President Macky Sall, you are really embarrassing us. On the occasion of the book launch for Vol. 1 of your grandiosely titled Convictions républicaines (“Republican Convictions”), eager to extol the “special relationship” between France and Senegal – the former is supposed to have always been most considerate toward the latter – you who call yourself our “president” blabbered out the following ineptitude: “[The French] have colonized us…yet they have always shown us, Senegalese, great respect, because, you know, the Battalion of Colonial Infantrymen were lodged in military barracks, they were entitled to desserts while other Africans were not…”!
Not surprisingly, internet users have had a field day mocking these inane remarks. More seriously, the Senegalese people have all reasons to raise a number of questions concerning the way their head of state “thinks,” for it has been established, by now, that this man is a repeat blunderer.
The first question bears on the historical truth conveyed by this presidential statement. President Sall should be the first to know that the generic term “Senegalese Infantrymen” referred to practically all colonial soldiers from former French West Africa, regardless of territorial or national origin, enlisted under the French banner to defend the “metropole” or the “motherland.” Let us be clear on this: there was no distinction of any kind between the originaires from Dahomey (former name of Benin), Sudan (former name of Mali), Togo, or Senegal. By contrast, discrimination, even colonial segregation, consistent with the time-tested “divide and rule” policy, was systematically enforced within each territory, for example between residents of the Four Communes (Dakar, Rufisque, Gorée, Saint-Louis), who had the “quality” of French citizens, and the natives (indigènes) from the Protectorate. How then, in serving desserts to the tirailleurs sénégalais, could you distinguish between the “Senegalese” (us) and the “non-Senegalese” (them) from other parts of French West Africa? Anyone who wants to validate the claim advanced by our president, according to his obscure ethnocentric logic, must first find an answer to such a question. Otherwise, he or she may be up against another colossal historical untruth.
In actuality, citizens from the Four Communes enjoyed preferential treatment, at the expense of their fellow countrymen in the hinterland. But as a friend of mine shrewdly pointed out, President Sall’s grandparents were natives of Fuuta, just as my own grandparents were natives of Siin, in the Jaxaaw region, just as our First Lady’s grandparents were natives of Casamance: unfortunately, all would not be eligible to enjoy such privileges (desserts and the like treats), despite being dyed-in-the-wool Senegalese.
In light of these facts, the distinction between “other Africans” and “us Senegalese” supposedly held in high regard by the French, is simply pointless.
However, beyond this historical inaccuracy, the gravity of our president’s statement lies in the hidden meaning of his words. Even if we were to assume, by some sort of reductio ad absurdum, that the proposition entails a kernel of truth, what is it in for us Senegalese, except vainglory, in knowing that the tubaab were privileging “us” over and above our other African brothers? Were the latter not our blood brothers, as well? Were we not equal in military rank and social condition? Moreover, wouldn’t such an attitude lend more credence to the widespread belief that Senegalese collaborators committed treason against their African brothers? The history of humanity is not only replete with examples of armed conflicts, barbarous crimes, etc., but also of minorities within subjugated peoples who always think they are playing it smarter than the rest by turning against their community and ingratiating themselves to the invaders. Unfortunately, these sellouts are still legion in our so-called “modern” and “postcolonial” societies: they bend over, keep their traitorous eyes on self-serving interests, crawl on all fours and dog-lick the boots of their foreign masters. Not long ago, Africans experienced the brutal reigns of terror of a Bokassa, an Idi Amin Dada, an Eyadema. Could it be that this disgraceful breed of autocrats, rather than bowing out of the stage of Africa’s political history, is prepping for an encore – and, of all places, in tiny little Senegal?
Leaving aside all historical contingencies, we must ask a very simple question: by what trick of the mind, by what psychic hocus-pocus can a (formerly) colonized subject end up clamoring for the esteem and respect of the colonizer, instead of hating their subhuman condition and fighting against their oppressor? We are told that colonization is now passé, a bygone affair, yet the claim does not square with the current state of affairs: all these slavish, lobotomized elites overseeing little African estates for the benefits of newfangled neocolonial landlords like Macron, tell a different story.
On that strange evening, President Sall was definitely off his game when, instead of denouncing or, at the very least, deploring the monstrous repercussions of colonization on the evolution and destiny of the African continent, he ill-advisedly puffed his massive chest for… desserts served to the “Senegalese,” the cream of colonial regiments. It was pathetic.
We can therefore understand the embarrassment of El Hadji Kassé, the philosopher-advisor at the humble service of His Excellency. During an interview in which he was at pains not to look the camera and, by implication, his virtual interlocutor, straight in the eye, Kassé took it upon himself to play devil’s advocate: “It was just a joke, no more nor less.” A “joke,” really? Let us google the dictionary definition of this very common word:
Joke. “A thing that someone says to cause amusement or laughter, especially a story with a funny punchline.”
Was President Sall trying to be amusing in public? Was he making fun of his French “buddies” or of the tirailleurs sénégalais? Actually, who was making fun of whom here? The president was so serious about the matter that he deemed it fit to seek the help of a prominent historian, Iba Der Thiam, who was in attendance at the book launch. What is then Iba Der’s take on the issue, as he can be considered one of the most knowledgeable experts on our dear old tirailleurs? What were the thoughts of another no less stellar mind, philosopher Mamoussé Diagne, appointed Chair of the “scientific committee” expressly set up for the occasion, and who was sitting right next to the president?
Just another presidential blunder? Sure. But please, M. President, stop it with your gaffes, the cup is full. With all due respect, this time you have not only disgraced all the Senegalese people, but all those “other Africans” as well.