Distinguished historian and Pan-Africanist political leader, Cheikh Anta Diop was born in Diourbel, Senegal on December 23, 1933 to a Muslim Wolof family. Part of the peasant class, his family belonged to the African Mouride Islamic sect. Diop grew up in both Koranic and French colonial schools. Upon completing his bachelor’s degree in Senegal, Diop moved to Paris, where he began his graduate studies at the Sorbonne in 1946 in physics.
Scholar, African traditionalist poet, and Senegal’s first president, Léopold Sédar Senghor was born on October 9, 1906 in Joal, Senegal. His father, Basie Diogoye Senghor, was a Malinké landowner. His mother, Gnilane Bakhoum, came from a Christian Fulani family. They gave Senghor a European name to reflect both the noble Serer culture they identified with, as well as their Catholic faith. Senghor grew up with his father’s four wives and his twenty-four siblings.
At the age of seven, Senghor was sent to a Catholic mission school, where he first learned French. At 13, he decided to enter the Catholic priesthood. He attended Libermann seminary in Dakar but in 1926, dissuaded by the seminary, switched to the secondary school Lycée Van Vollenhoven. He graduated from high school with honors and his classical languages teacher persuaded the colonial administration to grant Senghor a scholarship to pursue literary studies in France.
Félix Houphouet-Boigny was born in Yamoussoukro, the southern part of the Ivory Coast, on October 18, 1905. His father was a Boulé tribal chief and a wealthy cocoa farmer. At five years old Houphouet-Boigny inherited his father’s chief status and his cocoa plantation. He studied at primary and secondary school in his village and graduated as a medical assistant in Dakar, Senegal. From 1925 to 1940, Houphouet-Boigny worked in medicine throughout the Ivory Coast. By 1944, his family’s plantation was prosperous and he rose into political prominence by organizing the Syndicat Agricole Africain (SAA), a union that defended farm workers and planters’ interests. In 1945, he was elected as the Ivory Coast’s deputy to the French Constituent Assembly.
The Mali Empire was the second of three West African empires to emerge in the vast savanna grasslands located between the Sahara Desert to the north and the coastal rain forest in the south. Beginning as a series of small successor trading states, Ancient Ghana, the empire grew to encompass the territory between the Atlantic Ocean and Lake Chad, a distance of nearly 1,800 miles. At its height in 1300, Mali was one of the largest empires in the world.
The Mali Empire was strategically located between the West African gold mines and the agriculturally rich Niger River floodplain. Mali’s rise begins when the political leaders of Ghana could not reestablish that empire’s former glory following its conquest and occupation by the Almoravids in 1076. Consequently a number of small states vied to control the salt and gold trade that accounted for Ghana’s wealth and power.
Patrick Vieira, one of Europe’s leading soccer players, was born in the Cape Verdean community of Dakar, Senegal, on June 23, 1976. He left Senegal at the age of eight when his family moved to Europe and settled in Dreux, in northwest France. Soon after their arrival the family became citizens of France.
Vieira began his professional soccer career playing for several local youth clubs in France. Then in 1993, at age 17, he joined AC Cannes Soccer Club. The French club provided an atmosphere for the young 6-foot-4 center midfielder to advance. After three seasons with AC Cannes, Vieira signed with AC Milan, one of the leading clubs in Italy. Although he hoped to break through to the first team in the 1995-96 season, Vieira spent much of his time on the reserve squad.
Trevor Huggins, “Vieira out of crunch Italy clash,” Four Four Two Magazine, June 16, 2008; Patrick Vieira, “Vieira,” The Orion Publishing Group, November 2006.
Galaye M’baye Diagne, the first African elected at the French National Assembly and to obtain a post in the French government, was born on October 13, 1872, on Gorée Island, Senegal. His father, Niokhor Diagne, was a cook, and his mother, Gnagna Anthony Preira, a servant. While still very young, Diagne was placed in various Métis (mixed race) families, and finally adopted by a wealthy Christian Métis, Adolphe Crespin, who renamed him Blaise. Crespin sent him to the Brother of Ploemel School for his primary education. A brilliant pupil, Diagne pursued his secondary education in Aix-en-Provence, France. He passed the French Customs Service entrance examination in Senegal in 1891.
“Diagne, Blaise (1872?-1934),” in Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis
Gates, Jr., eds., Africana: the Encyclopedia of the African &
African American Experience (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005);
Amady Aldy Dieng, Blaise Diagne: député noir de l’Afrique (Paris:
Editions Chaka, 1990); “Diagne, Gueye, and Politics of Senegal, 1920s
and 1930s,” in Kevin Shillington, ed., Encyclopedia of African History
(New York: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2005).
The UCAD has a relatively long history as it has evolved from the Ecole de Médecine de Dakar, a Medical School that was founded in 1918 by the French Colonial administration. A January 1918 decree led to the formation of the school mainly due to the need to train medical assistants to help colonial doctors. In 1936, the Institut Francais d’Afrique Noire (IFAN), a research center for African studies, was also created in Dakar.
http://www.ucad.sn/; Félix-Marie Affa’a and Thérèse Des Lierres, L’Afrique: Face à sa laborieuse appropriation de l’Université (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2002).
The Four Communes of Senegal in French West Africa, Gorée, Dakar, Rufisque, and Saint-Louis, were the only places during the African Colonial period, where African inhabitants were granted the same rights as French Citizens.
As early as 1840, the importance of Gorée Island and Saint-Louis (located on an island of the Senegal River) as key French trading post settlements led to the establishment of a General Council in each colony. In 1848, the Second French Republic awarded to its Senegalese colonies the right to send an elected representative to the French National Assembly. Later in 1872, a decree granted to Gorée and Saint Louis the same advantages as French Communes.
“Senegal: Colonial Period: Four Communes: Dakar, Saint-Louis, Gorée and Rufisque,” in Encyclopedia of African History, Kevin Shillington, Ed., (New York: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2005); “Senegal: French Colony,” in Africana: the Encyclopedia of the African & African American Experience, Kwame Anthony Appiah, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Eds., (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); Mamadou Diouf, “The French Colonial Policy of Assimilation and the Civility of the Originaires of the Four Communes (Senegal): A Nineteenth Century Globalization Project,” Development and Change 29:4 (December 2002)
Gorée Island, located two miles from the Senegalese capital, Dakar, was a critical trading port for Europeans and played a major role as an entrepot for slaves taken from West Africa. Long before being conquered by the Europeans, the island was called Bezeriche Island or Ber and, according to some accounts, was settled by a population of Wolof (West African ethnic group) fishermen.
Jean Delcourt, L’île de Gorée (Dakar: Editions Clairafrique, 1975);
“Gorée Island, Senegal,” in Africana: the Encyclopedia of the African
& African American Experience, Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis
Gates, Jr., eds. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); “Gorée
Island (Senegal),” in International Dictionary of Historic Places,
Trudy Ring, Robert M. Salkin, and Sharon La Boda, eds. (Chicago :
Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1994-1996).
The Mouride Sufi Order was founded by Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba in 1883 in the Senegambia region of West Africa. At this period there was a great deal of social dislocation and economic hardship in this region because of the impact of colonialism. Bamba thought that people needed to be more directly connected with Allah through hard work and prayer. He also taught his pupils that they should be responsible for their behaviors, have a useful occupation, and should be self-reliant. Originally the followers of the Mourides were youth, former slaves, and soldiers of the colonial administration or those from the Wolof ethnic group.
The Mouride Brotherhood promotes pious adherence to the teachings and laws of the Quran. Though education is encouraged, one is also able to connect with Allah through hard work. If a follower is productive enough he is forgiven for not praying five times a day because his dedication to work is seen as a form of prayer. The Mouride order is unique among Muslim Brotherhoods because its leaders inherited their positions as Sheikhs through bloodlines; through this women are allowed to become Sheikhs.
Writer and political activist Mariama Ba was born in 1929 in Dakar, Senegal to a well-to-do family. Her father worked in the French colonial administration and in 1956 became the Minister of Health of Senegal. Her mother died when she was young. Ba was raised by her maternal grandparents who emphasized conservative Muslim values. She attended a religious school, but was also educated in the French tradition. Due to the intervention of her father, she was enrolled in 1943 in the Ecole Normale (Teacher Training School) at Rufisque, a town some 25 miles away from Dakar where she received her diploma in 1947. Ba worked as a teacher from 1947 to 1959, before becoming an academic inspector. During this period, Ba had nine children with her husband, Obeye Diop. The couple separated and Ba was forced to raise her children as a single parent.