of France Academy of Fine Arts

Senegalese sculptor Ousmane Sow was admitted on December 11 into L'Académie des Beaux-Arts de Paris [Academy of Fine Arts of Paris]. reports:

Une belle consécration pour ce sculpteur sénégalais connu pour ses séries de sculptures monumentales consacrées aux ethnies africaines (noubas, peuls, masaï, Zoulou). « Mon élection a d’autant plus de valeur à mes yeux que vous avez toujours eu la sagesse de ne pas instaurer de quota racial, ethnique ou religieux pour être admis parmi vous (…)  Comme mon confrère et compatriote sénégalais Léopold Sédar Senghor, élu à l’Académie française il y a trente ans, je suis africaniste. Dans cet esprit, je dédie cette cérémonie à l’Afrique toute entière, à sa diaspora, et aussi au grand homme qui vient de nous quitter, Nelson Mandela. »

This is a wonderful consecration for the Senegalese sculptor known for his series of monumental sculptures devoted to African tribes (Nuba, Fulani, Masai, Zulu). He states: “My election feels even greater to me because you [the academy] had the wisdom to never introduce a racial, ethnic or religious quota for admission  (…) As my colleague and fellow Senegalese Leopold Sédar Senghor, elected to the French Academy thirty years ago, I am Africanist. In this spirit, I dedicate this ceremony to Africa as a whole, to its diaspora and to the great man who has just left us, Nelson Mandela.”

December 03 2013

“I Am a German Street Vendor in Dakar”

Being a street vendor is not an easy job, especially in Senegal. Yet this is the choice that Sebastian Prothmann, a native of Germany, made after he arrived in Dakar, Senegal a few months ago. The following video shows Prothmann at work [fr]:

Prothmann explains in an interview for the Dakaroiseries blog how he came to this unusual job [fr] in a western African country :

Au début de mon séjour j’ai rencontré un jeune homme qui a lors de notre premier contact manifesté son désir ardent de quitter le Sénégal. J’étais curieux de comprendre son ‘’monde vécu’’ pour aboutir à des interprétations socio-culturelles sur  son envie  d’émigrer. Il était marchand ambulant. Donc, un jour je lui ai demandé si je pouvais l’accompagner dans sa routine quotidienne. Ce qu’il a accepté. Il m’a donc fait faire un premier tour, soi-disant pour mon apprentissage.  Il en  était réjoui, car on a fait de bons bénéfices [..] Avec cet engagement, j’ai eu plus des prises de conscience dans le secteur informel, communément appelé aussi « Dóor waar », qui joue un rôle fondamental pour la jeunesse sénégalaise. [..] j’étais souvent confronté à une incrédulité frappante quant à mes origines. La plupart des personnes n’ont pas cru qu’un homme blanc peut s’investir dans un tel travail. Plusieurs fois j’étais aussi confronté à une confiance plus élaboré á mon égard. Il y avait des considérations selon lesquels moi en tant que Blanc devait vendre des produits de bonne qualité.

At the beginning of my stay (in Senegal), I met a young man who at our first meeting expressed his longing to leave Senegal. I wanted to understand why he wanted to leave and how his everyday life was so I could comprehend the socio-cultural interpretations of his desire to leave. He was a peddler. So one day I asked if I could accompany him in his daily routine hhich he accepted. After he made ​​me do a round as a vendor, supposedly for my training. He was glad because he made some good profits [ ..] With this new work, I had a better understanding of the informal sector here, commonly known as “door waar ” which plays a fundamental role in the lives of Senegalese youth . [ ..] I was often faced with disbelief when it came to my origins. Most people did not believe that a white man can get involved in such work here. Several times I was also granted more trust about my products than the other street vendors. There was a prevailing line of thinking that suggested that a white person must be selling good quality products .


November 21 2013

PHOTOS: The Thrill and Agony of World Cup Qualifying Matches

A few do-or-die matches to qualify for the 2014 World Cup were played worldwide last week in Africa and Europe. Despite the of-repeated claim that those games are just that, games, how people behave before and after some matches show that there is a little more at stake that what everyone would like it to be.

Here are reactions caught on film from four of those deciding matches, which ended in complete elation for Algeria, Côte d'Ivoire, Cameroon and France, while Burkina Faso, Senegal, Ukraine and Tunisia saw their hopes of heading to Brazil vanish with the final whistle.

Algeria vs. Burkina Faso

Algeria qualified thanks to a late goal scored on Burkina Faso in additional time.

The crowd in Algiers felt the World Cup fever, as seen in this photo by Twitter user Bilel.:

Photo taken in Algeria, we are totally invested in this #AlgeriainBrazil, my face!

Algerian bloggers added humor to the joy of qualifying for the World Cup in Brazil:

The tension during the first leg of the match-up on October 12 led some supporters to resort to racial insults towards the black referee, as captured in these screenshots by Paulin Diasivi:

During the match Burkina vs Algeria, some racists tweets by Algerian supporters

Côte d'Ivoire vs. Senegal

Côte d'Ivoire was also involved in late game drama when they managed to tie Senegal in Dakar 1-1 to qualify. The joy was visible in the team's dance as the game came to an end:

Côte d'Ivoire pull out a win after 90 minutes of play, the Elephants will go to Brazil

Brazil, here we come

Cameroon vs. Tunisia

Cameroon's World Cup play-off win over Tunisia was less dramatic with a 4-1 victory. Still, there was a bit controversy as Tunisia claims that two Cameroonian players were not eligible to play. Yaoundé, the economic capital of Cameroon, nevertheless was still beaming with pride after the win:

Cameroon is heading to the World Cup

Given the political dissidence in Tunisia, some supporters may not be as sad as expected with the elimination of their national team. The current government is quite unpopular within  the country's secular community because of stricter religious measures, and a win for the country's football team could have been seen as a win for the government : 

Cameroon 4-1 Tunisia, the hypocrites on “Twitter” [ed's note: pretend to be sad while cheering the elimination of Tunisia] vs. ”at home”, fess up now…LOL 

France vs. Ukraine

France had the deepest hole to climb out of to qualify after they lost the first leg 2-0 against Ukraine. In an miraculous come back, France won 3-0 in the second leg of the match-up, prompting raucous celebration from French fans and shows of despair from Ukrainian supporters:

Tonight, the stadium was shaking! The images from the crowd #Brazil

November 06 2013

The FIRE Awards Winners for Internet Development in Africa

The FIRE programme awards, an initiative of AFRINIC, acknowledge the actors from the African region who strive to provide solutions to internet development for the African Continent. The 2013 FIRE Awards Winners are : 

Below is the presentation of the MEWC initiative :

October 01 2013

#EauSecours: The Hashtag Poking Fun at Water Shortage in Dakar, Senegal

Dakar, the capital city of Senegal, has been plagued with water shortage for the past 15 days [fr]. Senegalese on social media are coping with this dire situation with humor and patience. The hashtag #eausecours (#H2OUT) is currently used on Twitter and Facebook to poke fun at the ongoing lack of clean water, as depicted by this unequivocal tweet :  


September 02 2013

Meet Aminata Touré, the New Iron Lady of Senegal

Aminata Touré was introduced as the new prime minister of Senegal after Abdoul Mbaye was dismissed by president Macky Sall [fr]. Assirou News states that [fr] Touré is a human right activist and a former coordinator for the UNFPA. Boubacar Kante reports that she is also known as Senegal's Iron Lady for her tough stance on corruption [fr] : she led the investigation against prominent religious leader Cheikh Béthio Thioune for accessory to murder.


July 25 2013

Sifting Fact From Fiction on the French Speaking Web

A recent row between a veiled woman‘s husband and the police in Trappes, a low-income suburb of Paris, was followed by numerous erroneous posts and images [fr] posted on social media websites. The blog Les Décodeurs, which strives to sift out truth from lies on the Francophone web, was quick to counter the false information.

Fabrice Florin, the French-speaking founder of NewsTrust and TruthSquad, explains the need for fact-checking initiatives:

There is a growing amount of misinformation, particularly in this political climate [..] With an expanding universe of news options, once someone finds a source of information they like or agree with, they tend to cling to it. The reason [for fact check] is to get people thinking about what they read and hear, and from there, questioning it.

Here is a review of recent events that were reviewed extensively by fact checkers in French-speaking online media.

Row in Trappes

On July 19, 2013 in Trappes, the husband of a Caribbean woman who was wearing a niqab (face veil), allegedly tried to strangle [fr] a police officer. Following the husband's arrest, 200 people protested in front of a police station destroying property, and were eventually repelled by riot police. Images posted on social media were erroneously tagged as originating from the violence during the protests. Les Décodeurs unpacked numerous errors [fr]:

Quelques personnes, en général connues pour leur activité militante, diffusent sciemment de fausses informations. C'est le cas de cette photo, diffusée par Stéphane Journot, ancien militant UMP, actif durant la campagne de 2012

Some people, known for their political activism, knowingly share false information. As is the case with this photo, shared by Stéphane Journot, a former UMP (right wing party) activist from the 2012 campaign.

Below is the erroneous tweet and photo [fr]:

you might call this racism but..look for yourself #Trappes

The photo was in fact an old image taken in 2010 in Lyon. Les Décodeurs adds that there were many similar tweets spreading, knowingly or not, the wrong information.

Fact checking on the African continent 

African nations are well aware of the importance of fact-checking initiatives. Ushahidi, the world's first crowd-mapping platform  originated from the African continent. A project called Africa Check specifically monitors information from African leaders. Their mission statement says:

We test claims made by public figures around the continent, starting in South Africa, using journalistic skills and evidence drawn from the latest online tools, readers, public sources and experts, sorting out fact from fiction.

In Francophone Africa, the focus has been mostly on election monitoring. Election monitoring initiatives, in SenegalBurundi, are well-established.  Elections are coming up in a few Francophone nations,including Mali, Togo and Madagascar. Pen Plus Bytes has dedicated a specific platform for election monitoring in Africa called the African Elections Project (AEP). The project wrote the following report on the ongoing Togolese parliamentary elections:

About 3.3 million registered Togolese voters will cast ballots today in 7,600 polling stations to select 91 Parliamentarians out of about 1,174 contesting candidates from the ruling and opposition parties. This election has been delayed for eight months amid concerns by opposition parties that the poll won’t be transparent and fair.

Sylvio Combey in Togo has already posted images of alleged fraud from his Twitter account:


8:00, A ballot box is shown to be empty in #Kanyikopé (Togo) #TGinfo #TG2013 #Nukpola #Fb

In Mali, Rising Voices (a Global Voices project) grantee Fasokan has been involved with the monitoring the upcoming Presidential elections. He wrote about the training of electoral observers [fr] :

Pendant cinq jours, plusieurs thèmes ont été abordés : la loi électorale, la charte des partis politiques, les genres journalistiques (compte rendu, portrait, interview…), les règles de déontologie et éthique du journaliste, les contraintes liées à l’exercice de la profession

For five days, several topics were discussed: the electoral law, the charter for political parties, the different journalistic activities (report, biography, interviews …), the rules of conduct and ethics of a journalist, the constraints while conducting journalistic activities

Training  for Media and Elections in Mali. Photo by Fasokan published with his permission

Training for Media and Elections in Mali. Photo by Fasokan published with his permission

Madagascar also awaits elections and concerns are already arising with false information posted on the web. During recent protests asking for a firm electoral calendar, a photo claiming that protesters were out in force was fact checked by Global Voices contributor Jentilisa.

Jentilisa wrote [mg]:

Fa maninona ho'aho ity sarin'ny tolon'ny 2009 na fony mbola tsy vita ny lapan'ny tanàna hita amin'ny “grue” manakaiky ny hazo avo ireo no miverimberina hanetanana ny tolonareo e? Sahala amin'ny hoe io no tao androany nefa tamin'ny 2009 ity sary ity?

Why is a photo from 2009 resurfacing again (and tagged as photo from recent events)? One can see with the crane in the background that it is clearly not a recent photo. This crane was there in 2009, wasn't it ?

The photo Jentilisa disputes is below:

Fact checked photo of protests in Madagascar via Jentilisa - Public Domain

Fact checked photo of protests in Madagascar via Jentilisa – Public Domain

With the worldwide growth of the web, it is critical that fact checking project becomes more mainstream and better known as well.

July 17 2013

Poet Aimé Césaire's Battle Continues Stronger than Ever

[All links forward to French-language webpages unless otherwise noted]

The famed poet and activist from Martinique Aimé Césaire [en] would have been 100 years old on June 26, 2013. Césaire's birthday is an opportunity to pay tribute to the champion of  anti-colonial African identity Négritude movement: a movement that is currently being shaped by a more globalized world where people come together across borders and continents, all the while attempting to protect and foster their own cultural identities.

It is as if his vision of the world back in the 1930′s along with those who fought for respect for cultural differences has become yet again a tangible reality 80 years later. Today, almost every country in the world fights a battle against racism with relative success. Still, injustices remain, the verdict in the trial for the death of Trayvon Martin can attest to this [en].

Trayvon Martin via wikipedia CC-BY-3.0

Trayvon Martin on wikipedia CC-BY-3.0

Today, human dignity is attacked in more subtle ways, such as economic hardship and profiling, highlighting the need to revisit the work of activists in the past to fight human oppression. With respect to the fight of activists, writer, French resistance member and Occupy inspiration Stéphane Hessel's successful call for outrage came to fruition to a certain extent with the Arab revolts and the protests in Brazil and in Europe.

Here is a retrospective on the life of Aimé Césaire by Yao Assogba, a sociology professor at the University of Quebec :

Né à la Martinique le 26 juin 1913, Aimé Césaire, poète et homme politique, est mort en sa terre natale, le 16 avril 2008, à l’âge vénérable de 94 ans. La poésie de Césaire est un grand cri de révolte contre la domination coloniale. Son œuvre, à la fois littéraire et sociologique, est une arme de combat contre la « chosification » des peuples noirs par la colonisation européenne. C’est un phare pour la décolonisation de l’Afrique et la réhabilitation des cultures négro-africaines. Pour bien apprécier l’influence déterminante qu’Aimé Césaire, chantre du mouvement de la « négritude », a eue sur la décolonisation et la renaissance de l’Afrique et des Antilles après la Deuxième Guerre mondiale, il faut se replacer dans la situation coloniale de l’époque.

Born in Martinique on the 26 of June, 1913, Aimé Césaire, poet and politician died in his birthplace on the 16 of April 2008 at 94 years old. Césaire's poetry is a great cry of revolt against colonial domination. His work, both literary and sociological is a weapon of warfare against the reification of black peoples by European colonization. It is a siren call for the decolonization of Africa and the rehabilitation of black African cultures. To truly appreciate the important influence that Aimé Césaire, champion of the “negritude” movement had on decolonization, and the renaissance of Africa and the West Indies after the Second World War, one must put oneself in the mindset of the colonial times.

Noel Kodia added on the panafrican news website Le Pangolin Afrik :

Après avoir découvert les lettres en Martinique au lycée de Fort de France et à Louis-le-Grand à Paris, il fonde avec Léopold Sédar Senghor et Léon-Gontran Damas en 1939 “L’Etudiant noir” qui se présente comme une suite logique d’une autre revue de l’époque intitulée “Légitime défense”. A la même année apparaît son “Cahier d’un retour au pays natal” comme pour annoncer son retour au bercail dans une langue volcanique et pleine d’agressivité et qui va s’approfondir avec une colère légitime dans “Discours sur le colonialisme”. Le texte met en relief l’itinéraire du poète nègre devant son destin de colonisé dont la thématique sera le nerf directeur de l’emblématique “Discours sur le colonialisme”. Dans ce cri de douleur, il ne se voit pas fils de certains royaumes africains comme le Dahomey et le Ghana.

After discovering literature in Martinique at the Lycée de Fort de France and at Louis-le-Grand in Paris, he founded, along with Léopold Sédar Senghor and Léon-Gontran Damas in 1939 “L’Etudiant noir” [The Black Student] that positioned itself as a follow up to another journal of the time, “Légitime défense” [Self-Defense]. In the same year “Cahier d’un retour au pays natal” [Notes on a return to the motherland] appeared, as if to announce a return to the cradle with an explosive and aggressive language that eventually came to a crescendo in “Discours sur le colonialisme” [Discourse on Colonialism]. The text throws into relief the journey of the black poet, facing his fate as a colonized person. The raw nerve of the iconic “Discours sur le colonialisme”. In this crying out of pain, he doesn't see himself as the son of certain African kingdoms such as Dahome and Ghana.

Inscription d'Aimé Césaire, Panthéon, Paris, France

Aimé Césaire's Inscription at the Panthéon in Paris, France on Wikipedia -public domain

Aimé Césaire and the fight for human dignity

Nicole on médiapart wrote about the challenges that Césaire had to face during his life:

Les écrits d’Aimé Césaire ne lui ont pas attiré les sympathies de l’Académie française qui, globalement, est de cette droite revancharde forte de ses certitudes et qui ne renie pas la conception de la civilisation qu’elle a infligée aux colonies, et qu’Aimé Césaire n’a cessé de dénoncer avec élégance et pertinence. «…La France moutonnière aura préféré Senghor et ses mots fleuris, sa poésie de garçon-coiffeur, ses «versets», sa sotte imitation, pâlotte et ringarde, de Claudel, ses génuflexions d’acculturés et son culte imbécile d’une toute aussi imbécile civilisation de l’universelle et d’une bâtarde francophonie; au style de pur-sang, de révolté, d’écorché vif d’un Alioune Diop, d’un Gontran-Damas, d’un Césaire…Aimé Césaire restera la mauvaise conscience de ce XXe siècle, de ces générations qui donnèrent au monde le contraire de ce qu’elles espéraient. Il aura été de toutes les luttes progressistes de son temps.
Il aura écrit, avec son Discours sur le colonialisme, le livre le plus concis, le plus fort sur ce thème. Il aura bâti la réfutation la plus solide de ce système. Il aura été un écrivain supérieurement doué, un humaniste sincère, généreux. (…) Césaire fut une leçon d’honnêteté, une leçon d’amour de la langue française, un maître en écriture, un traceur de route, une école de style -lui, si parfait pur-sang littéraire- un repère».

Aimé Césaire's writings did not attract the support of the Académie Française– that self-consciously and self-confidently opposing right that refuses to revoke the idea of civilization that it foisted upon the colonies, which Aimé Césaire never ceased to denounce eloquently and precisely. “…sheepheaded France would have preferred Senghor, his affected, flowery language, his verses, his mindless imitation of Claudel, wan and ossified; his conformist kowtowing and his stupid worship of another, equally stupid civilization of the universal whole, and of a half-breed Francophone. In the manner of purebred, rebel, torn from the flesh of an Alioune Diop, a Gontran-Damas, a Césaire…Aimé Césaire would remain the thorn in the side of the 20th Century — of those generations that would give the world the exact opposite of what was expected. He would become a part of all the progressive movements of his time. He would write, with his “Discours sur le colonialisme” the most accurate and strongest book on this subject. He would fight against the strongest rebuttals of this system. He would be a more gifted writer, a sincere and generous humanist…Cesaire was a study in honesty, in love for the French language, a master in writing, a GPS, his own school of thought; he, so perfect, a real true literary thoroughbred — a landmark.

Here is a video of his speech on colonialism read by Thymslab:

To put Césaire's impact into a contemporary perspective, it is worth having the input of a contemporary writer such as Alain Mabanckou, Prix Renaudot 2006, who was interviewed by Grégoire Leménager on the blog le Pangolin:

Alain perpétue en quelque sorte le travail des pionniers dans une démarche autocritique relativement objective et un style humoristique captivant. Il s’attaque aux stéréotypes passés et présents en montrant les différentes conditions de l’homme noir selon son lieu de résidence. Le noir d’Amérique semblerait avoir mieux réussi à vivre sa citoyenneté en Amérique qu’en France et les africains de l’ouest différent de ceux du centre dans leurs perceptions de leur histoire et de leur présence actuelle au monde.

Alain carries on in some way the work of pioneers on a path of objective self-examination and a captivating humorous style. He attacks stereotypes of the past and present by showing different conditions of the black man depending on where he lives. The black of America would seem to have better succeeded in staking his claim as a citizen than in France, and West Africans are different from Central Africans in their views of their history and their modern day presence in the world.

July 04 2013

Did Obama's African Tour Help or Hurt?

US President Barack Obama finished his six-day tour of three African countries, Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania, on July 2, 2013. The global public opinion about the importance and impact of his tour is sharply divided.

During his visit, Obama announced a new initiative, “Power Africa”, to double access to electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa. Through this initiative, the US is committing seven billion US dollars while private sector companies have committed more than nine billion.

According to the White House blog, nearly 70 percent of Africans lack access to electricity.

Image of President Barack Obama on a billboard in Dar Es Salaam. Photo courtesy of Sandy Temu.

Image of President Barack Obama on a billboard welcoming him in Dar Es Salaam. Photo courtesy of Instagrammer Sandy Temu.

Commenting about the initiative, Bright Simmons at African Argument commended this new idea for strategic engagement with Africa:

As one of the people who have in the past complained about the seeming lack of new ideas for a “strategic engagement with Africa” from the Obama White House, I welcome renewed energy towards that direction.

The issue selected – Africa’s electricity challenge – is clearly a vital one. The World Bank for instance says that all sub-Saharan African countries, minus South Africa, combined do not generate more electricity than Argentina. Including South Africa, they produce only as much as Spain.

It is commendable that the White House is pledging up to $7 billion in additional funding from two of its overseas-focussed agencies – EXIM and OPIC – for this cause.

I am sure that the White House is already aware that even if this whole amount was provided in a single year, and it is more likely that it will be provided over a 3 to 5 year timeframe, it will not be able to dent the $23 billion YEARLY deficit in energy investment on the continent.

Daniel McLaughling reacted to his post arguing that abolishing national monopolies on electrical utilities is the only solution capable of producing results:

If people are serious about solving Africa’s electricity problem, they should be promoting the only solution capable of producing real results: abolish national monopolies on electric utilities. It amazes me that, with all of the talk about increasing electricity production, nobody wants to admit into the discussion the possibility that government monopolies and corruption are the problem, and that billions more in money transferred to governments will only entrench the corruption further, with little benefit for the people. Open up the markets to competition and profits and you will see large-scale investments and significantly improved access.

Joel B. Pollak was of the view that “Power Africa” will likely not produce as much energy as promised:

[...] “Power Africa” will likely not produce as much energy as promised, while lining the pockets of politically-connected individuals in both the U.S. and Africa. Meanwhile, China, which does not mind if Africans are driving cars and living in large houses with air conditioning, will continue to invest in Africa in ways that generate actual economic growth, relegating the U.S. to the sidelines in Africa's economic future.

Siddhartha Mitter noted that “all infrastructure investment should be considered a good thing unless proven otherwise—especially in Africa”:

At present, continent-wide installed capacity and power generation are roughly equivalent to those of Germany or Canada. Remove South Africa and Egypt, and you are left with about 63 GW supplying 260 billion kWh, scarcely more than Australia or Iran. In this context, if the first phase of Power Africa succeeds in its stated goal of adding 10 GW of generation capacity and connecting 20 million new residential and commercial customers, it will represent a major expansion—albeit not near the doubling of access that, according to the White House fact sheet on Power Africa, is the program’s ultimate aim. Indeed, the same fact sheet soberly estimates that it would cost $300bn to secure universal access to power on the continent by 2030.

Despite the excitement shown by citizens of the three countries, Shadow Government showed that there was a low point to the trip:

But there has been a low point to the trip: namely, his comments in South Africa during the press conference with President Jacob Zuma. The president made what I consider ill-thought-out comments, probably meant to be humorous, regarding the press. He referred to the American press corps as “my press,” and he chided them for asking too many questions. Normally, perhaps, this wouldn't be a big deal. But in that he was visiting three African countries whose press is judged by Freedom House to be “partially free,” I think it is not just bad form but harmful for his administration's support for democracy. Of course I would not expect the president to use his trip as an occasion to criticize his hosts directly. But I would expect that while he, himself, is under scrutiny for his administration's treatment of the press (the AP phone records and Fox News's James Rosen), he would not make light of such matters.

Kumekucha called Obama “snubbish Obama” for not visiting Kenya, the land of his father:

Now that Obama has finally landed in Dar es Salaam dancing to Bongo ‘Ohangla’ Flava [Bongo Flava is the name for Tanzanian Hip Hop and R&B music], we can finally bid him bye from without and mend our punctued national pride.

What a snubbish man to have him camp at next door neighbour with no regard to the hurt he is causing his own people who adore him so much. SHAME.

Forget all the bitterness spewed that we do not need Obama's visit. True, the economic side of such a visit would be realisedmuch later but boy, isn't Nairobi missing the buzz!

Obama's ICC-laced whip smacks of utmost contempt after Kibaki declared a holiday in his honour after winning the elections in 2008. What is more, the Tanzanians could afford to shame him with a street name for recognition.

The YouTube video below posted by the White House shows a young South African showing Obama his rap skills at the Desmond Tutu HIV Center:

Looking at Obama's overall contribution to Africa's development, Tolu considered Obama “positively neglectful” when comparing him to the Bush administration. He explained:

The Bush government left footprints across the continent beyond the aid arena. It played a role in the signing of the peace agreement that brought an end to decades of civil war in Sudan, showed a lot of interest in bringing an end to the wars in the Congo region, and helped bring about an end to the civil war in Liberia, helping ensure Charles Taylor’s resignation, and eventual arrest and prosecution. (Taylor has of course since wondered aloud why Bush is himself not facing prosecution for his own “crimes”).

Against this background of US, Obama comes across as positively neglectful. His only activity of note has been to ramp up US military activity in Africa, adding drone bases and deploying significant numbers of troops. When he was first elected there were celebrations across the continent, and perhaps unrealistic expectations that he would champion African interests on the world stage. Indeed on his first visit to Ghana, he declared that he had “the blood of Africa within me”. Since then his absence has been keenly felt, sparking accusations that he has betrayed his roots.

But is this fair? Does Obama have a special responsibility to the continent, because of his ancestry? Perhaps not. Perhaps the emphasis on Obama as a black president is missing the point. Because it’s not just for reasons of solidarity that the US president should attend to Africa. There are more selfish reasons, both , economic and political, as well.

Being a feminist South African, Jennifer Thorpe noted that the environment she lives in affects women’s lives most tangibly. She therefore looks at Obama's environmental protection track record:

We know the US has a poor track record environmentally — a perfect example of how legislation protecting the environment is not nearly as good as not polluting it in the first place. Recently Obama has changed his tune, saying he’d stop dangerous and environmentally disastrous projects like the Keystone pipeline if they showed the environmental impact would be negative.

In South Africa, the Constitution provides the right for all of us to live in an environment that is not bad for our health. Yet we see so often that environmental impact assessments just make sure that companies meet the bare minimum rather than actively going out of their way to protect the land and environment that belongs to all of us. I hope that when President Obama evaluates the impact of Keystone on the environment, he does so in broad strokes, not in a narrowly defined minimum norms and standards type of way. I think the question should be simple — will the innately valuable biodiversity, beauty, and sanctity of the land be improved by Keystone? As someone who grew up in Hawaai, I know he knows the answer to this question in his heart.

On Twitter, BBC's Andrew Harding (@BBCAndrewH) observed:

@BBCAndrewH: #obama – Africa cannot just be a source of raw materials for somebody else.

Mr. Mabotja (@MelosoDrop_Line) responded to @BBCAndrewH's tweet by saying:

@MelosoDrop_Line: @BBCAndrewH #Obama never indicated that Africa is a raw materials shop… His indicating the shift away from that mentality

Dayo Olopade (@madayo) wrote:

@madayo: The #ObamaInAfrica trip is as notable for what he's doing as for what he's not. Rule of law fixation leaves out the most relevant countries.

Haru Mutasa (@harumutasa) pointed out what some Africans are asking:

@harumutasa: #obamainafrica. Some Africans are asking, “what has the US president done for Africa that's different from previous US leaders?”

Ashley Koen (@a_koen) was concerned about innocent civilians who were rounded up to “clean up the city” – it is a commons practice in most African countries when a foreign head of state, especially from Europe and USA visits, for street vendors to be removed:

@a_koen: Will all those displaced businesses and innocent civilians who were thrown in jail to clean up the city get their lives back? #ObamainAfrica

Obama in Africa: Catching Up with China

President Obama is currently touring Africa on a visit scheduled from June 26 to July 3, 2013. He was recently in South Africa after having visited Senegal and Tanzania. Many commentators see this trip as a catch-up mission, as an attempt by the United States to respond to the Chinese economic breakthrough [fr] in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Since 2010, China has been the leading commercial partner in Africa [fr], although four years ago, at the time of Obama’s visit to Ghana, the US were in this position. Obama’s speech in Ghana four years ago left many Africans sceptical and there seemed to be little common ground.

In the video below, Global Voices contributor Abel Asrat for Global Voices in Ahmaric gave his point of view on Obama's policy in Africa as of today:

On Twitter, doubts over the reasons for Obama’s visit to Africa were reflected by use of hashtag Wolof  #ObamaTakh which translates just well as “Because of Obama” as “Thanks to Obama” – appeared several days before his arrival in Dakar.

Until his arrival on Senegalese soil this was the first acceptance of the word which took over the social networks. Then the mood changed, as @LebouPrincess, a Senegalese based in DC,  underlined on Twitter:

Plus impressionnant que l'arrivée du Air Force One c'est le revirement des #kebetu (Twittos en Wolof] lol guemoulene dara [vous êtes versatiles] #ObamaTakh

What was more striking than the arrival of Air Force One was the return of hashtags #kebtu, (Tweets in the Wolof language) lol guemoulene dara [you are versatile] #ObamaTakh.

The following day Obama managed to get the Senegalese somewhat on his side by mentioning the Senegalese Fight during his discussions with President Macky Sall and saying some words in the Wolof language: Nio Far (We are partners),Teranga (hospitality) and Jerejef (Thank you).

Central to discussions between the two presidents were the conflict in Mali, drug trafficking and economic issues [fr]:

Le président américain Barack Obama a annoncé, jeudi à Dakar, que son administration était en train de « chercher des modalités de reconduction » de l’AGOA [African Growth and Opportunity Act], la Loi américaine sur la croissance et les opportunités en Afrique.
S'exprimant au cours d'une conférence de presse conjointe avec son homologue sénégalais Macky Sall, au lendemain de son arrivée au Sénégal pour une visite officielle de trois jours, le chef de l'Etat américain a indiqué avoir demandé à son administration de travailler pour arriver à une reconduction de l'AGOA.
L'AGOA est un programme unilatéral de préférence commerciale signé par le Congrès des États-Unis et permettant l'exemption de taxes et l'accès à un quota libre pour plus de 6 400 produits provenant des pays éligibles de l'Afrique sub-saharienne.
Le président Obama a par ailleurs réaffirmé la volonté de son administration de travailler à développer les relations commerciales entre son pays et le Sénégal.

The American President, Barack Obama, announced on Thursday in Dakar that his administration was currently “researching ways to renew” from the AGOA (African Growth and Opportunity Act), the American law covering growth and opportunities in Africa.
During a joint press conference with his Senegalese counterpart, Macky Sall, the day after his arrival for a three day visit to Senegal, the American head of state indicated that he had asked his administration to work on renewal of the AGOA. The AGOA is a unilateral programme covering commercial preference signed by the United States congress, allowing tax exemption and access to a free quota for more than 6,400 products coming from eligible countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. What is more, President Obama restated the desire of his administration to work on developing commercial relations between his country and Senegal.

In Senegal and elsewhere, the most commented upon moment of the press conference given by the two presidents, was when Barack Obama, freely and almost certainly with the backing of his Senegalese counterpart, broached the topic of gay rights in Africa. Sabine Cessou on Rue89 explains how questions were selected [fr] during the press conference :

Les questions des quelques 300 journalistes présents ne pouvaient pas être posées librement, mais avaient été sélectionnées à l’avance. Ce processus a permis à seulement deux journalistes sénégalais et deux journalistes américains de poser quelques salves de questions chacun.

The questions from the 300 journalists were screened beforehand. The process allowed for two Senegalese journalists and two american ones to ask the tough questions.

Macky Sall’s response did not disappoint Senegalese traditionalists [fr]:

Fondamentalement, c’est une question de société. Il ne saurait y avoir un modèle fixe dans tous les pays. Les cultures sont différentes, tout comme les religions et les traditions.
Même dans les pays où il y a dépénalisation de l’homosexualité, les avis ne sont pas partagés. Le Sénégal est un pays tolérant : on ne dit pas à quelqu’un qu’il n’aura pas de travail parce qu’il est homosexuel. Mais on n’est pas prêt à dépénaliser l’homosexualité. C’est l’option pour le moment, tout en respectant les droits des homosexuels.
Nous ne sommes pas homophobes au Sénégal. La société doit prendre le temps de traiter ces questions sans pression.

At heart, this is a question of society. It would not be possible to have a fixed model in every country. Cultures are different, just as religions and traditions are.
Even in countries which have decriminalised homosexualisity, opinions are not shared. Senegal is a tolerant country: nobody is ever told that they will not work because they are homosexual. However, we are not ready to decriminalise homosexuality. That is our choice for the present, while at the same time we respect the rights of homosexuals.
We are not homophobes in Senegal. Society must take time to deal with these issues without pressure.

In the US, Kimberly McCarthy had been executed the previous day in Texas, and her cutting remarks about the death penalty had created the same unanimity: the Senegalese president remarked to his interviewer that certain countries still applied the death penalty – without naming the United States – although it is abolished in Senegal (the last capital punishment was in 1967) which, on the other hand, is careful not to preach to others.

As @hpenot_lequipe, a journalist for the french newspaper l'Equipe, remarked on Twitter:

Très intéressant échange entre Obama et Macky Sall. Pour une fois, un président africain ne s'est pas écrasé devant E-U. Respect.

Very interesting exchange between Obama and Macky Sall. For once, an African president who doesn’t fall before the US. Respect.

And from @Toutankhaton, member of the african diaspora in Paris :

Bravo à @macky_sall pour sa réponse cash à @barackobama ! Peine de mort vs mariage gay! #obamatakh

Bravo @macky_sall for his kosher response to @barackobama! Death penalty vs gay marriage! #obamatakh

Below is the video of the press conference by Xalimasn from Senegal:

Photos from Obama’s visit can be viewed on the Facebook page of the Dakar Echo.

In South Africa, his welcome seemed a little less cordial, as the Washington Post's foreign affairs blogger Max Fisher points out:

For much of the 1980s, the United Kingdom and United States were perceived by some South Africans, not wholly without reason, as tolerating the apartheid government. That may help explain why some of Obama’s critics in South Africa criticize him for supporting the “apartheid state” of Israel. The groups also cite U.S. drone strikes and the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.


June 24 2013

Dignity before Visa, Says Senegalese Prize Winner to France

I decided to decline using my entry visa to France [..] I am waiving it off on behalf of the thousands of Senegalese citizens who deserve respect, a respect that they are often denied at the French consulate.

Those are the words written by Bousso Dramé in an open letter to the French consulate [fr] in Dakar, Senegal. Bousso Dramé is a Senegalese consultant, London school of economics graduate who was Paris-bound to receive a literary prize. The disrespect she faced [fr] while trying to obtain her visa is an experience that many African citizens could relate to according to the many online reactions following her open letter.

June 16 2013

Paying Tribute to Captain Mbaye Diagne, The Senegalese Hero of Rwanda

At the time of writing, June 2013, official commemoration of victims of the 1994 Rwandan genocide is continuing around the world. But few people still remember Captain Mbaye Diagne. However, this young officer from the Senegalese army showed bravery at a time when the rest of the world was demonstrating cowardice. Enrico Muratore has been fighting for years to ensure that the name of this hero is not forgotten.

Capitaine Mbaye

Photo of Captain Mbaye Diange from the Facebook page of the association bearing his name, used with their permission.

Global Voices posed several questions to Enrico Muratore on the objective of his action via the Association of Captain Mbaye Diagne – Nekkinu Jàmm:

Enrico, could you introduce yourself in a few words?

Hello, I am an ex-United Nations Human Rights Officer who served during, among others, the peace-keeping missions and also worked in Rwanda, a country which I have been really interested in since the 1994 genocide. I am Italian, but I have lived in Africa for 15 years, and in Senegal for 4 years.

On May 31, you organised a ceremony to commemorate a Senegalese soldier who died during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Could you explain to us the reasons for this ceremony?

We were celebrating the memory of Captain Mbaye Diagne, who was a military observer for UNAMIR (United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda). When the genocide started on April 7, 1994, individual unarmed rescue missions immediately started saving all those who could be saved. They started with the children of the Rwandan Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingyimana – who had just been killed, after the massacre of his escort of ten Belgian paras. When the United Nations decided to withdraw nine tenths of their military presence who were already on site (and who could have opposed the genocide), 270 soldiers remained, among them the Captain, who undertook his perilous missions to save the others, until he was killed on May 31, 1994, after having saved, they say, nearly 600 people. So we celebrate the memory of this just and altruistic man who gave his life to save that of others at this time.

What are the initial objectives of the Association? Who are the members? Is it open to other members?

The Association aims to promote the memory of Captain Mbaye Diagne and to support his family’s development, because it is not fair to abandon the families of those who gave themselves for others. Of course, their sacrifice doesn’t mean to say that they didn't love their own families! Therefore, we must do something for them. The President of the Association is Mrs Yacine Diagne, the Captain’s widow; the Vice-President is Colonel Faye who was friend of the Captain and was in the UNAMIR in Rwanda with him; I personally am the General Secretary (GS) and the Captain’s children, Coumba and Cheick are the GS assistants; next, as Treasurer, we have Ras Makha Diop, philosopher, gardener and Senegalese artist, instead of the late lamented good and just Doctor Adotevi. Next, we have founding members such as Pierantonio Costa, ex-Honorary Consul of Rwanda who saved 2000 people from death during the genocide, Mark Doyle who is a principal correspondent for the BBC and previously friend of the Captain, senior civil servant Bacre Ndiaye of the United Nations High Commissioner’s Office of Human Rights, and author of a prescient report on Rwanda when he was the special reporter covering extra-judiciary executions in 1993. We also have other Senegelese and foreigners, including some who participated in one or both United Nations missions in Rwanda, people that had known him or simply appreciated his sacrifice to save the innocents. We are still accepting new members, as long as we are assured that they sincerely admire the Captain, and intend to support our Association’s goals.

He really was a hero! What did people know about him before?

There is a lot of material available on the internet, but it is true to say that the general public around the world does not know of the Captain. Yet his sacrifice has been officially recognised by the Rwandan government, by the then American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and by the Giardino dei Giusti del Mondo [it], an association to honor those who oppose genocide in Italy, among others.

What has been achieved so far?

Creating the Association in itself an achievement because that was not simple. We have a Facebook page named Association of Captain Mbaye Diagne – Nekkinu Jàmm and we are currently setting up a multilingual website; we are organising activities with the press. For example, for example, in this interview [fr] from May 31, his wife described how she was informed of his death and recalls her memories.. The Fatto Quotidiano [it] in Italy, and the past with Radio West Africa for Democracy or the Senegalese media; activities such as the Junior Football Tournament organised with the Senegalese Football Federation; May 31, the prayer vigil in the Captain's family home.

Was he married and did he have children? What became of them?

The family have quite simply been forgotten all this time, now we hope that the association with us has helped them to make themselves be better understood and to find their place while promoting the memory of their husband and father, because this could be very useful in educating youth and people in general, about these troubled and violent times.

Captain Mbaye fell on duty, didn’t he? What have the national authorities and the UN done?

We must ask his wife and Association President Mrs Yacine Diagne, but as far as I know, the United Nations have done nothing apart from pay the life insurance that the Captain had signed up for while at their service, and which paid his family a premium 19 years ago, but nothing more since. The family home is collapsing, they had to look for support from a sister of Yacine; the children have lost years of schooling, the eldest, Coumba, had many health problems, the Captain’s mother is old and sick. Only close family, and several friends, notably from the Army, have done anything; now the Association will do what it can.

As for the dead, only God can look after them. With respect to help for the family, we contacted the Association for the Office of the United Nations for West Africa, a little while ago, but they have not yet responded. We hope they will do so.

June 11 2013

Senegal's Democratic Tradition Takes Worrisome Turn

[All links forward to French-language webpages unless otherwise noted.]

Senegal has a solid tradition of democracy and protection of freedom of expression and human rights. But recent months have seen the West African nation's reputation as a stronghold for democracy in Africa seriously damaged with the evictions of a Chadian journalist and Gambian dissident, both opponents of the governments in their home countries.

Chadian [en] blogger and journalist Makaila Nguebla [en], an opponent of his country's President Idriss Déby [en] who has ruled Chad for more than two decades, was deported on May 8, 2013 to neighboring Guinea. Nguebala runs a highly critical blog about his country's regime.

Well-known Gambian [en] opponent Kukoi Samba Sanyang [en], who led the 1981 rebellion against the regime of former President Dawda Kaïraba Diawara, was expelled April 17, 2013 to Mali.

Mamadou Oumar Ndiaye, author for the Senegalese weekly Le Témoin, detailed Senegal's democratic character, giving credit to the country's first President Leopold Sedar Senghor, a poet and intellectual who served from 1960 to 1980, in his post titled “Senegal, your excellent traditions are falling apart!“:

Le Sénégal n’a ni or (ou alors très peu, dans la région de Kédougou), ni diamants, encore moins du pétrole, du gaz ou de l’uranium … De plus, la pluviométrie n’y est pas abondante et la plupart de nos paysans ne travaillent que trois mois dans l’année … Malgré tout, notre pays tient une place honorable dans le concert des nations africaines. Et, à franchement parler, il a un niveau de développement que beaucoup de pays incroyablement gâtés par la nature nous envient. Cela est dû, bien sûr, à la qualité des ressources humaines du Sénégal produites par un système éducatif de qualité mis en place par le premier président de la République, le poète, agrégé de grammaire et académicien Léopold Sédar Senghor. Un système public d’éducation dont l’actuel Président est un pur produit, soit dit en passant. … Ce niveau de développement enviable, notre pays le doit aussi à sa stabilité politique légendaire qui a fait que, depuis l’indépendance en 1960, il n’a jamais connu de coup d’Etat militaire. En Afrique, notre pays est l’un des rares à avoir toujours été gouverné par un pouvoir civil. Et au moment où partout ailleurs, les pouvoirs militaires étaient la règle, le Sénégal a constitué une joyeuse exception, un îlot de démocratie dans un océan de dictatures … Bref, de quelque côté qu’on le prenne, le Sénégal a toujours fait figure d’exception en Afrique.

Senegal has neither gold (or very little, in the Kedougou region) nor diamonds, let alone oil, gas or uranium … In addition, rainfall is not abundant and most of our farmers only work three months per year … However, our country holds an honorable place among the African nations. And frankly speaking, Senegal has a level of development that many other countries with more natural blessings would envy. This is, of course, due to the quality of human resources in Senegal which is itself, a byproduct of the quality of the educational system established by the first President of the Republic of Senegal Leopold Sedar Senghor. Senghor was also a poet, a grammar scholar and the first African elected as a member of the Académie françaiseBy the way the current president is a pure product of this same public educational system. … This enviable standard of development, our country also owes it to its legendary political stability; since its independence in 1960, it has never experienced a military coup. In Africa, our country is one of the few to have only been governed by civil authorities. And when everywhere else, military authorities were the rule, Senegal was a happy exception; an island of democracy in a sea of dictatorships … Anyway, whichever way you see, Senegal has always been an exception in Africa.

But some consider that Senegal has moved away from that legacy left by Sedar Senghor. Last year, former President Abdoulaye Wade [en], who was accused during his tenure corruption, nepotism and curtailing freedom of the press, was defeated in his highly criticized bid for a third term [en] in office.

With Wade’s regime at an end, some expected a return to those democratic roots. But these recent measures taken by the current government raise questions about its commitment to do so.

Even Wade, who was much criticized [en] during his regime, was always respectful of Senegal's tradition as a host country for freedom of speech activists. The failure of Wade's government was not about free speech activists, but was not regularizing the situation of refugees.

As deported Chadian blogger Nguebala told Global Voices in an email exchange:

“Under Abdoulaye Wade's regime, I was never arrested once by the police”

A coalition called “Right of Asylum and Freedom of Expression” was created to demand Nguebla’s return. In the following video, the coalition unpacks the context of the evicitions and the risks that the bloggers are facing:

Boly BAH, journalist for La Gazette (a Senegalese website) called for the sliding of Senegal's democracy to be stopped in his post “The Deviant Turn of a Democracy“:

Une dérive à stopper. Qui est le prochain sur la liste ? En moins de deux mois, le Sénégal a chassé deux opposants africains de Dakar. … C’est une concession grave à des régimes anti-démocratiques … Cette expulsion d’un défenseur des droits humains et leader d’opinion vers la Guinée, un pays « non sûr » et en proie à des tensions politiques, laisse apparaître un deal entre les autorités politiques sénégalaises et tchadiennes, en vue d’extrader Makaila Nguebla au Tchad où sa vie est menacée.
Le combat sera mené jusqu’au retour de Makaila et de Kukoi Samba Sanyang. …

Les pays n’ont pas d’ami mais des intérêts. En procédant aux expulsions de Kukoi Samba Sanyang, le Sénégal défend peut-être les relations de bon voisinage avec la Gambie. Et fait un clin d’œil à Yaya Jammeh, président gambien au cœur du règlement du conflit de la Casamance. La Gambie avait même facilité la libération des otages sénégalais, il y a quelques mois. C’est peut-être compréhensible de lui renvoyer la monnaie en expulsant son opposant-rebelle, Kukoi Samba Sanyang. Avec le Tchad, certes, il n’y a pas cette grande amitié, mais la nouvelle posture africaine de Idrisss Deby Itno vaut peut-être cette largesse.

Deby a le vent en poupe et avec sa forte colonie militaire dans le désert malien, le président tchadien est en pleine puissance sous-régionale. Le Tchad contribue aussi au financement du procès d’Habré. Maintenant, si le jugement d’Habré participe au renforcement de l’indépendance judiciaire africaine, l’expulsion de Makaïla reste plutôt suspecte. Le blogueur était un combattant de la démocratie. Un relais entre son peuple et l’extérieur. Il était la voix des sans voix tchadiennes, il informait des dérives de Deby parce que bénéficiant de cette liberté d’expression qui fait défaut à ses confrères restés au pays.

This drifting away from our legacy has to be stopped. Who is next on the list? In less than two months, Senegal deported two African political activists. … This is a serious concession to all anti-democratic regimes… This deportation of a human rights activist and opinion leader to Guinea, an “unsafe” country plagued by political tensions suggests a deal between Senegalese and Chadian political authorities. Next might be the extradition of Makaila Nguebla back to Chad where his life is under threat.

This struggle will continue until both Makaila and Kukoi Samba Sanyang return. …

Countries do not have friends, they have interests. In carrying out the evictions of Kukoi Samba Sanyang, Senegal may be maintaining good relations with the Gambia. He might also reach out to Yaya Jammeh, the Gambian President who is at the heart of the conflict in Casamance. Gambia has even facilitated the release of some Senegalese hostages in Gambia a few months ago. It is perhaps understandable to pay him back by expelling his rebellious opponent, Kukoi Samba Sanyang. With Chad, of course, there is no such great friendship, but Idriss Deby’s new african posture (his involvment in Mali) might be worth it.

Deby is on the rise and with his strong military forces in the desert of Mali, Chad's president is showing his full might in the region. Chad also contributes to the financing of [former leader of Chad Hissène] Habré’s trial. Now the Habré trial may help strengthen African judicial independence but on the other hand, Makaila’s deportation is rather dubious. The blogger was an advocate of democracy, a bridge between his people and the outside world. He was the voice of those Chadians without a voice; he informed the world about Deby’s excess because he enjoyed freedom of expression that his colleagues back home could not have.

Another recent issue is also symptomatic of the worrisome turn taken by Senegal on the protection of human rights.

Taking advantage of the media circus in Senegal caused by these two cases, a member of parliament of the presidential majority wants to file a bill for the return of death penalty.  Senegal abolished the death penalty in 2004 and the last execution was held in 1967.

Even Fekke Maci Bolle, a political movement led Youssou N'Dour, the current Minister of Culture and Tourism, has come out against this bill. The movement published its stance on its Facebook page:

Celui ou celle qui affirme que l'on vit confortablement dans le couloir de la mort n'y a de toute évidence jamais mis les pieds … On voit rarement une personne riche ou aisée monter à la potence … La peine de mort est la négation absolue des droits humains. Il s’agit d'un meurtre commis par l'État, avec préméditation et de sang-froid. Ce châtiment cruel, inhumain et dégradant est infligé au nom de la justice.
Cette peine viole le droit à la vie inscrit dans la Déclaration universelle des droits de l'homme.
Amnesty International s'oppose à la peine de mort en toutes circonstances, quels que soient la nature du crime commis, les caractéristiques de son auteur ou la méthode utilisée par l'État pour l'exécuter.

Whoever says that one lives comfortably on death row has obviously never been there … You rarely see a rich or wealthy person being executed … Death penalty is the ultimate denial of human rights. It is a planned and cold-blooded murder committed by the State. This cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment is inflicted in the name of justice.
It violates the right to life enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all circumstances, regardless of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender, or how he committed the crime.

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