Senegal to mark birth of poet-president Senghor

Senegal will mark on Monday the 100th anniversary of the birth of “poet-president” Leopold Sedar Senghor, whose political and literary legacy will be honoured in events across the West African country in December.

Senghor, who became Senegal’s first president after it gained independence in 1960, helped develop the concept of Negritude, or pride in black African culture.

An accomplished poet in French, Senghor was the first African to become a member of the prestigious Academie Francaise, the watchdog of the French language.

Already celebrated since the beginning of the year all over the Francophone world, the anniversary of the birth of Senghor, who died in 2001, will be marked by an official ceremony on Monday in Joal, a fishing village and former Portuguese trading post about 100km south of Dakar.

“The theme will be a ‘a century of Negritude,’” Mamadou Moustapha Diouf, the secretary general of the Joal event committee, told Agence France-Presse.

“There will be a literary event, expositions and conferences in the form of original testimony from people who knew him. We intend to show Senghor as a person like you and me, not as a statesman or writer,” he added.

Monday’s ceremony, to which the country’s highest-ranking officials are invited, will be preceded the night before by a “mass of grace” given by the Catholic Archbishop of Dakar Adrien Sarr.

An exhibition of the places of his childhood will also be unveiled at Joal.

And the house where Senghor was born, completely renovated by French youths from Venissieux, will also be opened to the public as a museum.

No guests from France, the former colonial ruler, have been announced for Monday’s ceremony. French officials were notably absent from his funeral, provoking resentment and incomprehension in Senegal as well as in France.

The two favourites for the 2007 French presidential election, Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal, did, however, place flowers on the tomb of the poet-president at Dakar’s Catholic cemetary when they visited Senegal last month.

Monday will be a chance for the country to breathe some life into the upcoming festivities, which have mostly been kept under wraps, with politicians and the media focused on the upcoming February general elections, daily power failures, and illegal migration.

Until the end of the year, a series of events are planned around three main themes: “Reflection on the thought and work of Leopold Sedar Senghor;” “Works of art, photograhs and documents;” and “Spectacles: music, dance, theatre”.

On October 23 and 24, a colloquim entitled “The thought and messages of Leopold Sedar Senghor facing the challenges of the 21st century,” will be organised in Dakar, followed by another in December, on the theme of “The work of Senghor, last rites for the twenty-first century.”

From October 15 to 31, artists from France, the Caribbean and Senegal will pay homage to Senghor through different events organised under the rubric of “cross-pollination”.

From December 21 to 31, the Senegalese capital will play host to an exhibition of photos inspired by the poem, Night of Sine, and entitled Senghorama.

An “exposition-collection” prepared by Gerard Bosio, who was Senghor’s advisor, will be presented to the public.

Finally, concerts and theatrical productions will bring to life the work of a leader who devoted himself to the “civilisation of the universal”.

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