Category Archives: West Africa

Memorial to the Tirailleurs Sénégalais in Dakar

This week’s readings described several statues commemorating the participation of West African soldiers in World War I. Yet another of these memorials stands in downtown Dakar, Senegal, the formal capital of French West Africa. Here are a couple of photos I took of it while studying abroad in Senegal last semester.

The statue is also accompanied these days by a rather jarring poster portraying the Tirailleurs and Senegal’s president, Abdoulaye Wade. Here’s a photo of that:

(if you have trouble reading the text, you can click the photo to enlarge it)


The article in Annie’s post mentioned the 2006 film Indigènes (English title: Days of Glory) and I just wanted to post a little something about it because it is one of my favourite films and the main reason I enrolled in this class!

The film is listed as a French production but was a collaboration between France, Morocco, Belgium and Algeria. The director, Rachid Bouchareb is French-Algerian.

With rare eloquence, the film tells the story of four North African soldiers and their heroic fight against Germany’s fascism and France’s discrimination at the close of World War II. Recruited by France’s desperate military in 1943, the soldiers risk their lives for a motherland they have never seen. They are torn between their anger at the injustice they face from their own side and their loyalty to their comrades, as they push forwards in search of love, wealth and social justice.

One moment that really struck in my mind is right at the beginning of the film. The indigènes shout, “Long live France!” in Arabic. The irony can hardly escape the audience when the scene fades into an image of the Tricolour blowing over North African desert plains.

I think the DVD is available in Lilly–you should watch it if you haven’t seen it yet! It really isn’t your typical war film. Indigènes doesn’t depend on the usual formula of adrenaline-filled action scenes, heroism and romance; war is simply the backdrop to its bittersweet story. With understated elegance, Bouchareb sheds light on the often forgotten ironies of colonial France. Breathtaking cinematography and a sharp script makes Indigènes a must-see.

Jacques Vergès, L’avocat de la terreur. «Je défendrais même Bush. Mais, sur la condition qu’il admet son culpabilité. »

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Un avocat notoire et le plus controversé en France pour son radicalisme et nationalisme anticoloniste, il défend beaucoup des criminels et « terroristes ». Jacques Vergès, lui-même un produit de colonialisme français, il est né au diplomate français et une mère vietnamienne. Après son service dans les Forces Françaises Libres contre les Nazis, il a étude la loi à L’Université de Paris. Là, il a joint une association des étudiants anticolonialisme.

« L’avocat de la terreur » est un film documentaire superbe (avec beaucoup d’attention á Cannes) qui explore son vie et l’utile politique de violence. Jacques Vergès est brillant et arrogant sans regret (Il a écrit un seul homme pièce de théâtre abord son vie et une autobiographie). Dans le nom de justice, il a argué qui le terrorisme est une réaction contre les crimes d’humanité des impérialistes. Pour Vergès, Barbie est un homme qui est coupable des mêmes crimes de français en Algérie et l’Afrique colonisé.

Je trouve une interview avec lui où nous voyons son but que les morts des Khmer Rouge sont la faute d’embargo d’États-Unis et Henry Kissinger. Il argue que la plupart des morts est parce que la pauvreté et famine, un effet d’exploitation des impérialistes et les régulations économiques imposés.

Interview avec Vergès

Dans le procès pour Klaus Barbie, une Nazie gestapo et « Le Boucher de Lyon », il dit qu’il a le génie « d’un quarantième des avocats » qui ont représenté la communauté  international. Il est très connu pour son “defense de rupture”. Il accuse l’opposition avec les mêmes crimes contre humanité de ses clients (les terroristes). Il dit dans son défense, « Vous êtes d’occupants. Je suis une patriote. »

Un fait intéressant. Il a arrêté l’exécution de Djamila Bouhired, une nationaliste algérienne qui est dans Le Battre d’Algiers et d’une femme qui a bombé le café des civils. Apres sa liberté, il l’a épousé. Il a devenu un citoyen algérien et un musulman. Ensemble, ils ont créés le magazine Révolution Africaine, pour les mouvements Afrique du nationalisme. Ses autres clients : Yassar Arafat, Waddi Haddam (le « grand-père de terrorisme contemporain », Français Genoud (sympathie avec les Nazis et un financier), Carlos le Jackal (un « terroriste » vénézuélien pour la libération de Palestine), Ayatollah Khomeini (un leader suprême d’Iran), et Khieu Samphan (un leader dans Khmer Rouge).

Bande Annonce de L’avocat de la terreur

Qu’est-ce que vous pensez? Sont les démocraties durables établissent seulement avec les actes de violence (ou le terrorisme) contre « les occupants » et les régimes oppressifs ? Êtes-vous en accord avec la logique de Vergès ?

Geography of Decolonization in Africa

In the next few weeks we’ll be exploring the history of decolonization in the French empire. Here is a good map from Le Monde Diplomatique that shows the chronology of decolonization in Africa. Below it is a clear map from La Documentation Française showing the borders of colonial empires in Africa in 1945. France’s colonies in West and Central Africa were divided into the A.O.F. (Afrique Occidentale Française) and A.E.F. (Afrique Equatoriale Française). The department of Algeria and the Protectorates of Morocco and Tunisia made up the colonies of North Africa, and France also controlled the island of Madagascar and the French Somaliland, on the Horn of Africa, which became Djibouti in 1977.

In addition to these maps, this Wikipedia entry on “African French” is also interesting, as it points out that Africa has the largest numbers of French speakers — approximately 115 million — in the world.

The Poet President: Leopold Senghor

At the bottom of the well of my memory, I touch your face
And draw water to quench my long regret.
You recline royally, elbow on a cushion of clear hillside.
Your bed presses the earth, softening the drums in the wetlands,
Beating your song, and your verse
Is the breath of night and the distant sea.

-Leopold Senghor (“Letter to a Poet: To Aimé Césaire”) **Translated by Melvin Dixon

Aimé Césaire and Leopold Senghor

In the interview with Aimé Césaire that we watched for Thursday’s class, the poet describes the first friend he made when he moved to France as a young man, a “short but well built” fellow with “thick glasses and a gray jacket.” It was Leopold Senghor, a Senegalese man who would soon rack up a dizzying and improbable list of achievements, becoming a world-renowned poet, the first president of Senegal, and the first black member of the Académie Française—a kind of George Washington meets Robert Frost meets W.E.B. Dubois in coastal West Africa.

But that pivotal day in 1931 he, like Césaire, was simply a talented student had come to Paris by way of a French colony to be educated. As young black men in Paris in the 1930s, straddling the strange cultural line between their homelands and metropolitan France, Césaire and Senghor became fast friends. Both were founding writers for L’Etudiant Noir, a newspaper that brought together the writing of students from across the African Diaspora. From amidst this dialogue on the black experience emerged a new idea, that of negritude. At its core, negritude represented a celebration of a transnational black identity in opposition to the racism of French colonialism, and it quickly colored the writing of both Césaire and Senghor.

But like Césaire, Senghor developed aspirations beyond the bounds of poetry. In the aftershock of World War II—a war in which he had fought for the French—Senghor was part of the call for increased autonomy reverberating across the French colonial world and soon became one of Senegal’s first black representatives to the French National Assembly.

This positioned him to become one of the leading political figures in Senegal, and when French West Africa became independent in 1960, he ascended to the role of president (although for his entire life he would remain steadfast in his belief that Senegal and France should remain closely tied). Senghor cut an unlikely figure for a Senegalese head of state. He was a Catholic in a 95% Muslim nation, a member of a minority ethnic group, and a man who had spent much of his adult life in France. But he was also a skilled negotiator and a shrewd political thinker, and he would go on to serve for 20 years before becoming one of the first African politicians to voluntarily cede power to a democratically elected opponent (even if in Senghor’s case it was a hand-chosen successor from within his own political party…but that’s another story).

Anyway, in the context of our study of Césaire, I thought others in the class might like to hear a little about another of the negritude poets to see how Senghor’s life path intersected with—as well as diverged from—his. And Senghor just cuts a fascinating figure in his own right.

Plus, you have to admit, this is a pretty spectacular hat: