Senghor: the Francophone world remembers

9th October 2006, Comments 0 comments

DAKAR, Oct 7, 2006 (AFP) - Leopold Sedar Senghor, Senegal's first president and champion of 'Negritude,' whose 100th birthday will be marked on Monday, was one of the most ardent advocates of black African culture and the French language.

DAKAR, Oct 7, 2006 (AFP) - Leopold Sedar Senghor, Senegal's first president and champion of 'Negritude,' whose 100th birthday will be marked on Monday, was one of the most ardent advocates of black African culture and the French language.

Senghor died in 2001 at the age of 95.

Equally well known as a poet, Senghor helped develop the idea of Negritude — a movement to restore the identity of Africans by rejecting European values and affirming the culture of the African diaspora — and sought to reverse centuries of colonial stigmatisation of black people.

Senghor's argument that the souls of Africans are metaphysically different than those of other peoples had a dramatic influence on culture and politics in west Africa, but it also drew protest.

He said the Negro was intuitive, and that experience of life was through submersion in the moment. The European was Cartesian and analytical, he argued.

But acclaimed Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka rejected the notion, saying it amounted to colonialist ideology.

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.

As an ardent defender of the language, he was also at the centre of a post-war debate in the French-speaking world about African identity.

At the outbreak of World War II, he joined the French army and was captured by the Germans.

He spent 18 months in a prisoner-of-war camp, where he learned German and wrote poetry.

His first collection of poems, Chants d'Ombre published in 1945, explored themes of exile and nostalgia.

At the same time, he launched his political career, representing Senegal in the French parliament, and later taking up posts in the government as well as back in Senegal.

He also formed his own Senegalese Democratic Bloc, precursor of the Socialist Party.

In 1960, when Senegal became independent from France, Senghor was elected president.

He led Senegal until December 31, 1980, and was one of the first to allow multiparty democracy before he handed over power to his prime minister at the time Abdou Diouf.

Under his rule, the constitution was revised to strengthen the powers of the president, and paved the way for socialists to rule the West African country for another four decades.

Until the age seven he spoke a native language before he learnt French at a Catholic mission school in his home village.

A Catholic, wanted to become a priest and frequented the seminary college of Dakar. But the priesthood was not his calling.

He studied philosophy in France where he made friends with Georges Pompidou, who was to become president of France and the Martinique writer Aime Cesaire, with whom he developed the Negritude concept.

He then became the first to African to obtain an elite French certification in grammar at the University of Paris then lectured in French, Latin and Greek at the Decartes de Tours college.

Senghor in 1946 married Ginette Eboue, the daughter of a prominent Guyanese administrator. They had two children before their divorce nine years later.

He later married Colette Hubert, a French woman from Normandy.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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