Independence Day: Senegal

Every year on April 4th, we celebrate the independence of Senegal. Therefore, I’d like to take this moment to share with you a part of Senegal’s colonial history. Even though I have spent a lot of times in Senegal, I don’t always think of its history. However, I do think it is important to look back on history and think about how we got to where we are today. Let’s refresh on some history!

Senegal’s colonial history

In the 15th century, British, Dutch, French and Portuguese traders competed on the coast of Senegal. The Portuguese first established a post where they organized a slave trade on Gorée island in 1444. Then, in 1588, the Dutch captured the island and built defensive forts and further developed the slave trade. In 1659, France established a trading post in Saint-Louis and in 1677, the French had taken Gorée island from the Dutch. For the next 300 years, Gorée island was a slave trade departure point of the French. In the 1850s, the French expanded into the Senegalese mainland.

The Four Communes (quatre communes) pertain to Dakar, Gorée, Rufisque and Saint-Louis. They are the four oldest colonial towns that belonged to the French. In 1848, the French extended the rights of full French citizenship to the inhabitants of any of these four cities. Although the people who were born in these towns could enjoy the rights of French citizens, there were still a lot of social and legal barriers that prevented this from actually happening.

A majority of the Senegalese population that lived in these towns were called originaires (originals). Also, the few Africans that were able to pursue a higher education, could ‘rise’ to the term évolué (evolved). However, only if they were also willing to renounce their legal protections. The ‘evolved’ were technically also granted full French citizenship, including the right to vote.

Independence of Senegal

The independence of Senegal came about when Senegal decided to become a republic within the French Community in 1958. A year later, Senegal joined French Sudan (Mali) and forms the Federation of Mali. They get their independence on April 4, in 1960. However, the Federation of Mali desires to continue to work with France. Senegal does not and decides to leave the Federation. This leads to the proclamation of independence in August 1960, but also the adoption of a new constitution. The transfer of power was signed on April 4 in 1960, therefore it marks the independence of Senegal. On September 5 in 1960, poet and writer Léopold Sédar Senghor, became the first president of independent Senegal. In 1960, Senegal had 3 million inhabitants. Today, Senegal has over 16 million inhabitants.

Post-colonial Senegal

Even though the independence of Senegal was a great start, I think that the after effects of colonialism are deeply ingrained in Senegalese culture. For example, people who do not speak French, are often labelled as uneducated. We all know that the lack of knowledge in French does not equate being uneducated. Also, Senegalese people look differently at you when you speak French, or English or another European language.

Unfortunately, Senegal has never had the opportunity to learn how to use their own resources for its development. While the French, Dutch, British and Portuguese only occupied Gorée and Senegal for the development of their own countries. Additionally, the concept of democracy is quite new for decolonized countries such as Senegal. As democracy in Senegal has been shaped by the French colonial power that ran Senegal until 1960. After the independence of Senegal, they followed the French model of democratic governance. Which actually doesn’t make any sense. Senegal and other African countries are running their country based on a model that works for the West, and not yet necessarily for them.

Last but not least, colonialism has created a great social inequality. The educated vs. the non-educated. The rich vs. the poor, etc. etc. There is this notion in Africa that the colonizers are more intelligent and powerful than they are. This is a huge problem as they are dismissing their own being for this idea that the Europeans and Americans are inherently more educated, wealthier and powerful. Which is not true.

What are your thoughts on colonialism in Senegal or Africa? Definitely share your opinions in the comments and let’s discuss! Check out my other posts about Senegal also.

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