After my return from Senegal, where I taught for a year at the Université Cheikh Anta Diop, people would ask me what it was like. I never knew what to answer. This is my attempt to do so.
7:45 I set out to jog ; it is already warm, but not too hot to run.
En route to beach at Ouakam. In the last few weeks before I leave Senegal, a metal fence has been built along the Corniche that obscures most of the rest of the view of the ocean, except for the owners of beachfront property, like the hotels, and houses of the ultra rich. To my right, along my jogging path, the French military base is still there, still occupied by French troops and their families. In front, I finally arrive at view of the Layenne mosque on the beach. The mosque at Ouakam is a fantastic Dr Seuss sight, with bulbous forms atop of high minarets while below, there are fishermen, a beach where a few boats are already out. Some of the fishermen are sipping their coffee and eating breakfast ; some attend to their nets or boats. Pirogues, they are called, up to 50-70 ft. enough room for the fishermen and their gear. On weekends, when we would go out to the island of Ngor, a couple of hundred meters across the straits, about 50 beachgoers or islanders would crowd in a pirogue. The motor would whine and we would go sliding across the water, protected from the ocean’s waves by the channel.
At Ouakam there are no straits, no islands off the coast. Just the open ocean where the fishermen set out in the morning. Two or three months before our departure I begin to hear and read stories about émigration clandestine to the Canaries, as the boats were no longer taking off in numbers just from Mauritania to mainland Spain, but from Senegal to the Canaries, which are legally Spain. Many of the accounts begin with the bodies washed up on shore, or those who barely survive. Then come the numbers of those caught. Day after day the reports come in, until now we know at least 20,000 try to leave the first 6 months of this year ; untold numbers dying en route. By year’s end we have a rough figure of about 30,000 crossing–boats packed in with 70 to100 people for the 1000 mile voyage across the open ocean. (Shortly before I left a boat called the Titanic was intercepted on the beaches south of Dakar, with a capacity of 500.)
How do they manage it? I read that the gear includes water, a spare motor and a GPS system. But no one talks about the realities we have learned in West Africa, that the ideal equipment for travel is often different from the real. So we are not surprised to learn of a boat that went off course and wound up in the Caribbean, everyone dead for days, turned to salt through dehydration and exposure, with the sad last written notes of farewell found on some of the bodies….
My beach is mentioned as one along the coast from which the boats have departed, despite all the efforts of the Senegalese and Spanish authorities to interdict them. I think about asking the local fishermen what they think of it all, but decide against it ; after all, why should they trust me to talk about something which is illegal.
Why do thousands of young men risk their lives by taking small boats into the ocean for a voyage north? Why do their families and friends contribute 400,000-500,000 CFA ($800-1,000) or more to send them on these trips? Hardship in Africa does note always entail great poverty or desperation, but often penury, lack of hope or of a sense of possibilities for the future. The countryside produces less and less wealth ; the farmers are struggling, sometimes just to get enough food to live, never mind to do well ; the fishermen are being driven out of business by the giant European and Asian trawlers. The clandestine emigrant stories I have read or heard all involve young men or middle aged men able to raise what is here a very large sum of money, amounts most people can obtain only by collective contributions. (1)
The stories follow a pattern. Everyone believes that these young men think Europe offers easy wealth. Everyone believes the Senegalese who had made overseas there are indebted to their families and do not dare admit failure. They will not communicate to their relatives at home that conditions where they live might be extremely unpleasant or worse, that money is not so easily obtained, that the cost of living there is very high, or that they might be forced into illegal activities to survive or make money. Stories abound of those who have sent enough money to build a good home in Senegal ; and the movies and TV shows do little to present true face of African quartiers like the 19th arondissement in Paris with its HLMs and miserable slums. By June of 2006, the jumping off points for the pirogues have gradually moved south, so that every day one reads of boats leaving from Dakar.
The shortest route is 1,000 miles to the northwest to the Canary Islands. If the Africans throw away their identity cards, no one can prove where they come from and they can’t be deported. After two months they can stay on in Europe, even without the right to work. Many take underpaid jobs, either peddling junk on the streets or laboring for bad wages in agricultural fields, especially in Spain.
So there is a series of mutual deceptions on the part of people at both ends. Once the emigrant arrives, he dares not return without money for all those who sacrificed so much to send him, to the point of selling their houses. Those who are organizing these voyages are regarded in the press as criminals, and at times they are caught by the police. A recent story indicated that a poor, handicapped man from St. Louis became rich overnight this way.
No one knows how many die in this middle passage. All reports indicate a substantial percentage drown-perhaps higher than in the Atlantic slave trade. Indeed, this is regarded by intellectuals here as the new slave trade. Like the old one, the notion of who is a victim depends on where you are. The Europeans regard themselves as victims of a « black tide, » as Chirac more or less recently said. European politicians, especially Sarkozy, speak of limiting immigration to the educated (« immigration choisie »), of policing the coast of Africa, of expelling those from France without papers, even if they were born and raised there. The issue is similar in the States, and in both cases the rich find every means, physical as well as psychological, to build a fortress around their countries.
The embassies, especially the American Embassy, look like prisons, and open entry is denied even to national citizens of the U.S. Legal avenues for emigration are effectively shut off : it costs Senegalese $100 to apply for a visa, a fortune ; and only one out of ten receives it. The application fee of $100 is non-refundable. On the other hand, Americans can travel to Senegal without a visa for 3 months. Americans and Europeans come to Senegal for vacations, to invest, or to work in NGOs or the like, whereas Senegalese are desperate to go north to work. The gaps between them are gulfs that few know how to bridge, and that is because the extreme power and wealth on the one side knows no reason to deny itself its privileges ; and the envious glances on the other side are incapable of true discernment. Globalization has accentuated this situation to the point that that same gap is to be found within Senegal itself, as well as in the North ; and the dominant powers responsible for it continue to justify the prevailing system on the ground that it will present a better future for all. Meanwhile, what is most evident everywhere one looks is the increasing prosperity, the obscene opulence of the wealthy, Senegalese as well as non-Senegalese ; and the incredibly narrow fringe of life for the poor.
In the extreme southeast of the country, around Velingara, a nutritionist remarked on the fact that the people living there had only 3 staples to eat, none a good source of protein. More than 80% of the children are anemic, this causing irreversible cognitive damage. The general population loses and gains weight over the course of the year ; that is, they cannot sustain a normal weight, and as they decline in weight before their harvests come in, are weakened, and thus less able to perform manual labor. In other words, they « starve » for part of the year. (2) And most have no access to medical assistance, much less the means to pay for it.
This is the face of neo-liberalism, and the president of the country is a neo-liberal. Conversations with ordinary people reveal that many believe that some day his policies might bring them more wealth. Meanwhile the lot of the ordinary Senegalese is worse than ever, and the condition of the wealthy is vastly better than ever.
My run complete, I stop on the Route de Ouakam to buy bread. It is early, but usually the talibes are already out, and I am now regularly buying a loaf for them along with the baguette for us. I look for them ; they are getting to know me. The talibes are another issue. They are to be seen throughout Dakar, and they constitute a drama of major proportions.
Talibes are little children, out begging in the streets, on the sidewalks, in front of the stores, the banks, the ATMs, the fruit and vegetable stands, the markets, the supermarkets, the cars rapides (minibuses), the outdoor life in Dakar–everywhere, everywhere, talibes, with their tin cans, their hands out, their worn clothes, their bare feet. They are not at all pitiful, but lacking the self-confident demeanor of the regular kids on the street ; they are the beggars.
I have heard of daaras where they live, the residences of their marabouts or teachers, with large numbers of talibes jammed into large rooms ; and the streets bear witness to the failures of the marabouts to clothe, provide shoes, or feed the children adequately. The children beg in the public spaces, under conditions that are heartbreaking at times. Very little children go into busy thoroughfares, coming up to the back of cars rapides, intoning prayers and holding out their buckets. The kids near my apartment would be sitting on the curb for most of the morning. In the evening they were out begging by at the doors of the local supermarket, by the ATM machine, or by the vegetable stands along the Route de Ouakam. We gave them bananas when we bought fruit, and in the last month I started to put a chocolate spread on the bread that I distributed in the evenings. Some gave them money but I demurred since it went to the marabouts.
Every Senegalese has an opinion whether to give money or food or nothing. For some it was important to support the marabouts ; for others, it was a scandal.
Who are these children? Sometimes the marabouts would go to the villages in the countryside to recruit them from their families. Normally they came from very poor families, and their parents might have believed they would be cared for and given a good Muslim education. That was basically untrue, and I couldn’t believe the lie would remain credible over time. But on the other hand, the talibes in front of our apartment came from the Casamance, far in the south of Senegal–far enough away for the lie to prevail, and furthermore, far too far for the kids to return on their own.
So if the kids were abused by the marabouts, as some were, they would turn away from the daaras to the street, and become street children. We couldn’t really tell which of the boys were still living in the daaras. I know some of them wound up sleeping in corners on the beach, a dangerous site at night where anything might have happened to them. Some of them were taken into L’Empire des enfants, a shelter where my wife volunteered. They were needy children ; always insecure, always wanting more, always ready to hide their things, to wheedle or filch more.
There are reportedly 200,000 talibes in Dakar, a figure impossible to verify. What is certain is that there are many many children, ranging in age I would say from five to 16, who are out on the street every day, begging for food or money. They are called talibes, or students, because they are ostensibly under the tutelage of a marabout-a Muslim teacher, often considered especially spiritually endowed– who is placed in charge of their education and upbringing. They are typically required to beg for food and to bring in 500 CFA (one dollar) or so before being readmitted into the daara, their domicile for the night.i There is a widespread belief that the marabouts can be divided between legitimate teachers and guides and charlatan exploiters. The difference might not always be very clear to the talibe. The expectation is that the marabouts will give the children a religious education, that is, will teach them to pray and recite aloud the qur’an. It is probably the case that many of the talibe do receive a measure of this. However, the reality of the children’s lives is that they are on the street begging most of the day, and without the money are not admitted home at night. Some sleep on the beach, some on the street ; many are in raggedy clothing, and have no shoes ; most eat very poorly, and have essentially no medical care, no education, no life as a child.
Many Senegalese are deeply disturbed over this state of affairs, and recognize that it is untenable. On the other hand, the political realities of the country militate against a reform. There are two Muslim brotherhoods, the Tijani and the Mourids, and about 80-90% of the population belongs to one or another of these orders. The orders are headed by Serignes, who are themselves seconded by a vast number of marabouts. There is no political will to oppose the brotherhoods ; on the contrary, election to public office requires deference to the orders, and this affects the national budget and economic priorities, as well as cultural affairs. There is no hope of abolishing a system that supports thousands of marabouts, with their rationale of offering a religious education.
Most of the children are recruited by the marabouts, often from regions far from Dakar. Some come from the Casamance, some from Mali or Guinea or Guinea-Bissau. Most come from very poor environments, and their parents rationalize their departure on the ground that they will be raised by a holy man, and thus are rid of another mouth they can’t afford to feed. Poverty drives their recruitment ; poverty and greed their requirement to bring in money to the marabout every day. The recruitment drives are condemned by many in Dakar who are angered by the enrichment of marabouts who send out dozens or more children to the streets.
The talibes are children whose lives are all too truncated and whose future seems bleak. The society has to deal with them. I met one activist, Abdoulaye Pape Fall, who works with the collectivity of marabouts with the goal of improving their daaras rather than thinking about abolishing the system. The idea is to incorporate the teaching of reading and writing, arithmetic, and French in the curriculum. The latter is a sticking point since the French school is considered by religious Muslims as a corrupting influence. What strikes me is how this common perspective dates back more than a century, and how it is, at the same time, that children without a secular education face enormous obstacles in their lives. The objection that they are receiving an education, a religious education, strikes me as disingenuous : they are trained to a limited extent to perform the basic gestures of religion, not to be formed in its thought or to engage with it intellectually, much less be trained in a vocation. Only a small fraction actually continue to real studies in the religion.
In June 2006 there was a story in the press of a talibe who murdered his marabout, with the connivance of another talibe. The boy who committed the act had already run away from the daara, but was forced to return. The newspaper quoted the local people who attested to how good this marabout was, and how he beat his talibes only when they failed in their religious obligations, like reciting the qur’an. We never found out why the boy felt driven to commit this act.
In another story, one of the principal Mourid marabouts in the country was being investigated for having had his older talibes beat a shepherd to death for having sold off the marabout’s sheep. In an earlier instance, talibes threatened to burn down a movie theatre to prevent a film showing they considered offensive-Jo Ramaka’s Karmen Guia. (3) It is still unclear to me what future the talibe face once they grow up.
After breakfast, I get on my bike and head down the Corniche to classes. Until the last months of my stay, the sidewalk on the Corniche afforded me a comfortable ride to the university. On my right, the ocean, waves breaking on rocks, beaches in their glory. For most of the way, fences were up or going up, so that the increasingly privatized beaches would be reserved for the hotels and houses being built, despite laws intended to keep the oceanfront for the people of Dakar. By the time I left, there was almost no view of the beach between our apartment and the mosque in Ouakam to the north of us ; half of the route to campus, or more, was similarly being fenced. On the fences were signs urging the people to vote for Wade, the current president. The rich have benefited considerably since he came to power in 2000. Ironically, he had been voice of opposition to Senghor’s and Diouf’s « socialist » governments for decades. Now it was the turn of the wealthy.
One of the new homes along the Corniche was enormous. I jogged up that way often, and once when I stopped to ask who lived there, I was told it was one woman. I asked if that was all. No, she lived there with her two children. The guardian mentioned her name : a well known Lebanese family, owner of pharmacies. The guardians, the cars, the walls, the extravagant style of the mansions, the waves below-globalization in action, every day, before our eyes. Not like the theoretical discourses I had been teaching here at home, but something very concrete, very particular, because the people engaged in its profits lived two blocks from people whose shacks I passed on my ride. The shacks were crammed between the road and the walls of a private university, Suffolk University, run by an American business university in Boston. The space between the walls and the street was some 30 feet. At times sewage ran past those shacks, making it difficult to navigate the street on foot, or even on bicycle. That was a miniature example of the entire city where extremes of wealth and poverty were jammed together.
At times we had no water ; but when it came, I was able to pay for it. However, neoliberalism now means there is no free water in Dakar. How do the women who sleep on the streets with their babies get the water they need? I am told how much they pay a bucket, for washing, drinking, cooking.
I complained when our electricity went out : I couldn’t get my DSL, couldn’t get my email, my website music, or work on my computer. We had occasional outages ; when oil went up to $75 a barrel, the government couldn’t pay for fuel, so the outages increased ; the garbage collection stopped for two weeks ; the water was out in the mornings-and this was the start of the hottest season. In the popular quartiers, like Parcelles Assainies, the inhabitants experienced those conditions year round. We lived with university professors in Fenêtre Mermoz. But when electricity went out, even the university had no lights. However, in the mansions on the corniche, the sound of private generators could be heard from a distance. Their lights were always on-just like those of the American diplomats whose air conditioners and deliveries of frozen food from the United States were never interrupted.
I arrive at the university prepared to teach critical theory to an undergraduate and to a master’s class. The classes meet once a week, and all the readings are supplied from copies I have made available at a local photocopier. But after my first couple of weeks, I came to school only to be told the auditorium for my class had been assigned for a conference. The fight for classroom space is fierce. With classes of 500 undergrads and about 250 grads, there is no hope of meeting them elsewhere-today’s classes have to be cancelled.
On days I had class, I lectured in a loud voice. The students listened, took notes, and gathered after class to ask me questions. I came to appreciate and value many students there. From conversations with my colleagues I learned it was absolutely impossible for me to form valid quick judgments about almost any issue there. For instance, the talibes’ lives could only be measured by comparison with life in the villages, which might have been much more difficult, or worse when compared with that of street children in countries like Brazil, with widespread drugs and crime. Similarly, the paucity of books and materials at the university had to be compensated by the commitment of the teachers, though many were discouraged by relatively low pay and an impossible infrastructure. Government policies encouraged every high school grad to attend university because of scholarships, encumbering the teachers with perpetual grading, thus accounting for their frequent refusals to take on the direction of theses or dissertations. This left students desperately scrambling to get a dissertation director for any topic. In their approach to the texts, my colleagues focused on the content and the authors’ lives, by and large. Theory consisted at most of limited references to some structuralist issue, like the narrator’s voice ; poststructuralism hadn’t really made its arrival. Meanwhile there I was with my modernism, postmodernism, postcolonialism, marxism, feminism, and race theory-the usual Western university panoply. That made for complications when my students had to present their work at defenses of their dissertations, caught between two worlds.
The students knew there were no books to speak of in the libraries ; there weren’t enough classrooms, computer rooms, or faculty, so they went on strike, as they have struck annually for the past ten years. This strike went on for six weeks, and I saw the syllabus I had composed at the beginning of the year cut into a third. I despaired, except for the advanced graduate Dimplôme des Etudes Approfondis class that met clandestinely every Saturday in the dean’s conference room. Why in the dean’s conference room? Because a faculty member had been attacked for breaking the strike in a regular classroom. None of the faculty were coming on campus during the strike, but the DEA students were considered too marginal to the strike action that targeted undergrads and master’s students,
All the others struck, including the colleges of medicine, pharmaceutical science, law, science, and arts and letters. They blocked the main street to Dakar, and stoned vehicles that dared to approach ; they emptied out the campus ; they demanded to meet with President Wade-who had encouraged student strikes in the past–and when he didn’t respond, demanded to meet with the Minister of Education.
The Université Cheikh Anta Diop was built to accommodate about 8-10,000 students. That fact is repeated often in light of the present size of 46,000 to 50,000. The resources available for higher education in Senegal are limited to a certain percentage of the national budget-(the IMF Structural Adjustment Plan for 1998-2000 called for 20.3% for higher education (4))–that the government cannot exceed due to the strictures of the World Bank. At the university the shortage of funding translates into material conditions that are not imaginable in a university in the U.S. Classes are often scheduled at sites that are far from the campus, or in buildings not meant to serve a particular college ; classrooms and auditoriums are double booked, and my classes were cancelled frequently for exams given for other departments, for dissertation defenses, conferences, and a myriad of other inexplicable reasons.
These were matters of educational « life or death. » The students are quite aware that they lacked adequate facilities. There are about 6000 students in the English department, with a faculty of somewhere under 20. This is a variable figure as no one knows who will be around to teach any given year : sabbaticals, other appointments or even other jobs might take a teacher away at the beginning of the school year, and it is only at that time, the very beginning of the school year, that the schedule is set. At the first faculty meeting, held when classes were about to begin, the chair, who handles all the scheduling, was told by a faculty member that she had received approval for her request to go abroad for the year, and that she wouldn’t be teaching. For the first few months, other teachers didn’t show up for a variety of reasons. Some because of other jobs. Teaching is ultimately a parttime activity for fulltime professors ; students see that as well.
For these, and other issues like dysfunctional libraries, and an absence of basic equipment, the students went on strike in the spring. It might seem odd for students to be striking over issues of these sorts when it would seem to be the responsibility of the university administration to make representations to the government for more funding, but the rector of the university is appointed by the government and is not in a position to go to the very government that appointed him with a set of demands. Further, the students are organized by college into groups called amicales that have aligned themselves with the various political parties and therefore taken on the political function of presenting demands to the government. Nonetheless, it is not a question of politics, although the government does try to make this case (5). It is more that the students realize that it is up to them to pressure the World Bank by striking, thus threatening the stability of the society, if not the government. This means that when the students go on strike, they do two things : they physically intimidate or attack those professors and students who might have the temerity to meet their classes. And the students take to the streets, primarily the main thoroughfare that abuts the university and that serves as the primary route for traffic to the Plateau, the downtown.
To say that all these issues are a matter of life and death is not merely figurative. Typically the police have made the encounters over the strikes relatively safe standoffs, but not always. In St. Louis, where there was a sympathy strike, a student was wounded in his leg in a confrontation with police and eventually lost that leg. The student was evacuated to France and luckily survived. In the street confrontation in Dakar, there were thousands of students and young people from the quartier, especially in the one end of the street that abutted a popular neighborhood, and that drew out hundreds or more boys and young men attracted by the excitement. (6) And in the past there have been deaths.
The student amicales demanded a meeting with the president, and eventually negotiated with the minister of education. However, at one point there was a glitch in this pas de deux between students and police, and a rogue demonstration broke out. I was caught in one end of it, and wrote this email home to describe what happened :
« The wildcat demonstration spontaneously arose because of rotten food being served in the student cafeteria and student complaints being ignored. The main issues of the strike involve things like more classroom space and faculty, etc are completely legitimate, and in the past they have had some success in winning space and money to their cause. They also strike for cheaper cafeteria prices, and that is not terribly legitimate as they already receive scholarships that cost the government plenty. The scholarships are political concessions to keep them happy, and the government has bought off student complaints in the past, to the extent of shipping off student leaders to French universities, and also, worse, giving them computers that had been donated to the university.
[The afternoon of the strike I met a friend at the Media Center, a block from campus] I met Modibo at the Media Center, across the bridge that separates the main street from the campus and the rest of town. As we were meeting, more and more noise was being heard outside his office. eventually I told Modibo I had to look outside since my wife was supposed to meet me there. I saw the street filled with kids with rocks, aged ten to thirteen and older. Police were shooting tear gas every minute or two. There was a no man’s land around the area of the bridge, with traffic completely blocked on this, the main road from Dakar. I went back and talked to Modibo for an hour and by 7 :30 it was dark, and we were done. I left, and headed toward the bridge again because once across, I could turn into the neighborhood, Point E, and circumvent the street with the fighting. But the students were massed at the edge of the bridge, and as I went up to look and see if I could cross, I saw a phalanx of maybe 40 policemen marching toward us. I retreated back to the other side of the bridge.
[Eventually I was able to cross and get onto the other side of the canal.] It was dark ; lots of sirens, but I knew my way well, having lived in that neighborhood in the past. As I headed back to the main route, and got to the north end of the police cordon-past the entrance to the University–there were lots of students, but none of the young kids, and it was calm. I thought the students were more mature ; and I walked home.
The next day I had the DEA doctoral students and asked them about the events. They told me it was calm where I was because the fighting had all entered onto the campus. The police had broken the franchise [the university’s autonomy], and it had turned violent. I was amazed. I had been totally misled by what I had seen. Five cars and a bus had been burned. By morning few students were around, but there were now police vans on campus, and I felt intimidated, which was probably what they intended. »
What I learned the next few days was that the police had massively invaded the campus, indiscriminately beating students. They broke into dorms, panicking the students who were caught there, and attacked them. Some of the police shot the students’ computers, piled up their papers and set them on fire. A number of students jumped out of their dorm windows in a panic, and many of those fleeing or beaten wound up in the hospital. One of my students was out for the rest of the school year, and others were hospitalized for weeks or more.
The anger and shock was over the fact that the franchise had been broken, as though that mattered more than police brutality, which was taken for granted. There is a monument to Balla Guaye, a student who had been shot and killed about six years ago during a similar strike. That monument sits close to the university’s entrance to the main thoroughfare, an avenue that bears the same name as the university, Cheikh Anta Diop-himself an ardent anti-colonialist. It was through that same entrance, past that same somber monument, that the police invaded the campus again this year.
But as every story has two sides, here too it is complicated. The students in their anger over the rotten food they uncovered in the cafeteria refrigerators, had taken out the meat and thrown it away. They kept some so as to march with it to the president’s residence. The police drove them back onto campus, where they proceeded to burn five cars and sack some of the food services building. That was when the police were called in. The violence then reached its paroxysm, ironically just at the moment that I had reached that end of the street, and seeing no students thought how calm they were being. The following days I saw the full extent of the devastation and was amazed ; for the next weeks I heard repeated stories of police brutality.
I tell this story not to give a moral. I don’t believe there is a clear message, except that the penury in resources affects the educational system in multitudinous ways, this strike being only one consequence. The people of Dakar resented greatly the inconvenience of having their principal thoroughfare blocked by the students, and the students had no way to inform the public of their demands. So the man on the street would say the students were just striking for more scholarship money, which was largely untrue ; while the students, believing that they had the right and the power to mount such a strike, followed a line of protest that has been massively disrupting the school system for the past decade.
After a month, the students finally started to get their meetings with the Minister of Education, and won agreements for improved conditions, college by college. Our college was the last to get an agreement, and by then six weeks were gone. We didn’t begin the first classes till late October, early November. What with breaks for Muslim and Christian holidays, Christmas break, etc, the school year for my classes was reduced to a couple of months of teaching, or less. Only the DEA class, which began in January, and continued till I left at the end of July, had a full complement of courses.
The Minister promised new buildings, money for books, more computers. When the time for the groundbreaking came, the students threw a party. But the Minister never appeared ; the ground remained flat and strewn with rocks and dirt ; and the students went back to the streets to shut things down again. But that was not an official strike, and it lasted for only a few hours.
By then the season for strikes was over, and the students’ determination had turned to cynicism. If they hadn’t been entirely surprised by the Minister’s absence, they had nonetheless been angered, and had made a final statement in the only way they knew how.
They all proclaim fidelity to ideals of justice and greater equality ; are skeptical of politicians’ words ; complain about the loss of their beaches and coasts to hotels and palatial houses. There is a world of artists, filmmakers, singers of incomparable talent ; a wealth of good spirit that defies these difficulties, and a very strong notion that the collective nation needs to overcome these problems. One leaves Senegal with the hope and conviction that it is not outsiders and their ways that are needed ; not even their money (words I would not have written before spending this year here) ; but my Senegalese colleagues would say collective action under good leadership. I have no patience with the enduring belief that a good leader can solve the problems. But current conditions are untenable.
Living in Dakar, one comes to appreciate the country is rich in invaluable ways ; it is the shortages in material means that will not permit the people to fulfill their dreams, and often their lives. They dream of an expensive car, on TV see the wealthy people of Europe or the U.S. driving shiny models. They want those cars for themselves, and have no hope of obtaining them here. But the way to material improvement is hard to find.
Shortly after I arrived in Dakar, I met a number of people who work at Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie, and we discussed the current state of affairs afflicting Senegal. They asked my opinion about where the responsibility lay, and I opined that the forces driving the economies of African countries were not controlled by African governments but by international organizations, and that the interventions of the World Bank, the IMF, and the multinationals of the global economy worked to the disadvantage of Africa. The key examples for me were such things as cotton subsidies and tariffs. I cited the views of Jeffrey Sachs that any opposition to foreign aid was immoral, and that massive amounts of money introjected in targeted areas were needed to give Africa a chance to develop and become competitive. Sachs seemed to be someone with unquestionable credentials and uprightness ; his position seemed unassailable. The university’s impoverished status seemed to bear him out.
After a year in Senegal I am far less certain. Before this year I would have appreciated the drama of Sembène’s depiction of Guelwaar, who mocked African dependency. The most powerful gesture made by the actor playing Guelwaar comes at a public meeting meant to acknowledge the generosity of foreign donors whose representatives are present, along with the politicians and general public in Thies. Guelwaar puts out his hand, palm up, and declaims that all this aid and dependency are teaching the children only one thing, to extend their hands and say « jerejef, jerejef »-thank you, thank you. Guelwaar is eventually beaten by the party goons and killed. But the youth of the town have learned from his speech and sacrifice, and at the end of the film, when they are returning from the cemetery, they cross a truck bearing sacks of food aid, and trash them. When I first had seen the film some 10 years ago, it was shocking to see the food trampled underfoot. Now I was beginning to change my mind.
The signs of aid, dependency, are everywhere. On ambulances reading Italo-Senegalese cooperation on the side ; French, European, Asian names appearing over and over with institutions of health, education, or the ubiquitous « development. » Jerejef everywhere translates into industries of NGOs and granting agencies to which the Senegalese, like the Nigerians, or Cameroonians, endlessly extend their hands.
And I saw counter examples of non-state enterprises, like the Media Center in Dakar or the Claude Ake Foundation in Port Harcourt, struggling to distance themselves from state dependency, although still reliant on external funding from foundations like FORUT or Ford. Many of my colleagues, like myself, had received Fulbrights to teach abroad ; but they also had regular support from UCAD to go on summer study tours in Europe or the US. Often these had the character of exchanges or research trips, not boondoggles.
Despite opinions frequently voiced about corruption, I don’t now believe that corruption is swallowing up Senegal, or the African state. Admittedly I have no way to measure its impact. But my interest lies elsewhere : it is in the space between systems that are grounded in notions of accountability versus those that generate self-sufficiency. The two are sides of the same coin, and both tend to be weakened by dependency, that is, the mentality driven by models of development and sustained by foreign aid. The response to jerejef in Wolof is « nyo ko bok, » which means, « we share it. » Not « you’re welcome » or « je t’en prie, » I beg of you.
Nyo ko bok means that I don’t see the solution for talibe lying in the abolition of daaras, or challenging the power of the marabouts. I see it in the work of PapeTall who had lobbied the marabouts’ national association to provide children with recreation hours at the daaras. I see it also in L’Empire des enfants, with its reconstructed movie theatre run by Anta Mbow and Eric Alapini that now houses, feeds, clothes, and cares for up to 30 street children-including some who ran away from home or from the daaras. I don’t think of UNICEF as the only option.
Nyo ko bok also means that clandestine emigration is not to be resolved by Sarkozy’s law of emigration choisie. It means at a minimum that the terms of African production and trade should by tilted by the WTO so as to favor their economic growth, not work against it. And it means that the « nyo, » the « nous, » us, must include in the family the community marked by a plural pronoun–not exclude. The modern version of the slave trade, clandestine emigration, is built on notions of radical otherness, leading Chirac to speak of a tide of black immigrants that will overwhelm Europe unless Europe develops Africa. Chirac was not talking of his own minister Sarkozy’s parents when he had this black tide in mind. He thought he was being generous to them. But he missed on the word « them, » not « us. » Nyo ko bok-the only answer to Jerejef.
Before I left, I pictured the African cotton farmer driven to desperation leaving his family to go north, crossing the Sahara and dying in the attempt to traverse the Mediterranean. I thought that Europe had driven him to it, and that if he made it the Europeans would think of him as someone too lazy to work and develop his own society, someone looking to steal or take advantage of the Europeans. I thought of Africans as victims, and Europe and the U.S. as the perpetrators. When I spoke to one of my students, asking whether he knew of anyone who had made the trip north, he told me he did. It was another young guy who worked in a boutique. He wasn’t desperate ; not a farmer driven to risk his life. He was someone who saw that Mercedes go down the street, saw the American sit-coms, and the European comedies on TV. He knew his life in Thies would never offer him a chance for what he saw, and decided he could make it. He was foolish enough, daring enough, strong enough, confident enough, to run the risk. His and other stories speak not of desperation, but of penury ; not poverty, penury. And it isn’t just large international systems that will give the full accounting.
The people in Dakar are making do, seeking to do better, and talking, talking all the time about what needs to be done to meet the current situation. I want to try to listen to them, and not Jeffrey Sachs for a while. Nyo ko bok is a good thing to say-at least for me, for now.
1. a) Le Monde Diplomatique – July 2006
Emigrer : La traversée du détroit
« Quand, un jour futur, on étudiera les actuelles années d’émigration clandestine de masse, on constatera que ce besoin de partir vers le Nord, à la recherche d’une vie plus digne, aura provoqué la mort anonyme de dizaines de milliers de jeunes du Sud. Une effroyable hécatombe. Dont les médias parlent parfois, quand les drames atteignent des dimensions qui heurtent les consciences. Comme, par exemple, lors des assauts des migrants africains, en octobre 2005, contre les remparts de barbelés de Melilla. Ou les naufrages à répétition de grandes barcasses chargées de sans-papiers devant les côtes des Canaries. . », Laurence Villaume, p.26.
b) L’Observateur – 20 mars 2006
Emigration clandestine : encore 52 jeunes sénégalais refoulés
La valse des candidats à l’émigration refoulés de Nouadhibou alors qu’ils tentaient de pénétrer dans le territoire espagnol est loin de s’estomper vu le grand nombre d’adolescents qui cherchent vaille que vaille à émigrer. Ces derniers qui sont tous originaires des régions de Louga, Diourbel et de Saint louis ont rebroussé chemin après s’être perdus en haute mer, confrontés à des difficultés. Avant-hier encore 52 jeunes sénégalais ont été expulsés. L’un d’entre eux, avec son sac en bandoulière, poirotait à la gare routière de richard-toll vers 23 heures à la recherche d’un véhicule pour regagner sa ville natale de Touba. L’air hagard, il nous a expliqué les durs moments qu’il vient de passer « je fais partie des refoulés de Nouadhibou. Mais contrairement aux autres clandestins, j’étais à Nouadhibou avec mon grand frère et lorsque nous avions eu écho qu’il y avait des gens qui avaient réussi à pénétrer en Espagne avec des pirogues, nous avons contacté d’autres compatriotes qui vivaient en Mauritanie et ensemble, nous avions décidé de partir. Nous étions au total 52 et nous nous sommes cotisés pour acheter une pirogue, deux moteurs neufs et 30 bidons de 30 litres de carburants et nous avons largué les amarres. Au bout de 8 huit jours, la pirogue était devenue lourde et commençait à prendre de l’eau. Alors nous avions décidé de jeter quelques bidons d’eau dans l’océan ce qui fait que nous n’avions plus d’eau potable pour nous désaltérer. Pour étancher notre soif, nous étions obligés de boire l’eau de mer » a confessé ce clandestin. Depuis que cette histoire des clandestins est sur la sellette à Saint-louis, le tribunal a condamné 12 passeurs, chacun à une peine de 2 ans assortie de sursis et 500 000 francs d’amende pour chacun d’eux. Certaines sources révèlent qu’il reste d’autres prévenus qui sont en détention préventive à la Mac de Saint-Louis et seront jugés très prochainement. Au total, plus de 1500 jeunes ont été refoulés vers le Sénégal depuis l’éclatement du réseau des clandestins. Il urge d’enrayer le phénomène des clandestins qui est devenu international. D’ailleurs ce sera un des points inscrits à l’ordre du jour lors des journées nationales de la coopération décentralisée qui vont se tenir à Saint-louis au courant du mois de juin prochain a révélé le ministre de tutelle
Auteur : Elhadji Tall
c) Le Soleil – 13 janvier 2007
Emigration clandestine : Barça ou « barzakh » (Barcelone ou l’enfer), le leitmotiv des partants de Thiaroye-sur-Mer
Thiaroye-sur-Mer, vieux quartier traditionnel situé dans la grande banlieue dakaroise. Bercé par la fraîcheur des vagues de l’Océan Atlantique, ce gros bourg, peuplé de près de 60.000 habitants, pour la plupart des pêcheurs, baigne, en ce vendredi après-midi, dans une pesante torpeur.
Pas de cris d’enfants en train de jouer, pas de sonorités émanant de l’animation d’une cérémonie familiale, pas de rires : on entend plutôt un léger murmure qui sourd d’une place du village où, comme d’habitude, se sont réunis les chefs de familles, durant les moments de désuvrement. Ces temps-ci, ils se sont beaucoup retrouvés pour parler de la rareté du poisson, des problèmes de la pêche qui nourrit de moins en moins son homme. Mais, aujourd’hui, ils sont préoccupés par le départ en cascade vers l’Espagne de leurs progénitures, à bord de pirogues que naguère ils empruntaient pour chercher du poisson, le véritable gagne-pain que les habitants de Thiaroye-sur-mer ont connu jusqu’ici et qu’ils se sont évertués à se transmettre de père et fils.
Entouré de plusieurs chefs de famille, E. M. Niang, un des notables de Thiaroye-sur-Mer, confirme que les populations sont découragées de ce que la pêche n’apporte « plus rien » aux pêcheurs traditionnels qui n’ont que leurs filets et matériels rudimentaires à opposer aux instruments modernes des grands bateaux occidentaux et asiatiques qui « raflent tout » et ne laissent derrière eux que « des déchets ».
« Mes enfants, raconte-t-il, me disent : « papa, nous n’avons pas de travail, la pêche ne nous rapporte plus rien. Il n’y a pas d’usines où l’on peut aller chercher un boulot ; notre seule solution c’est d’aller à l’étranger pour voir le bout du tunnel ».
2. The precise term here should be « malnourishment » rather than « starvation » as my nutritionist friend reminded me. She wrote, « The 3 staples would be peanuts, sorghum, and millet. Many households also had maize. People would pound baobab leaves to mix with the peanuts to make a sort of sauce to eat with the sorghum couscous.
Technically speaking – starving is a rather specific term. These people aren’t starving – rather they are undernourished (more generally, one could say that they are malnourished) Fluctuations in weight is different from starving – so depending on your audience – it might be important to make this distinction. »
3. For singing a Mourid religious song at the burial of the film’s lesbian heroine.
5. Ironically, when Wade was in the opposition, he supported student strikes. Now he disdainfully dismisses them as « political. »
6. Article in a local newspaper : Le Quotidien February 18, 2006 – par Cheikh Tidiane Mbengue
Pavillon incendié, voitures brûlées, chambres saccagées, arrestations. La police met le feu au campus
C’est une véritable Intifada qui s’est produite hier, vendredi 17 février l’Université Cheikh Anta Diop. Des policiers armés jusqu’aux dents lancent des grenades lacrymogènes, les étudiants ripostent par des jets de pierres. Les affrontements ont duré près de 14h. À l’arrivée, le pavillon G a pris feu, des chambres saccagées, trois véhicules brûlés, des blindés pénètrent l’intérieur du Campus, un bus de Dakar Dem Dikk endommagé, receveur, chauffeur et passagers violentés, les recettes emportées, des blessés dans les deux camps, plus des arrestations En somme, la police a mis le feu sur le campus.
Comme à l’accoutumée le cycle de la violence a repris l’avenue Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar. Les étudiants et les forces de l’ordre se sont violemment affrontés toute la journée d’hier, vendredi 17 février. À l’origine de la colère des étudiants, la mauvaise qualité des repas qui leur sont servis dans les restaurants du campus. Ils ont déversé la nourriture sur la voie publique pour exprimer leur mécontentement à l’endroit des gérants de ces restaurants et surtout sensibiliser les autorités étatiques pour quelles prennent des mesures urgentes. Barrant la circulation, la police a fait usage de grenades lacrymogènes pour disperser les manifestants. C’est compter sans la détermination des étudiants qui n’en pouvaient plus de manger des aliments avariés. Le campus est transformé en champ de bataille. La fumée des grenades lacrymogènes échappait de partout. L’air était devenu irrespirable. Les quartiers avoisinants entre Point E et l’Avenue Cheikh Anta Diop, ont été les endroits les plus touchés. De grandes quantités de débris de verres jonchaient la chausse. Les pare-brise des voitures saccagées ou brûlées des panneaux publicitaires arrachés. Des étudiants surexcités ont laissé exprimer leur colère.
Pour les contenir, la police demande du renfort. Elle n’a pas lésiné sur les moyens. Des blindés pour aller à l’assaut des manifestants. Les forces de l’ordre poursuivent les étudiants jusqu’à dans leur chambre. Elles renversent tout sur leur passage. Le pavillon H a pris feu. Incendie causé, selon certaines sources, par les éclats des grenades lacrymogènes.
Les passants et les automobilistes sont pris au piège. La circulation est perturbée. Les particuliers sont contraints un long détour pour échapper la furie estudiantine et policière.
Des blessés sont signalés aussi bien du côté des étudiants que celui des forces de l’ordre.
Dans cette atmosphère très tendue, on s’approche d’un étudiant pour en savoir plus. Nous avons découvert des vers dans les aliments et nous sommes allés nous plaindre auprès des autorités du Centre des uvres universitaires (Coud), mais elles ont fait la sourde oreille, dit-il. Son camarade renchérit : il est inconcevable que l’Etat du Sénégal veuille que nous étudiions sérieusement sans pour autant nous mettre dans de bonnes conditions. Et d’ajouter qu’il est impératif de se mobiliser pour le que le gouvernement sache qu’on nous a mis dans des conditions invivables.
Du côté du autorités du Coud, on avance qu’une enquête va être ouverte pour situer la responsabilité ou non des repreneurs
Par ailleurs, le bus Dakar Dem Dikk saccagé serait, selon le directeur Général de cette société irrécupérable.
Les étudiants ne sont pas encore au bout de leur peine, eux qui ont décidé de tirer de cette manifestation. Ils accusent les forces de l’ordre de violation des franchises universitaires et de créer des dégâts importants.///Article N° : 5873